With so much information out there about meditation and its benefits, it makes sense that there is some misconceptions along side it. With over seven billion minds active from moment to moment, there are endless streams of thoughts on every aspect of creation. Some thoughts perceive reality the way it is, some are imagination and some are simple misconceptions. While there are myths about many topics, one of the most popular one is meditation itself.
Here is a list of the most common myths about meditation, hoping that any confusion that you might have is cleared.
1. Meditation Takes Years to Learn
While the Dalai Lama says that meditation can change your life, he has also been practising for most of his life. Fear not! You can actually learn meditation within minutes. There’s no denying that like any skill or exercise, the more you do it, the more you learn. But you don’t need months or years to perfect your meditation. The very notion of perfection is counter productive. The benefits of meditation are both immediate and long-term. You can begin to experience benefits the first time you sit down to meditate and in the first few days of daily practice. Scientific studies provide evidence that meditation has profound effects on the mind-body physiology within just weeks of practice.
2. Meditation is Thought Control
Thoughts do not come to us by invitation. We become aware of them only after they have arrived! Thoughts are like clouds in the sky. They come and go on their own. Trying to control thoughts involves effort and the key to a relaxed mind is effortlessness. In meditation, we do not crave for good thoughts nor are we averse to bad thoughts. We simply witness and eventually transcend thoughts and move into that deep inner silent space. The real purpose of meditation isn’t to tune out and get away from it all but to tune in and get in touch with your true Self. In Meditation you dive below the mind’s churning surface, which tends to be filled with repetitive thoughts about the past and worries about the future, into the still point of pure consciousness. In this state of transcendent awareness, you let go of all the stories you’ve been telling yourself about who you are, what is limiting you, and where you fall short. As you practice on a regular basis, you cleanse the windows of perception and your clarity expands. While some people do try to use meditation as a form of escape (as a way to bypass unresolved emotional issues) this approach runs counter to all of the wisdom teachings about meditation and mindfulness. In fact, there are a variety of meditation techniques specifically developed to identify, mobilise and release stored emotional toxicity. If you are coping with emotional upset or trauma, it is recommended that you work with a therapist who can help you safely explore and heal the pain of the past, allowing you to return to your natural state of wholeness and love.
3. You’re Not Suppose to Have any Thoughts While Meditating
This idea is simply not true and it can also be a big hindrance to people meditating. If you think you’re doing it wrong, it’s easy to just give up and walk away. Deepak Chopra, a meditation expert and founder of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing, puts it best: “the nature of the mind to move from one thought to another is in fact the very basis of meditation,” he says. “We don’t eliminate the tendency of the mind to jump from one thought to another. That’s not possible anyway.” Depending on the type of meditation you learn, there are tools for gently bringing your focus back to your meditation practice. Alternatively, some types of meditation actually emphasise being present and mindful to thoughts as they arise as part of the practice.
4. You Must Sit in an Uncomfortable Cross-legged Position in Order to Meditate
You can sit in any position that is comfortable to you. Most people sit upright in a chair or on a cushion. The Patanjali yoga sutras are perhaps one of the most scientific and detailed study that man has produced dealing with the nature of the mind. “Sthirasukhamasanam,’’ a yoga sutra by Patanjali explains that while meditating it is more important to be comfortable and steady. This helps us to have a deeper experience in meditation.
So you can sit cross-legged, on a chair, in a sofa – it is fine. Yet when you start your meditation it is good to maintain a posture where the spine is erect and head, neck and shoulders are relaxed. Some people like to sit in a great big armchair or a sturdy kitchen chair. You can also sit upright in bed with pillows propped at your sides. The possibilities are endless. It is best not to lie down unless you’re doing a body scan meditation or meditation for sleep.
5. You Can Only Meditate at Certain Times, Facing Certain Directions
Anytime is a good time for meditation and all directions are good for meditation. The only thing to keep in mind is that your stomach should not be full; else you may doze off instead of meditating. However, it is a good practice to meditate during sunrise and sunset (morning and evening) as it can keep you calm and energetic throughout the day.
6. You Can’t Meditate Because you Don’t Have Time
There are busy, productive, successful people who have not missed a meditation in twenty-five years, and if you make meditation a priority, you will do it. If you feel like your schedule is too full, remember that even just a few minutes of meditation is better than none. Meditating in the morning makes your whole day go slower and many people say they actually get more done and feel more productive after meditation. Because meditation helps improve focus and lowers stress, you actually can fit more in if you take the time out to practice.
