When I started meditating five years ago, I was familiar with the studies and anecdotal evidence supporting it. But that still wasn’t enough to leave me to dive into the practice at full force. That’s because I also held a number of ideas and preconceived notions about the goal of meditation and how my practice should look that kept it out of reach for me. I believed it could work others, but not for me. But, I quickly learned, I was wrong.
Misconceptions about meditation abound and too often shroud the ancient practice’s abundant benefits. Below, find five of those myths debunked.
1. You must sit completely upright in order for meditation to work
For the first year and a half that I practiced, I laid down with pillows and blankets, or I slumped in a chair. If someone saw me meditating, they’d think I was taking a nap, not training my attention. The truth is, relaxing into a comfortable posture is perfectly fine. Just keep in mind that you’ll likely have an easier time staying awake if you take an upright and alert seated position.
Not sure which posture to assume? Play around and experiment.
2. The goal of meditation is to empty the mind and clear it of thoughts
People often tell me they feel like they’re failing because they’re not able to turn their mind off and stop thoughts from happening. The truth is, there’s nothing wrong with thinking. The mind thinks just like the heart beats. “Thoughts will never permanently stop happening,” says meditation teacher Kimberly Carson. “There may be moments when you’re in a thought-free zone, but that’s not the ultimate goal.”
Thoughts will never permanently stop happening. There may be moments when you’re in a thought-free zone, but that’s not the ultimate goal.” —says meditation practitioner Kimberly Carson
When a thought drifts in during meditation, it provides a chance to cultivate skills to work with the energies of thinking. Without pulling the thought in or pushing it away, your job is to simply notice its existence. Observe the thought, and stay present with any judgments that arise. Then, gently guide your attention back to your point of focus. That might be your breath, a mantra, or whatever guided meditation you’re listening to. “Meditation teaches us that we can reorient our attention, letting it rest on other aspects of our experience,” Carson says. “As we learn to do this, the momentum of the thinking mind can begin to slow.”
3. It’s important that your environment is completely quiet when you practice
While I prefer to meditate somewhere quiet, silence isn’t always a realistic expectation. Hearing sounds can sometimes feel like a distraction, but they’re also an opportunity to increase awareness and build more mental strength. When your attention gets swept up in hearing, just let the sounds be a part of your practice. Notice the sounds, then gently guide your attention back to your point of focus. More importantly, notice that impulse of wanting things to be different. The problem isn’t that sounds are arising; rather, the problem occurs when we expect our environment and experience to look a certain way.
4. The goal of meditation is to feel calm
As we learn to reorient attention away from active thinking, there’s often a corresponding de-escalation of the nervous system, which, in effect, feels good and nourishing for the body. However, it’s not an end-game goal of meditation.
Rather, being fully present with what’s unfolding in order to use your energy skillfully, is more important.
5. Meditation can interfere with religion
Some people are apprehensive to try meditation because they’re worried it interferes with their faith. In actuality, though, many find that the practice deepens and enhances their connection to whatever belief system they subscribe. This ancient practice is not unique to one perspective, religious or not.
Kait Hurley is a movement and meditation teacher and entrepreneur based in Portland, OR. She runs kaithurley.com, an online training program that delivers do-anywhere workout and meditation classes. Combining yoga, strength training, and heart-pumping aerobic work with meditation, Kait encourages you every step of the way and meets you where you are, both physically and mentally.
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