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Debunking Common Misconceptions of Meditation

posted: 11/01/17
by: Katie Morton

With everything going on in the world today, it's no wonder Americans' stress levels are at an all-time high. And prolonged, elevated stress is proven to have adverse effects on our health, in some cases leading to high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.

So, what are some ways we can get our stress levels back to normal? Well, meditation for one. We know, we know--cue eyeroll. With all the new apps and programs, mediation has been front and center all over the place. It's hard being told by the experts that the solution to our problem is something we have no idea how to do and, before now, had little to no interest in doing.

But, meditation, once you've learned how to do it, is extremely easy to do and can be done almost anywhere. Meditation and yoga expert Erin Joan Lamberty helps us debunk some of the most common misconceptions about meditation to get a better understanding of what it's all about.

Common Misconception #1: In order to meditate, you have to sit super still in a cross-legged seat with a perfectly upright spine and never flinch.

What is the first image that comes to mind when you hear the word meditation? A monk in a robe alone in a cave? A group of people who seem to have unlimited free time to sit in lotus posture in a room together and not talk to each other? A laughing, big-bellied Buddha statue from a gift shop?

Even though more and more people are becoming familiar with the concept of meditation, there are still many questions about what it actually looks like to meditate. The good news is that there are many different postures that are "right" for meditating.

Even in super ancient texts about meditation, there are actually four postures suggested--sitting, standing, lying down, and walking.

Standing

If you're feeling low on energy or it's early in the morning, doing a 10-minute meditation while standing is a good option. Erin recommends taking your shoes and socks off so you can really feel the surface beneath your feet and do a body scan practice.

Walking

Go for a walk, leaving your phone at home. No music, no taking an Instagram photo of the fall leaves, no quick Googling of that song lyric you can't get out of your head. Only pay attention to the way your body moves as you walk. Each step will feel different when you pay close attention. Also take in the sounds of the neighborhood, the colors of nature, and the pace of your breath.

Lying Down

If you've had too much coffee, your body is physically tired, or it just simply doesn't feel good to sit, stand, or walk, lying down is a perfectly fine posture for meditation. For many people, lying flat on your back isn't always comfortable, so Erin recommends a supported restorative yoga posture.

Common Misconception #2: In order to meditate, you have to get rid of all of your thoughts and get your mind to completely stop.
The mind is designed to think, process, and retrieve memories when we need them. It's job is to have thoughts! And in mindfulness meditation, the goal isn't actually to get rid of thoughts, it's to cultivate stronger focus to the object or thought you're trying to pay attention to, and to gradually have more time focusing, before getting distracted by a thought.

So really, it's not a matter of if you'll get distracted in thought while meditating, but when. In fact, mindfulness meditation is classically defined as a practice of remembering and returning. When meditating, you'll experience the cycle of focus, distraction, remembering, and returning dozens of times.

Don't let this idea of repeating a cycle over and over get you down! With consistent practice, your attention can become stronger and you'll be able to keep your mind focused for longer periods of time--and not just on your breath in meditation, but in paying attention to anything you put your mind to. And just like you wouldn't expect six pack abs after two workouts at the gym, you won't have laser sharp focus after two times meditating. So, give it some time and see what happens!

Common Misconception #3: In order to get the benefits of meditation, I have to do it the right way.
There's no right or wrong way to meditate! There are dozens of meditation methods and it's a good idea to try a few out, find one you like, and then stick with that for a while.

For those of you who are on the go a lot, you could download an app that offers guided meditations or look up some recordings on YouTube. However, Erin strongly recommends trying to find a community of people to meditate with. "It's a great opportunity to ask questions to the teacher and your fellow meditators. Check out your local community listings, church groups, and yoga studios for meditation sessions to join."

Meditation doesn't have to be this scary, weird thing we avoid. With just a little bit of understanding and practice, we can be leveraging it to lower our stress levels from anywhere. Happy meditating!