We are just a couple of weeks into the new year. We still have that extra energy to try new things. Plus, it’s White January, the Mental Wellness Month. It’s the perfect time to build new habits to take care of our mental health.
I bet you have already read at least one article talking about the many benefits of meditation. But have you ever tried it? If you haven’t, chances are that what’s stopping you is one of the many myths that surround the practice.
I had wanted to start meditating for years, ever since I was a pre-teen. But it was only after I read about how much it could help me with my anxiety that I decided to go for it.
I have been meditating every day for about three months now and during this time, I have deconstructed every single myth I ever believed about it. Here’s what I used to think about meditation and the truths I learned about it.
1. “It’s a religious practice.”
When they think about meditation, most people imagine a monk sitting silently in the distant Himalayan Mountains. They associate the practice with Asian religions, such as Buddhism and Hinduism.
But meditation is just an exercise, not unlike jogging or working out. It is part of a practice called mindfulness. The idea behind the concept of mindfulness is that we humans tend not to live in the present. In our daily lives, we do many things automatically. We eat without noticing the taste of our food. We go to work without minding the places we pass by in our commuting.
Our minds are constantly distracted so we do not pay attention to our surroundings.
Mindfulness is a way to pause and ground ourselves in the present moment.To remember that we are here now and that this is the moment to act. It is a wonderful way to fight anxiety because it helps us see our surroundings and find stability and safety.
Certain religions and faiths do recommend meditation as an exercise of self-reflection. But that doesn’t mean that it’s forbidden to you if you follow another religion or if you don’t have one. Meditation, as a form of self-care, is here for everyone.
2. “To meditate is to try not to think about anything.”
The first time I tried to meditate, I did everything wrong. I was 12 years old and I wanted to do it because I was curious. I had heard it would help me find some sort of “inner strength” and I wanted to try it. So, guided by everything I had always heard about meditation, I sat cross-legged on the floor and tried to empty my mind.
I quit on the second day.
My mind seems to never stop. I’m a very creative person, so it’s always buzzing with thoughts. Even when I’m asleep, it’s still hyperactive, because I have the craziest, most vivid dreams. Trying not to think is extremely frustrating for me.
Rather than emptying your mind, meditation is about accepting your thoughts. You are expected to acknowledge your thoughts without letting them carry you away. You notice “oh, I’m thinking about this,” then let it go. It’s as if you’re watching your thoughts pass by, without acting on them. There’s no need to try to change or to stop them.
I know it sounds weird. And I won’t deny it can be challenging at times, especially during the first sessions. But as you learn, it becomes easier. And it feels great. Especially if you have a hyperactive mind like mine.
3. “You need to chant “oooom” while you do it.”
This is my favorite myth about meditation. I guess we can blame pop culture for it. I bet you have seen at least one movie where someone was chanting “oooom” while meditating.
The truth is there isn’t one way to practice meditation, but several.
Essentially, to avoid getting distracted by our thoughts, we need to focus our mind’s attention on something else. Thus, when we feel we’re being carried away, we have something to come back to.
This can be as simple as focusing on our own breath. That’s how most people begin, as it is the primary form of meditation.
But it can be something else, a mantra or a word, for example. We chant or repeat it while focusing on its different sounds, meanings, and interpretations. “Om” is a very famous Hindu mantra used in yoga and meditation. It’s a sacred syllable that represents the connection between all living beings in the Universe.
There are several other mantras that you can use during meditation. You can even create your own! I suggest “Nevertheless, she persisted.” For that extra girl power.
If mantras are not your thing, you might like to try a visualization meditation. This is when you focus on imagining something. It could be, for example, a beautiful waterfall. Or you could picture yourself flying among the clouds.
It doesn’t have to be boring either. If calm waterfalls do not sound interesting enough, you could always try something more adventurous. One of the coolest meditations I have tried so far was this Star Wars themed one by Nikhil Lakhani and Jason Stephenson.
If that sounds like too much, you can resort to meditation music. These are songs designed especially for this practice. They’re at the same time relaxing and attention catching. All you have to do is sit back and concentrate on their ups and downs, and the delicate changes in notes. If you have a good musical ear, you’re surely going to enjoy it.
4. “You need to be seated in a very uncomfortable position.”
I have always liked to sit cross-legged on the floor, but I know it’s not for everyone. Many people find it incredibly uncomfortable. The good news? You don’t have to be in that position to meditate. You can do it lying comfortably in your own bed, curled up in your favorite blanket.
There’s no “right” or “wrong” position for meditating. Ideally, your chest should be straight so you can breathe more deeply and easily. But really, the position in which you can relax better is the best position for you.
Many people like to meditate sitting comfortably in a chair or in a coach, with both their feet planted on the floor for grounding and their hands resting on their lap. Others prefer to lay on a bed with their arms along their bodies and their head facing the ceiling.
I like to alternate positions according to the type of meditation I’m doing. If it’s a sleep meditation, I usually do it laying down. If it’s a reflective meditation, I prefer to do it sitting up. But depending on the day, if my body does not feel ok, like when I’m on my period and my back hurts, I’ll choose to lay in bed and maybe hug a pillow. As long as you’re comfortable and relaxed, it’s fine.
5. “It takes a lot of time.”
Have you ever heard of those monks who spend years meditating? I bet you have. Well, I have the highest admiration for them. But fortunately for us mere mortals, you don’t need an eternity to meditate.
You decide how long you want your meditation to be. I started with just one minute per session. Then three. Then five. Now, I can sometimes last as long as 40 minutes before I begin to feel unquiet.
It’s a process. With each session, you learn to relax better and longer. There are meditations on YouTube that are 8 hours long. I doubt I’ll ever try those. But I like the shorter ones I find there. I try to do at least 15 minutes every night. But if 10 minutes is all you can spare, I’m sure you’re going to find a meditation that fits your schedule.
Meditating can be a life-changing practice. It is very simple but can have a great positive impact on your health. After just a few days, you already begin to feel your mind clearer and your mood improving. So don’t let these myths and misconceptions stop you. Now that you know a little more, give meditation a chance! The results may surprise you.