Three Misconceptions about Meditation that Prevent People from Starting a Practice
By now, you’ve probably heard about the incredible emotional, physical, and mental benefits of a regular meditation practice. On the emotional front, it reduces anxiety, depression, and stress; increases compassion, social connection, and self-awareness; and improves mood. On the physical front, it improves immune function, lowers blood pressure, reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, and helps curtail unhealthy habits such as smoking and overeating. As for the mental front, meditation improves creative thinking, concentration, multitasking, and memory.
Pretty amazing stuff, right? Reading this list of benefits, you might think, “Why the heck isn’t everyone doing this?!” In my experience as a psychologist and meditation advocate, there are three main misconceptions about it that prevent folks from starting a practice. The misconceptions- which I hear frequently- go like this:
1. “I could never meditate: I can’t clear my mind.”
Many folks hold the misconception that meditation means wrestling with the brain in an effort to make it completely thought-free. No wonder they don’t want to give it a try! When someone shares this misconception, I explain that it is not about “mind-clearing,” but rather about simply noticing one’s experience (including thoughts, feelings, and sensations) in the here-and-now without judgment. It is not a process of “pushing thoughts out,” but of simply noticing thoughts and allowing them to pass. It’s about taking a break from the outside world and noticing what’s happening inside. It is through this peaceful, non-judgmental process that stress is relieved and mood is improved.
2. “There’s no way that I could meditate: I can’t sit still.”
Many folks also hold the mistaken assumption that meditation must mean sitting perfectly still, cross-legged, on a cushion, in a quiet space, with incense burning and a statue of the Buddha overseeing the process. While this would be wonderful, it is not necessary! Meditation absolutely does not have to involve sitting still. Walking meditation is a wonderful way to non-judgmentally experience the here-and-now (thoughts, feelings, and sensations) while in motion. If you are concerned about the “sitting still factor,” I encourage you to try a walking meditation, running meditation, weight-training meditation, or general work-out meditation. There are many apps and digital downloads available to guide you through the process. I’d be honored if you tried my apps or album, which include a walking meditation as well as a progressive muscle relaxation exercise.
3. “Meditation sounds great, but I just don’t have the time.”
Before I began my meditation practice, this was the misconception that kept me from getting started. With my busy life, I just couldn’t imagine adding “one more thing” to my plate of responsibilities and activities. However, I have learned that it can happen in small chunks almost anytime and anywhere. While I love practicing meditation in my quiet space at home, I have done five minute to hour-long meditations on the subway, in-between patients at work, during my walks and workouts, and sitting in the car waiting for my kids’ activities to end.
Meditation for Beginners
Would you like to give a short meditation a try? Below is my Four S’s Meditation, a short meditation that you can do anytime and anywhere:
First, close your eyes and take five to ten deep, calming breaths.
Next, take a few minutes to notice sounds, sensations, smells, and sights around you. Silently say to yourself:
Repeat as many times as you’d like, for five to twenty minutes. Finish with five to ten more deep, calming breaths.
Meditation has given me such a sense of peace that I truly look forward to it each day- and creatively find time to make it happen. Once you start experiencing the benefits of meditation, I hope that you will too!