With meditation practices on the rise, it makes sense that there is some confusion out there. Myths, misnomers and misinformation are to be expected -- but that doesn't mean we can't do our best to set the record straight. After discussing things you should know about meditation and ways anyone can learn, next we tackle things people simply keep getting wrong.
1. Myth: You can't meditate because you think too much.
Everyone thinks too much. But it's often the people who say they "think too much to meditate" who could really benefit from giving the practice a try. Thinking is a natural and expected part of meditation. Some practices will give you tools for how to redirect your thoughts back to your meditation and others will simply say it's fine that you're off thinking. This is all a part of the experience. The practice of meditation is about tuning in -- not tuning out.
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.
2. Myth: 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 readjust 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.
3. Myth: You can't meditate because you don't have time.
We all are busy. If Oprah, Kobe Bryant, Arianna Huffington and Rupert Murdoch have time to meditate, you probably do too. 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 a day minutes feels daunting, 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.
4. Myth: You can't meditate because you don't know if you're doing it right.
The only wrong or bad meditation is the one you don't do at all. Meditation is pretty simple. You focus on one thing. Depending on the practice, that can be your breath, a mantra, a candle flame or even counting numbers. When you notice that your mind has drifted off, you simply come back to the thing your meditation is focused on.
5. Myth: You're not supposed to have any thoughts while you meditate.
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 emphasize being present and mindful to thoughts as they arise as part of the practice.
6. Myth: Meditation has to be religious or spiritual.
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.
7. Myth: 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. 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.
8. Myth: 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. Myth: Meditation is only for adults.
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.
10. Myth: You have to be given a mantra to meditate.
Mantra-based meditation is only one form of meditation. Transcendental Meditation (made popular by people like Oprah, Jerry Seinfeld and Howard Stern) uses a mantra but many mindfulness-based meditation practices don't. Think of a mantra as just one vehicle or tool people use to get into their meditation practice. There are many other tools like counting, being mindful of what you hear around you and even simply paying attention to your breath.
11. Myth: Meditation is for the rich or the elite.
Meditation is having a moment right now and we love that. But the ancient practice is not only for hip tech CEOs or a pet cause for the wealthy with time to spare. The beauty of meditation is that it's free and you can do it anywhere, anytime. All you need is your mind.
12. Myth: Meditation takes years to learn.
While the Dalai Lama says that meditation can change your life, he has also been practicing for most of his life. Fear not. You can actually learn in minutes. We don't deny 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. Here are five different ways you can get started. Pick one (or search the web for many others) and give it a try.