The Top 5 Myths in Meditation
Meditation and mindfulness are everywhere. Most folks have heard that a regular meditation habit would benefit us, and there’s lots of high quality scientific evidence to support that.
What most of us struggle with is incorporating tools like this into a regular practise as part of our busy 21st century lives. My Mind: Unlocked co-founder Jessica Warren and I know this from our experiences in helping hundreds of people to meditate.
It’s our mission to make evidence-based, practical mental well-being tools like meditation accessible and easier to integrate into our modern lifestyles.
To help you overcome some of the hurdles, here’s our overview of the top five myths about meditation.
1. To meditate you have to stop your thoughts or clear your mind.
This is the biggest misconception. It’s very normal for thoughts to come up, even for experienced meditators. One of the biggest benefits of meditation comes from noticing when we’veecome distracted by thoughts or anything else and then gently bringing our mind back to the focus of the meditation.
In doing so, we are systematically training our ability to direct our focus, which then becomes easier in our everyday lives. Noticing we’ve become distracted and redirecting our focus is the mental equivalent of a rep in the gym, building your “attention muscles”. So next time you notice you’re distracted, know that not only is it ok, it’s welcome.
2. You have to meditate for 20 / 30 / 2 x 20 minutes a day to really benefit.
It’s simply not true, but Jessica and I see this sort of dogmatic advice being touted around meditation circles too often. Based on our own experiences and from many in our community, we know that as little as five minutes of meditation can totally shift our mood and change our days.
The science backs this up - a 2016 University of Wisconsin-Madison study showed that just eight minutes of breath focused meditation increased performance on a sustained attention task performed immediately after. Would you like Jessica to guide you through just over eight minutes of breath focused meditation? Here you go!
If you haven’t been to the gym for a long time (or ever!) you wouldn’t start with a two hour heavy weights session. In the same way, when starting out with meditation, five to ten minutes a few times a week is great and soon you’ll start feeling the benefits. If you can progress to 20 minutes then that’s even better, but just like the gym you don’t have to do long workouts to get mentally fitter. The regular consistency is far more important.
3. You have to sit in a cross legged statue still position to do it properly.
Wrong again! The only true requirement is that you find a place where you can stay comfortably for the duration of the meditation. This could be sitting cross legged on the floor, on a chair with your back supported, lying down or any other way you can find some relative stillness. There are even moving meditation styles like walking meditations or eating meditations.
The popular image of meditation doesn’t help. Meditation does not have to look a certain way. There are some styles where there is some benefit to finding more physical stillness, but we believe that if you need to readjust you should. It’s useful to check in with yourself first and question if your mind is looking for a distraction through boredom or mental discomfort, or if your leg is about to go dead. If your leg is about to go dead then please readjust your position!
4. Meditation is a spiritual or religious practice
It’s less well known that in ancient times the reason monks, gurus and sadhus meditated was actually to try and cultivate supernatural powers!
Of course there is a big side of meditation that is spiritual and linked to consciousness. That’s outside of the scope of our focus at Mind: Unlocked, which is to help busy, pragmatic people solve everyday problems like dealing with stress or sleeping better through evidence-based tools.
Ironically, there is strong evidence to show that several meditative styles can help us cultivate what feel like modern day superpowers from dealing with stress, reducing anxiety, training focus and even slowing down the ageing process!
Whilst meditation can be and often is spiritual or religious, we are seeing millions of people around the world simply using it as a practical tool to have a better, fuller experience of life.
5. “Meditation” is a singular thing
We refer to meditation in the singular because it’s convenient, but it’s actually an umbrella term for a range of different disciplines, just like “sports” or “exercise”. In the same way that different exercises like swimming, boxing or cycling do different things for our bodies, different meditation styles do subtly different things for our minds.
I like a definition that Jessica shared with me. Meditation is: “deliberately changing our normal awake state of consciousness by focusing inwardly for an intentional period of time”.
This point is important because we have heard variations of this line so many times: “I tried meditation once, it wasn’t for me / it didn’t work, it’s not for me”. Yet we don’t hear people saying “Yeah, I tried that exercise thing once and I didn’t suddenly get fit, it’s not for me!”.
Given the multiple benefits available from building a regular meditation practice, we strongly encourage you to try a few different meditation styles until you find something you like. Too many people quit at the first hurdle.
I hope the above myth busting helps you to progress your meditation journey or if starting out to take your first steps.
To help you, we’ve put together a range of free resources ranging from a detailed ten-step quick start meditation guide, to fully guided meditations and more. All delivered in our evidence-based, practical style. To receive all of those, head over to Mind:Unlocked and pop your email in the sign-up box.