The first time I attempted to meditate, I was about 9 years old. I was at a summer camp my parents enrolled me in and the other campers and I were awoken long before sunrise for a meditation session led by an elderly sage dressed in robes. The campers all sat crossed-legged on the floor of the dimly lit recreation hall while the sage asked us to close our eyes, clear our mind of any thoughts and focus on nothing.
This is exactly the scenario most first-time meditators fear. When I bring up the idea of meditation to a beginner, typical responses include: “I don’t think I can sit still, I need to be active,” or “I can’t think about nothing…I have too many thoughts.” The fact is, the kind of meditation the sage attempted to teach was way too advanced for even regular meditators, let alone a beginner (or a group of young kids at the break of dawn in dim lighting!). If a practitioner can find the right kind of meditation for him or her, meditation can actually be an activity enjoyed by almost anyone. There are literally hundreds of kinds of meditation out there – and some of them very mentally active! But in order to get the best benefits of your chosen meditation, let’s bust a few myths so you can begin your practice with the right expectations.
MYTH #1: You have to sit completely still
TRUTH: There are many, many types of meditation out there and some of them don’t even involve sitting. Have you heard of walking meditation? Or how about dancing meditation? What about Sufi whirling meditation? Meditation requires presence of mind, which can be applied to almost any activity, sitting or not. And though many traditional meditation techniques require sitting still, it is understood that a beginner will not be able to be as still as a more advanced meditator. So don’t worry if you have to itch your nose or change your position. But if you find that a sitting meditation is not for you, then switch to a more active style.
MYTH #2: You have to clear your mind of thoughts
TRUTH: Meditation is less about clearing your thoughts than it is about dis-engaging from your thoughts. What does that mean? It means that instead of just letting your mind wander freely, you try to observe where your mind wants to wander but then you refocus your attention to a particular activity. The activity can range greatly and can include: concentrating on the breath, repeating a phrase or mantra, feeling sensations or energy in the body, visualizing a beautiful place or certain colors, listening to sounds, singing, coloring, counting, dancing, etc. The idea is that the activity creates an anchor for the mind and instead of getting carried away with your thoughts you let activity replace those thoughts for as long as you can. This may just be mere seconds in the beginning. But as you practice more and more, the longer and longer you will be able to focus on the activity without your mind wandering off.
MYTH #3: Meditation is religious
TRUTH: There are religious meditations out there that may involve focusing on one deity or another. But most meditations are not religion-focused. Instead, the majority of mainstream meditations require focusing on your own breath, body, emotions, imagination or your immediate surroundings. So most meditation is really self-focused rather than religion-focused.
MYTH #4: Meditation is time-consuming
TRUTH: Even as little as 3 minutes of meditation can help reduce stress and tension. It is recommended that you gradually increase the amount of time that you meditate as you get better, but just a few minutes in the beginning is enough to get you going. Need more motivation? Meditation can be done on any form of public transportation. Put on a pair of sunglasses and some headphones and no one will be the wiser.
MYTH #5: You have to be really patient to meditate
TRUTH: One of the benefits of meditation might be that it helps you to develop patience and calmness over time, but most people aren’t born with the ability to meditate with complete ease every time. Meditation is meant to be a challenging activity that helps us to improve our mental state so that we can handle stress, change, emotions and everything else that weighs down our minds.
If you haven’t tried meditation yet or you decided you didn’t like it the one time you tried it, I highly suggest you explore a few of the many methodologies out there until you find the right one for you. You might just look forward to the mental recharge, improved sleep, stress-relief and the many other benefits of meditation.