Lately I’ve had several people ask me for tips on meditating. They’ve all been curious about the practice and were interested in trying it for stress relief. But, in talking with them all, I discovered that they all held a variety of misconceptions about meditation– and they were all feeling *very* anxious about even attempting it! I thought that if a handful of my clients were feeling that way, perhaps many of you did too. But before I begin with the list of meditation misconceptions–
Disclaimer: I have never attended any type of “official” accredited fancy meditation training program, nor have I spent time at a retreat with a guru for mindfulness purposes. I am largely a self-taught meditator, having read several of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s books and participated in a couple of hour-long seminars on meditation. I am *not* an expert in this subject. I read a lot of research on meditation and its’ effects, and I try to practice it daily. But my thoughts here are completely my own, based in my own experience and on readings I have done. This information should not replace the medical diagnosis and treatment of your personal physician.
Myth #1: When meditating, I should sit in the lotus position for hours on end.
Truth: If this were so, 99.5% of us would fail miserably at meditating. The purpose of meditation is to be present, relaxed, peaceful. You can sit on the floor, on the couch, laying down in bed (as long as you don’t fall asleep!)– wherever you feel most comfortable. I always recommend starting with 5 minutes of meditation. You can work up to longer periods of time, but research has shown that meditating for just 5 minutes at a time has positive benefits on your blood pressure, heart rate, respiration rate, and overall sense of well-being. Once you feel comfortable with 5 minutes, aim for 10 minutes a few times a day.
Myth #2: When meditating, my mind needs to be as blank as a white sheet of paper.
Truth: Again, 99.5% of us would fail at this if it were a requirement of meditation. I often think it would be great if I had an on/off switch on my brain because it would certainly come in handy during meditation! It’s unrealistic to think we can just turn off our brains’ activity. The trick isn’t to try and stop thinking– the trick is to acknowledge the thoughts and then let them go. Some people find it helpful to visualize the thoughts as bubbles that float away, or twigs on a river that float by, or a falling leaf that blows away. You get the idea. If the thoughts are really bothersome (and they may be in the beginning), you can always have a notebook nearby to write them down quickly and then return to meditating.
Myth #3: I have to hum “ooohmmmm” while meditating.
Truth: Only if you want to. Some people find that repeating a mantra (like “ohm”) is helpful in focusing their minds, and some people are distracted by it. Personally, I meditate better when Gregorian chants are playing quietly in the background, but some people need absolute quiet. Experiment with different things– mantras, holy scriptures, positive affirmations, music, silence— and see what works best for you.
The only “right” way to meditate is the way that works for you. Whether that’s standing on your head reciting the Psalms or sitting lotus in silence– the purpose is to relax and be peaceful for just a few moments. Don’t be hard on yourself– this takes a little practice. And remember it’s just a few minutes at a time. Breathe deeply, focus on the moment, and BE.
If you’re curious about how music therapy and GIM fit into the meditation picture, contact me anytime. I’m always happy to answer questions!