When I talk to clients, friends, or students about meditation I often hear various reasons why they haven’t been able to meditate. Most often, the reasons they give are actually common myths or misconceptions about meditation.
I thought it might be helpful to go through 5 of the most common myths about meditation and set the record straight.
Myth #1: You need to empty your mind
The first myth about meditation is that you have to empty your mind or somehow stop thinking. There is a lot of literature on meditation about stilling the mind and I used to find it confusing too. I thought it meant I was supposed to stop thinking at all or somehow silence my inner dialogue.
That’s just not the case. First of all, it’s not possible to completely silence the mind. Stillness instead means that you don’t engage with your thoughts. The goal of meditation is to objectively observe your thoughts.
See normally, we might have a stray thought and then we engage it. Maybe we start thinking of other things related to that thought. We also attach judgement to our thoughts. This is one of the core triggers for anxiety. We have a thought, which leads to other thoughts and we judge ourselves for the thoughts and before we know it, we’re down in a hole of negative thoughts and emotions.
In contrast, when we meditate we simply observe our thoughts. Try mentally stepping outside of yourself and just shrug off your thoughts. When I was a beginner at meditation, I learned to think, “That’s interesting.” when thoughts would come to my mind. Then I’d gently nudge my focus back to my breath or mantra.
Myth #2: You need to sit still
When people think of meditation, the first image that comes to mind is of a Buddhist monk sitting cross legged in deep meditation. I often hear people say that they can’t meditate because they can’t sit still. Well, good news! The idea that you have to sit still to meditate is another common myth about meditation.
Take, for example, Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga is a type of meditation in which you practice various physical postures called asana and breathing exercises called pranayama. The goal is to find stillness in the mind and increase our connection with our body. Most styles of yoga involve meditation.
There’s also a practice called walking meditation in which walking becomes a meditative activity. In fact, any repetitive action can be meditative when approached with the right mindset. I’ve seen people use knitting, painting, drawing, sewing, walking, and more as forms of meditation.
Myth #3: There’s only one correct way to meditate
Another common misconception about meditation is that there’s only one correct way to do it. This often pulls people out of their meditation because they spend too much time thinking about whether or not they are doing it right.
This myth about meditation, likely also comes from the image of seating monks deep in meditation. I already mentioned walking, yoga and other forms of meditative activity above. There’s also guided meditation in which someone speaks softly guiding your meditation. There’s creative visualization in which you use your imagination to picture a tranquil setting. And there’s chanting as meditation.
You might be realizing by now, that there are hundreds of different ways to meditate. You just need to experiment to find the method that works for you.
Myth #4: You need to spend a lot of time in meditation
I often hear people say that they’re too busy to meditate. When I ask them about that, they tell me that they just cannot find 30 minutes or an hour to meditate. That’s because it’s a common misconception about meditation that you need to spend a large block of time devoted to meditation.
The truth is that any amount of time spent in meditation will benefit you. You can meditate with whatever time you can find. You could meditate for 15, 10 or even as little as 5 minutes can still receive great results. Use whatever moments you can find. A few minutes here and there add up to a decent amount of meditation each day.
Myth #5: It takes years of practice to see any benefits
You don’t need to be a Buddhist monk who has been meditating for 20 years to benefit from meditation but this is a common myth. The benefits of meditation are both immediate and long-term. This just means that some of the benefits you’ll receive immediately after you meditate, no matter how long you’ve been meditating. And, the longer you continue to meditate, the more benefits you’ll get from it.
As you can see, these 5 common myths about meditation can really hold you back from becoming a regular meditator yourself. Fortunately, these are all misconceptions about meditation and there isn’t any truth to them. Hopefully, knowing the truth will help you begin to develop a meditation habit.