If you have been anywhere on the internet over the past few years, you’ve probably heard about meditation and mindfulness. Everyone from the BBC, through to some of the biggest legends out there, all the way to self-help books are preaching about meditation and that’s for good reason. It’s estimated that between 200 and 500 million people worldwide meditate, and it is even recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence as a way to prevent depression in adults.
But precisely what is meditation and mindfulness? It is is all about being more aware of the present moment, and therefore being fully present. This can take many forms and can be as simple as paying attention to your surroundings while you walk rather than being on your phone, or stopping to really appreciate the taste of what you’re eating or drinking rather than just rushing to finish it. Meditation is a type of mindfulness and is probably one of the most well known and well-practiced types. That being said, there are many myths and misconceptions about meditation, and this article will tackle the four most common ones.
1. Meditation Is a Spiritual Or Religious Experience
When we think of meditation, many people imagine someone sitting in a temple or underneath a tree, with their legs crossed in the lotus position. This is because many people associate it with Buddhism, and it is true that meditation has religious ties in as diverse groups as ancient Egypt and China, Judaism, Hinduism, and, yes, Buddhism. But meditation doesn’t have to be a religious or spiritual experience. Did you know that one in five (or 19%) of self-described American atheists meditate weekly or more often?
The great benefit of meditation is that there are no hard-and-fast rules you have to follow. You don’t have to worry about doing it ‘right’, and you don’t have to believe in Buddha to do it. It’s theorised that the practice dates back from 5000 BC, but that means there have been plenty of changes to the practice over the years. Like many exercises or habits that are designed to boost your mental health, you can meditate in whatever way suits you. If you are religious or spiritual and want to use these beliefs to boost your meditation, great. If not, you don’t have to. Don’t force yourself to try and believe in something because you think you should. Just try meditation out, and enjoy the benefits.
2. My Thoughts Make Me Who I Am
This isn’t a myth around meditation as much as a myth that often leads people to have problems with their mental health, but it’s definitely worth mentioning. As Youtuber and author Daniel Howell says in his book:
“Just because you think something, doesn’t mean it’s real.”
One of the biggest challenges I have personally faced with my mental health is dealing with my thoughts. As someone who is currently in therapy, I have spent a lot of time working on trying to accept my thoughts and separating myself from them. My therapist has explained to me that the best way to be able to tackle difficult or painful thoughts is not to push them aside, but to learn to just sit with them and accept that they are there and that they make me feel uncomfortable.
It’s definitely a lot easier than it sounds, but meditation is a way to really help with this, which leads us on to the next misconception:
3. When I Meditate, I Have To Empty My Mind
This is a huge myth around meditation and an important one to tackle. It’s also a myth that is encouraged in certain media; if you Google quotes on meditation, a lot of them mention emptying your mind or getting rid of thoughts.
The truth is that emptying your mind is actually impossible! If you spend time trying to empty your mind of thoughts, you will only find that these thoughts multiply and then find yourself trapped in a spiral. This can lead people to the conclusion that meditation is just not for them when in reality they haven’t quite gotten the grasp of what meditation is really about.
Dr P. Goldin from the Department of Psychology at Stanford University explains what meditation actually is really well:
“The goal of mediation is not to get rid of thoughts or emotions. The goal is to become more aware of your thoughts and emotions and learn how to move through them without getting stuck.”
So meditation is actually almost the opposite of getting rid of thoughts. It’s about sitting with your thoughts and letting them pass by. Headspace, one of the leading meditation apps, describes meditation with an excellent analogy. It describes you as being standing at a train station, watching trains go by. Each one of these trains is a thought. You do not have to get on a train, you can just stand and watch, just like you don’t have to follow a thought. Meditation is about recognising you have had a thought but then letting it go by.
There are many things that you can focus your mind on while you meditate to help assist with this task. While you’re sitting, it’s extremely beneficial to focus on your breathing, the way your body feels, or even to progressively tense and relax your muscles. If you feel your mind wandering or that a thought enters your mind that is not related to this task, you simply bring your mind back to whatever you were focusing on before. This allows you to focus on that present moment and explains how meditation works in tandem with mindfulness. I personally find guided meditation really helpful; having someone there to remind me to focus on my body every now and again really helps. The key here, though, is to remember that it’s completely normal for your mind to wander. Be gentle with yourself. Don’t scold or criticise yourself if you do find yourself lost in thought. Just gently bring your attention back to whatever it is you should be focusing on.
4.I Can Only Meditate Alone
It’s perfectly sensible to believe that meditation is a lone activity; after all, you’re sitting there with your thoughts and focusing on your own body. However, although meditation itself is a very personal experience, there’s nothing to stop you from meditating in a group. Here at Legends Report, we start every one of our calls with a group meditation, because we find it really helps focus us. Not only that, but we’re able to discuss meditation and the things that work and don’t work for us, allowing us to provide feedback and develop meditation as a skill.
If you go online and read about meditation, you might get the idea that everyone who writes about meditation meditates daily. This is another myth. I certainly don’t meditate every day. I’m trying hard to build the habit, but I’m finding it impossible on my own. So what can we do to build a habit? There’s an easy answer: make yourself accountable.
Did you know that you have a 65% chance of completing a goal if you make a promise to someone? This increases to 95% if you have a meeting with that person to specifically discuss the goal.
So, if, for example, you make a promise to a friend that you will meditate every day, and then discuss whether you achieved your goal at the end of the week, you are way more likely to actually meditate every day. So why bother? Well, the more you meditate, the easier it becomes. And the easier meditation becomes, the more likely you are to apply it when things become difficult. If meditation comes naturally to you because you are so used to practicing it, then you are more likely to turn to it when your thoughts are overwhelming, and that means it is more likely to work for you.
We offer a number of meditation groups and workshops to really help you build that daily habit and have some fun along the way. Contact us in the form below or on live chat to learn more. I wish you the best of luck in your meditation journey, and hope to see you at one of our workshops soon!
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