If committing to 20 minutes a day feels too much, there are many practices that require only five or 10 minutes. The key is to start small and build up so you don’t get discouraged and skip it all together. Even a seasoned meditator knows that some days get away from you and all you can fit in is 5 minutes. This is always better than nothing.
7. Meditation has to be Religious or Spiritual
Meditation is a practice that takes us beyond the noisy chatter of the mind into a place of stillness and silence. It doesn’t require a specific spiritual belief, and many people of many different religions practice meditation without any conflict with their current religious beliefs. Some meditators have no particular religious beliefs or are atheist or agnostic. There is a distinct difference between meditation and religion. While many meditation practices drew it roots from Buddhism and Hinduism, today there are modern forms of meditation that have nothing to do with religion at all. Many religious groups practice meditation, and the intersection between prayer and meditation is quite interesting, but it is not necessary to believe in a god or be affiliated with a religion or spiritual group in order to reap the benefits of meditation. They meditate in order to experience inner quiet and the numerous physical and mental health benefits of the practice – including lowered blood pressure, stress reduction, and restful sleep. The original reason that Deepak Chopra began meditating was to help him stop smoking. Meditation helps us to enrich our lives. It enables us to enjoy whatever we do in our lives more fully and happily (whether that is playing sports, taking care of our children, or advancing in our career).
8. Meditation is Only for Stressed Out People
While meditation helps lower the presence of coristol, the stress hormone, in our bodies, there are many other benefits of the practice. Meditation helps boost our immune systems, improves concentration, decreases blood pressure, improves sleep, increases our feelings of happiness, and has even helped people with alcohol or smoking addictions. Even for those who don’t have a specific ailment in mind, meditation is wonderful for overall mental and physical health.
9. Meditation is Like Hypnotising Yourself
Meditation is an antidote for hypnosis. In hypnotism, the person is not aware of what he or she is going through. Meditation is complete awareness of each and every moment. Hypnotism takes the person through the same impressions that are in his mind. Meditation frees us from these impressions so that our consciousness is fresh and clear. Hypnotism increase metabolic activity, meditation reduces it. “Those who practice pranayama and meditation regularly cannot be hypnotized easily,” says Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
10. Meditation is Only for Adults
Meditation is universal and adds value to lives of people of all age groups. One can start mediating at the age of eight or nine. Just like a shower keeps the body clean, meditation is like the shower for the mind. Adults are not the only ones to experience the negative effects of stress. Children, too, suffer from feeling overwhelmed and meditation is one way parents are helping their kids learn to manage stress. Schools have even started to discuss whether meditation is a life-long skill that should be taught in classrooms. Schools that tried it out found that students were less stressed and performed higher on tests. The overall feeling in classrooms was more positive and teachers reported their own moods improving.
11. Meditation is Concentration
Meditation is actually de-concentration. Concentration is a benefit of meditation. Concentration requires effort and meditation is absolute relaxation of the mind. Meditation is letting go, and when that happens, you are in a state of deep rest. When the mind is relaxed, we can concentrate better. Some believe that by choosing to redirect your thoughts to a single point of focus you are actually strengthening the muscle that build your brain. This can teach you to react less to stress triggers throughout the day and leave you feeling calmer than before you learned to meditate.
12. You Have to Meditate for Hours to Go Deeper
Similar to point 6 you do not have to sit for hours to have a deeper experience in meditation. The connection with that deep inner core of your being, your source can happen in just a fraction of a moment. Just a 20-minute session of Sahaj Samadhi meditation every morning and evening for example is sufficient to take you on this beautiful inward journey. As you practice your meditation every day, the quality of your meditation will improve gradually.
13. You Can’t Meditate Because You Can’t Sit Still
For those who struggle with sitting still during meditation, good news! Moving around is totally fine – you can read just your position, scratch an itch or just stretch your legs out in the middle of your practice. You do not have to be a statue. If you’re in a group class, try to do this quietly so you don’t disrupt other meditators. For those who need more movement than this, you can try walking meditation. Traditionally, meditation can be practiced in four positions: sitting, standing, walking and lying down. So don’t get down on yourself if you don’t like sitting. Try other methods and find what feels most natural for your body.
14. You’re Supposed to Have Transcendent Experiences in Meditation
Some people are disappointed when they don’t experience visions, see colours, levitate, hear a choir of angels, or glimpse enlightenment when they meditate. Although we can have a variety of wonderful experiences when we meditate, including feelings of bliss and oneness, these aren’t the purpose of the practice. The real benefits of meditation are what happens in the other hours of the day when we’re going about our daily lives. When we emerge from our meditation session, we carry some of the stillness and silence of our practice with us, allowing us to be more creative, compassionate, centered, and loving to ourselves and everyone we encounter.