While the benefits of meditation are no longer doubted, and the practice is becoming more and more mainstream, many people still believe that it’s not for them.
And — for most of them — this is probably not the case.
Indeed, meditation is not for everyone, but it is safe for most people to practice. And most people can practice effectively even if, right now, they can’t see themselves getting into it.
I was one of those people, and now I’m not only a daily meditator but a certified teacher of the practice as well. And if you’d told me this would be the case fifteen years ago, I wouldn’t have believed it for a second.
How or why I eventually became interested in the practice is a story for another day. But before I did manage to make it a daily habit, I struggled with it. And I doubted my ability to become a meditator until I had a formal lesson with a teacher.
That turned it all around for me, and meditation has brought me many benefits I never expected.
As a teacher, I’ve learned that there are a few myths that most frequently stand in the way of beginners or potential beginners.
If you’re dealing with any of these issues, I hope the following will help.
My mind is too busy — I can’t do it right, or it doesn’t work for me.
Meditation is a process of quieting the mind. That said, our mind’s nature is to think, and it thinks thousands of thoughts per day. It will not be completely still for more than the briefest of periods.
During meditation, we use a point of focus, for example our breath, to temporarily block out thoughts and give the mind a chance to quieten down. But it doesn’t take long for thoughts to interject. The moment of mindfulness is noticing that has happened. And when we notice it, we redirect our attention once more — until the next time we notice our mind is wandering.
Throughout the sit, we get lots of opportunities to practice this. It doesn’t matter how often it happens; it doesn’t mean you’re failing. And it doesn’t mean the practice is failing you.
The purpose of meditation is not to be a period of relaxation. The practice helps us to release accumulated mental, emotional, and physical stress. Over time, our stress levels lower, and our well-being improves.
Judging the practice based on their experience in the moment, many come to a negative conclusion. And then they quit. But we need to give it time to know if it’s working for us. It’s no different from building up physical fitness. The benefits accumulate gradually over time. Be patient with yourself and your busy mind.
When you start to notice the benefits, you’ll become more accepting of the constantly intruding thoughts.
I don’t have time.
If you have time to read this article, you have time to meditate. I promise you, every five minutes counts.
Again, like getting physically fit, a little every day will be more effective than doing a long session now and again. Of course, if you’re doing twenty minutes daily, you’ll start to notice benefits more quickly than if you’re only doing five. But if you’re not meditating at all, you’re not accumulating any of its benefits.
In an ideal world, you’d meditate early in the morning and early in the evening for twenty to thirty minutes.
In the real world, find a time that you can work for you habitually. Whether that’s five, ten, or twenty minutes, where in your day could you routinely dedicate that bit of time to meditation? Because regular practice (as near to daily as you can make it) is the best option. During my training, we were taught the simplest formula: RPM
Could you get up five or ten minutes earlier each morning to integrate this practice into your daily routine?
For many people, this is the easiest solution. We all have some order in which we do things in the morning — weekdays, at least. If you weave meditation in there — before you do anything else — it means you start the day off with a few minutes of self-care. Our routines are more easily derailed later in the day than first thing.
That said, if your current life circumstances genuinely make that seem impossible right now, find another time in the day that could work for you. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Find that few minutes.
I’m not able to sit in the correct position.
Do not be fooled by the images you see all over social media—sitting cross-legged on the floor is not necessary. You can sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor. You can sit upright in your bed. You can even lie down—although it’s better to sit upright if you can do so comfortably.
Lying down increases the chances of falling asleep, especially when you’re new to meditation. That’s not the end of the world, maybe the sleep is what you need most right now. But you don’t want your body to make an automatic correlation between meditation and sleep, which might happen if you start out lying down and falling asleep each time.
If you’re an experienced yogi and sitting in lotus position is easy and comfortable for you, go for it. But the key to being able to sit still(ish) for ten to thirty minutes is to be comfortable. So, if it won’t be comfortable for you, choose a position that will be.
I should have a profound experience.
It’s a mistake to compare your meditation experience to the tales you’ve heard of people having visions, hearing whispers from the divine, or any other “special” experience.
Some people indeed report this — be it occasionally, frequently, or even every time they meditate. But if you’re not already psychically attuned, it’s not likely to happen to you. So there’s no need to either fear this possibility or to be disappointed not to have it.
Most people will have a more mundane experience. But that doesn’t mean you’re not reaping the benefits.
During meditation, even if it doesn’t feel like it, we do transcend thought briefly. And it will frequently happen if we keep bringing our attention back to our focal point whenever we notice our mind has wandered.
During these brief moments — known as the gap (between thoughts) — our body and mind release the accumulated stress it’s been holding on to.
The snag is, we cannot be consciously aware of this transcendence. We might have an inkling that it has happened — maybe you might feel some moments of bliss. But not feeling this does not mean you’re not getting anywhere.
The point of meditation is to improve mental, physical, and emotional health gradually. Withhold judgments on the experiences you have during the practice. Instead, over time, assess whether it is making a difference to your wellbeing.
Are you feeling less stressed and anxious?
Has there been an improvement in any physical conditions, particularly symptoms that typically get triggered during stressful times?
Are you sleeping better?
Is your mood improving?
Sometimes others will notice a difference in you before you do. One way or another, it is only with time and regular practice that you will know if it’s working for you.
Please don’t be too hasty to dismiss it because it doesn’t feel special or profound.
Meditation should be a relaxing experience.
This is a common expectation, and it isn’t always the case. Sometimes meditation is enjoyable and relaxing. Other times, not so much.
When we release the stress that’s been held in our bodies, it can be uncomfortable. Tears might flow. (That’s generally my experience when I’m going through a tough time.)
This isn’t a bad thing at all. It’s a sign that something we’ve suppressed has been released. Or something that is currently upsetting us is drawing our attention to it, so we fully process it.
Tears are healing, and I’m always grateful when I have this experience.
It’s important not to judge what happens during meditation but to accept it as what we need. Because each meditation will be different. Sometimes it will be relaxing. Other times it will be dull and tedious. And occasionally, it will be downright uncomfortable.
As long as you’re not feeling discomfort every time, there’s no reason for concern or to abandon the practice.
If any of these ideas have been stumbling blocks for you, know that you’re in good company. These are common misconceptions that prevent many people from starting at all or keeping it up.
The great news is that a simple adjustment in your expectations can help you overcome them.
Be gentle with yourself. Treat it as an experiment, which is what it is really. You won’t know if it’s for you until you give it a real go.
Please be aware: while meditation is generally deemed safe for most people to practice, if you have an existing mental health problem, you should consult with your doctor before taking it up. And your instructor needs to be informed of your condition.