Myth #1: Meditation is all about stopping your mind. I often hear“I can’t meditate because I can’t stop my thoughts.” This may be the number one reason I hear from people who have tried meditation but quit. However, what’s important to understand is that thoughts are a natural (and necessary) part of meditation. You are simply watching your thoughts, noticing them and not getting all wrapped up in them as much as possible. Noticing is the key. Notice your thoughts. Notice any sensations you may have in your body. Notice your judgments and try to let them go.
Myth #2: There is a right way and wrong way to meditate and I just can’t seem to get it right. One of the biggest hurdles for me to get over with regard to meditating is that I might screw it up. What if I open my eyes? What if I get caught up in a thought? What if I stop focusing on my breath? Interestingly, I have become aware of the many “what if’s…” in my thoughts. I have a lot of them. When I can let go of “what if…” I am able to relax and not have so much worry and anxiety around meditation. The best part is that this actually follows me into my everyday life.
It is a myth that one cannot open her eyes while meditating. It is a myth that one cannot look at their watch or a clock – why not? What’s wrong with knowing how long you’ve been sitting or walking? The more we look at things as black and white, right and wrong, good and bad, we are setting ourselves up for failure or lack of trying. Simply (ha! It’s sounds so simple, but I know it is not) notice how our thoughts operate and try to let go.
Myth #3: Meditation is a quick fix for all your problems. While it is true that meditation can help to increase your clarity of mind, it is not an instant solution or quick fix. It takes consistent efforts and time to meditate before you develop mindfulness that permeates into everything you do in life. Meditation is not something that you whip out whenever you need a quick boost. With cultivation, meditation can help with problem solving abilities because it helps people gain awareness and insight, and eventually changes perceptions.
Myth #4: Meditation has to be practiced for a long time to gain benefit. This is probably one of the biggest stumbling blocks for many people and I frequently hear people say (and catch myself thinking at times), “I am too busy to meditate, I don’t have the time…etc.” Throughout the day, I frequently engage in meditation techniques to center myself or create a state of calm, patience, or concentration. The duration of these practices may last anywhere from 20 seconds to 1 minute. Many people have a hard time sitting down and staying still for more then five or ten minutes, therefore, I recommend starting slow by engaging in short meditation sessions. Start where you are and do not convince yourself that it isn’t enough. It is good enough. The more you can practice in small, manageable sessions, the more you will see benefits and build upon what you learn and gain from the practice.
Myth #5: Meditation means sitting in an uncomfortable (lotus) position. While sitting cross-legged on the floor works for some, you do not necessarily have to use it if you find it uncomfortable or painful. There are many forms of meditation, at least in my opinion. There are formal meditation practice and informal. I combine the two practices. You can have a formal sitting practice, during which you either sit in a straight-backed chair, sit on the floor with legs straight out in front, or in cross-legged position (half-lotus). There are also formal practices of standing, walking, and lying-down meditation. The key is to never compromise your safety for comfort. Sit with dignity and self-respect by keeping your spine and neck upright and neutral to prevent causing any injury to them. You may shift your position; just try to do so mindfully. There is nothing wrong with noticing you are uncomfortable and moving your legs, if you need/want. Bring awareness to the discomfort and make your movement mindful.
Informal practice includes the many times throughout the day that you engage in meditation techniques and mindfulness. This may include a time during the day when you become aware of your body and take the time to cultivate this awareness. You may be driving and you notice yourself lose your temper and you calm down and bring yourself back to your breath. There are a variety of ways to incorporate meditation into your day without necessarily sitting, however a formal practice will add a noticeable benefit even when it is for 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at night (which is what I am able to practice at this time).
Kimberly Atwood is a psychotherapist in private practice in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. She specializes in working with women and men in their late teens, 20’s and 30’s dealing with eating disorders, sexual and relationship issues, anxiety, life transitions and personal growth. Please visit www.Kimberlyatwood.com for more information.