A few years ago, I spent ten days in silence at a Vipassana meditation retreat. This involved meditating for 10+ hours every day, starting at 4am. There were a couple of breaks for meals. Not only was talking banned, but so too were phones, electronic devices, writing equipment and books. You were encouraged to be as still as possible while meditating which becomes excruciatingly painful after an hour or two.
I found out at the end of the retreat that some people found it blissful, enlightening and relaxing. Mostly, I was restless, hungry and bored. It was without doubt the hardest thing I have ever done.
After Vipassana, I went in search of easier ways to meditate and encountered chronic but untrue beliefs that put people off a meditation practice.
Here are the three meditation myths that need busting so you can start meditating today…
1) Meditation Myth 1 — Meditation Takes Too Long
Meditation seems like just another thing on the ‘To Do’ list that you will never cross off. There is no way to fit hours and hours of meditation into your day. And you don’t have to. The benefits of meditation have been shown with a practice that takes as little as three minutes per day. It is meditating every day that is the most important thing.
If even three minutes seems daunting, try this: breathe in through your nose and count to four so that your stomach gets inflated, like you are filling up a balloon. Hold that breath for a count of four. Then breathe out through your nose or mouth to a count of four and hold it for another count of four. Don’t worry about the nose/mouth thing or how many seconds you take with the breaths. Just make sure your stomach gets inflated, which means that your lungs are filling up with oxygen.
This is meditation teacher and wellness expert, Davidji’s ‘16-Second Meditation’. I know you are busy, but you have 16 seconds to spare, don’t you? Do this during the day as a mini-reboot to the present.
2) Meditation Myth 2 — Meditation is Too Hard
Meditation is an ancient practice dating back thousands of years. It has been around for millennia because it works. Maybe you tried it but felt like the imperative to clear away all your thoughts was too hard or you didn’t know if you were doing it ‘properly’.
You do not have to try to mind blank. That is totally impossible. Your job in meditation is to observe your thoughts and let them go by without judgment. And you can’t meditate ‘wrong’ unless you are checking Facebook, driving or mowing the lawn while you are doing it. For a traditional meditation practice, a quiet space where you are unlikely to be interrupted for a few minutes is the ideal, but even that is negotiable.
It doesn’t matter whether you sit up or lie down. You don’t have to sit in a certain posture or lie in a particular way. You don’t have to wear anything special or light candles. Sit or lie so you are comfortable. It doesn’t even matter if your eyes are closed or not. Try out what works for you. If you think you may fall asleep, that is fine, especially for a nighttime meditation. If you don’t want to fall asleep, then set an alarm to go off at the end of the ten minutes.
3) Meditation Myth 3 — Meditation is Too Woo-Woo
Meditation is still thought of by some as an exclusive practice for yoga masters, mindfulness gurus and retreat goers but everyday people practice meditation in everyday settings.
It may have some ‘woo-woo’ attached because of its focus on the breath or a mantra but those are just simply ways to help your mind return to the present, not spiritual mandates.
Nowadays, there are tons of guided meditations you can follow on every topic imaginable. These may cost money and will require headphones, but can make accessing meditation and committing to each day easier. You can find guided meditations all over the Internet or you can buy CDs or MP3s of them or download meditation apps such as Headspace.
The best thing about a guided meditation is that you can concentrate on the music or voice and not the chatter in your head. And even if you don’t listen to it 100%, even if you feel your mind drift, you will still get a lot of the benefit of meditation from relaxing and breathing deeply. Now — does breathing while listening to a short recording sound woo-woo to you?
There is no excuse to prevent you from starting a meditation practice today since we have busted the meditation myths of it taking a long time, being difficult or too woo-woo.
And if busting these meditation myths still hasn’t convinced you then a quick look at meditation’s benefits may tip the scales. Numerous studies have shown a direct link between a consistent meditation practice of even a few minutes each day and almost every positive health and wellbeing outcome you can think of.
It has a beneficial impact on medical issues like nausea, anxiety, diabetes and heart disease. It has been shown to boost positive emotions like compassion and reduce negative ones such as loneliness. Meditation actually changes brain function and can help with focus, creativity and maintaining longer periods of productivity.
Think of meditation as a little daily luxury, an easy treat, a sacred ritual just for you. Give yourself permission to do nothing but breathe for three minutes.
If you would like more information on meditating including my exact (and very easy) meditation practice, check out my book, Crappy to Happy.