Debunking the Myths of Meditation, Part 1

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“I can’t find the time.”

“I can’t sit still for that long.”

“I just can’t turn my mind off.”

“Silence drives me crazy”

These are just a few of the responses I hear when I recommend practicing meditation as a coping skill.  Anyone can benefit from meditation, because as human beings we are hardwired for anxiety.  And anxiety is the trait that alerts us when there is a threat to our equilibrium. And let’s face it - with busy jobs, stressful family situations,  illnesses, and ever-mounting bills, it’s very easy to feel threatened!

Mindfulness is a phenomenon that has taken the world by storm in recent years. It’s  been widely praised by the psychotherapy community for its ability to promote psychological awareness. Mindfulness help us recognize the emotions, thoughts, and feelings we bring into everyday situations and encounters with others. And mindfulness is just one technique in a wide  panorama of meditation techniques I’ll touch on in this series.

When I promote meditation I often cite some of the widespread research indicating its various health benefits. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health notes meditation may reduce blood pressure, ease symptoms of anxiety and depression, and help control pain. In recent years the reputation of meditation appears to have also been bolstered by technology; with apps such as Calm, Headspace, and Insight Timer all offering a respite from the chaotic hustle and bustle of modern life. Despite increased mainstream access to meditation,, I find many people still harbor a resistance towards it; they are reticent to begin  the practice! Below are some commonly held beliefs about meditation that I’ll seek to demystify.


Myth #1: Meditation requires a long period of dedicated time in your day.

For a beginner in meditation, the stereotypical image of someone sitting cross-legged on a mat with their palms facing upward and eyes closed for an hour may certainly seem daunting, especially for those with little time to spare.  But you need not hold yourself to this standard; the truth is that even just 5 minutes of meditation can help you feel better. Removing the pressure of meditating for an extended period of time also provides you with flexibility to practice almost anywhere.. With 5 minutes to spare, even the break room in your office or the train on your morning commute can become a calm resting place for you to turn inward. In my experience, 5-10 minutes of breath-focused meditation lowered my heart rate, helped me organize my thoughts, and decreased my anxiety. Not convinced? Try this 7 minute guided meditation  called “Relaxing Your Mind” by Lama Yeshe Rabgye. It helps bring focus to your breath and away from whatever is stressing you out. Not only is it easy, it’s incredibly grounding!


Myth #2: Successful meditation requires you to have a completely blank mind.

For many, the word ‘meditation’ seems to be synonymous with a clear mind, completely devoid of any thought or emotion. To completely turn off the mind sounds impossible and unrealistic, doesn’t it? The goal of mindfulness is to engage with the present moment while acknowledging that thoughts and feelings do come up during meditation. Mindfulness seeks to promote nonjudgmental acceptance of these physiological and psychological experiences without having strong emotional reactions to them, like trying to shoo them away.

Imagine that during your meditation session you think  of a task you must accomplish later at work. Mindfulness does not demand that you banish the thought and instead think of nothing; rather, it invites you with curiosity to say to yourself “I am having this thought; I accept this thought; I do not have to engage with it; it is what it is.” After, you can gently bring yourself back to the present moment and focus on something else, such as something in your environment or your breath. You might also experience emotions as sensations in your body, such as an anxious feeling in your stomach; in this case, the practice of mindfulness encourages you to sit with the feeling without trying to change it or label it positive or negative.  In this way, you are made aware of your uncomfortable internal experiences rather than ignoring them and thus become better equipped to tolerate and cope with them.

Myth #3: Meditation requires you to be completely still.

The idea of stillness can understandably be a huge deterrent from meditation, especially if you are a restless, always-on-the-go kind of person. Toss out the preconceived notion that you aren’t allowed to move,  because there are many ways to engage your body while still practicing mindfulness and meditation. For instance, with progressive muscle relaxation, you are guided through a gradual tensing up and releasing of each major muscle group in your body, from your feet all the way up to your face. Another way to get your move on while being mindful is through a walking meditation; this practice actually invites you to focus on your body and environment as a means of staying grounded in the present moment. Check out this example of walking meditation from mindful.org.

Myth #4: Meditation is a silent practice.  

The thought of sitting alone in silence can be less than appealing for many people.  especially if you are prone to racing or ruminating thoughts. While meditating in silence can be soothing for some, those of us who prefer to have something to listen to have plenty of options. There are apps such as Insight Timer and Calm, which play soothing repetitive sounds like chimes, raindrops, or ocean waves. Alternatively, you may opt for an app that has guided meditations leading you through breathing exercises, guiding you through repeating mantras or internal affirmations, or encouraging the use of visualization. There is a spectrum of meditators,  ranging from those who like a lot of guidance to those who prefer minimal talking in the background. Whichever you prefer, you are still doing what’s most important: getting in touch with YOU!

Like other forms of self-care, exercise, or even psychotherapy, meditation is not a quick fix. It is a skill that takes practice and a habit that requires consistent work to see results. Keeping this in mind, over the next week I’d like to challenge you to begin integrating meditation into your life. Try practicing at least 5 minutes three times a week. You can use the suggested meditations found in this post, check out some other examples on mindful.org, or give it a go on your own using only  your breath and a timer! If none of these work, don’t be discouraged. You might find our next post helpful, “Which meditation is right for you?”

Good luck and namaste.

Kara Lissy, LCSW is a therapist at A Good Place Therapy. If you are interested in working with her or another therapist on the team, please complete this scheduling form to get a quote and submit a scheduling request.

References

Goldstein, E. (2014, June 27). No time for meditation? Try this on-the-go walking meditation. [Web log post]. Retrieved August 23, 2018, from https://www.mindful.org/no-time-for-mindfulness-try-this-on-the-go-walking-meditation/

Lama Yeshe Rabgye. Relaxing your mind. On Insight Timer [Audio file]. Retrieved from https://insighttimer.com/lamayesherabgye/guided-meditations/relaxing-your-mind

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (April 2016). Meditation: In Depth. [Web log post]. Retrieved August 23, 2018, from https://nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm#hed6


Kara Lissy LCSW, is a therapist at A Good Place. Find out more about her here!