7 Dangerous Myths About Meditation
Meditation is now an extraordinarily popular practice that constantly receives mainstream endorsements. Doctors often encourage stressed out patients to try meditating, and it has been praised by everyone from business executives to military officers and politicians. While it’s wonderful that meditation is getting the degree of attention it deserves, it’s also important to note that its popularity has led to some serious misconceptions. Here’s the truth between seven of the most dangerous myths about meditation.
- Meditation is incredibly hard
This idea harks back to the days when meditation was thought to be something only spiritual gurus and holy men were capable of doing. However, this thought is outdated and inaccurate—many modern meditation teachers pride themselves on giving clear, simple explanations of the basic techniques, and many such techniques are as straightforward as doing breathing exercises or internally repeating a key mantra.
- A quiet mind is necessary for a proper meditation practice
Lots of people actually give up meditation because they can’t empty their minds, but those who do so are misunderstanding the goals of meditation. Trying to stop your thoughts just creates stress and panic—meditation is all about how much attention you give to your thoughts, not whether the thoughts are there. The trick is to find the space between thoughts by focusing on something else, such as the breath. When unrelated thoughts arise, just gently return your attention to your breathing. Even expert meditators experience moments in which the mind wanders!
- You need to wait years to benefit from meditating
Yes, there are long-term benefits to meditation that will develop and increase over many years of practice. However, there are also immediate benefits—some of which you may notice after just one session! For example, some people say just a couple of meditation sessions leave them sleeping more soundly than ever before. Meanwhile, scientists at Harvard University have shown that a mere eight weeks of daily meditation practice decreases anxiety and prompts neurological growth in brain areas linked to memory, self-conception, stress and empathy. Other recorded benefits include a drop in blood pressure, better immune system function, and enhanced focus.
- Meditation is a form of escapism
Some people who don’t like the idea of meditating say that it’s just a way of ignoring your problems or tuning out from the real world. On the contrary, the goal is self-growth—to really get in touch with your true self (the core essence of who you are, rather than just the part of you that’s constantly responding to external circumstances). Rather than encouraging you to escape from the present, meditation connects you with the present moment like never before—it bypasses our natural tendency to spend all our time dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. There are even meditation techniques that specifically focus on processing painful feelings or experiences you’re having, so that you can move on—a far cry from “escapism.”
- You need a lot of free time to meditate
Even if you’re a busy person, that’s not a good excuse to avoid starting a meditation practice! Think of the businesspeople who have been meditating every day for decades, for example. If you want to make meditation a priority in life, you can certainly do so. Remember, even just five minutes of meditation is worthwhile, and if you look at your daily habits you’re sure to find a space. Interestingly, many individuals who meditate on a daily basis say that their habit has given them a sense of having more time—they are able to accomplish more while somehow “doing” less. It is suspected that this change relates to meditation’s ability to reduce the sense of “running out of time” (by reducing blood pressure, slowing breathing, and lowering levels of key stress hormones).
- Meditation is only for religious people
You don’t need to have any particular religious or spiritual orientation to practice meditation—many atheists and agnostics advocate meditation as way of improving well-being. The benefits are practical and concrete (influencing both physical and mental health), and aren’t specifically tied to any belief system. However you spend your days and whatever you prioritize, meditation can help you to get more out of your life by making you feel more peaceful, focused and energized.
- Meditation is supposed to cause transcendent experiences
A final myth about meditation concerns its alleged ability to provide instant enlightenment, visions, or some sense of connection with the divine. While it’s possible to have these experiences as part of meditation, they’re not the reason for meditating, and you won’t likely have them on a daily basis! The real reason for mediating is to improve the way in which you go about your everyday life, and to enhance your ability to live in the moment—a change that yields more creativity, love, compassion and peace.