This weekend, I attended a meditation event and once again found it magical how so many people can come together to learn and share such a life-altering, yet deeply personal experience like meditation. However, the more you learn, the more you might see certain patterns. These are some of the myths I come across frequently, which perhaps raise the stigma attached to meditation. Here are a few of the more common misconceptions I have encountered:
20-30 minutes a day, twice a day. If you’re gonna remember ONE thing from this article, let it be this. You don’t have to meditate for 20-30 minutes a day, twice a day. Just like you wouldn’t tell someone who just started working out to do so for an hour a day, 5 days a week. Similarly, we shouldn’t tell people who are trying to get into meditation the equivalent of that. Or anyone, for that matter. Start with 1 minute. Then try 2, then 3, then 4. Decide what works for you. Do that. As my favorite therapist says: “It’s a process, not perfection.”
Regular meditators don’t get sick. Meditation lowers stress hormones therefore making us less susceptible to illness. However, this study shows us that while non-meditators call in sick more often(missing 67 days from work), meditators still occasionally call in sick (they missed 16).
All regular meditators have a strict food regimen. Actually, meditating makes you more mindful of your surroundings and choices in general and food choices are no exception. However, eating "unhealthy" doesn’t make you more or less of a meditator. Especially now, where it’s not just monks in Asia (cliché, I know) who practice meditation, but people of all ages, professions, descents, skepticism and cynicism levels. You can meditate regularly your entire life without ever having to change your eating habits. You can have all the cake and the mindfulness too.
There is a difference between thinking and meditating. We're still, our eyes closed, just us and our brains...so why aren't the thoughts that cross our mind before we fall asleep considered meditative? Or when we're brushing our teeth? According to the Laboratory of Neuroimaging at the University of Southern California, we think 48.6 thoughts per minute, or 70,000 thoughts per day. Meditation, on the other hand, is cultivating an awareness of our thoughts, or learning how to not engage with our thoughts. In other words, meditation helps with that brain noise. Which brings me to...
Meditation = eliminating our thoughts. This is a pretty common one. However, eliminating our thoughts isn't an attainable goal (nor one we should be striving for). Our thoughts become the elephant in the room and the more you try not to think, the more you do. Meditation is about being mindful and non-judgmental of your thoughts, and not labeling them as good or bad. Your meditation practice isn't ruined if you find yourself thinking of what you're gonna have for breakfast. You just kindly return to your breath/ mantra/ visualization...
There’s literally nothing bad about meditation. If used excessively, even elixir can turn into poison. In 1992, Shapiro, a professor at UCLA, conducted a study and found some people experienced bad side effects like anxiety, panic, confusion when meditating. Eastern practitioners suggest that these issues might arise when beginning meditators try to go too far too soon. As with any new practice, starting slow and easy is the way to begin, and then building from there.
There's only one (right) way to do it. Some family, friends, or teachers might praise their way as the best and only one that "really works" while diminishing the importance of other types of meditation. However, there are many ways to meditate. For example, When I was in Sri Lanka I meditated with a monk who taught every kind of meditation to beginners so they could compare and contrast their experiences. For example, mantra meditation doesn't work for me, and that's okay. One size doesn't fit all when it comes to meditation.
You need a teacher/retreat/book/… To me, the most wonderful thing about meditation is that to do it, all you need is you. Being mindful of your breath and thoughts is only up to you. Of course, teachers and books help, but they’re not necessary nor essential. What it all comes down to is how willing you are to deepen your relationship with your quietest, truest, most authentic self.
Keep calm and meditate on.