Demystifying Meditation

Here are a couple of facts that might surprise you about meditation:

  1. You DON’T need to change. As author Michael Singer says “You don’t meditate to make things change, you meditate to stop needing things to change.” 
  2. You are already an expert in meditation, you just don’t know it yet.

The goal of meditation is not to erase the mind or try your hardest not to have thoughts at all. This will never work because our brains are designed to have constant thoughts! While it can be challenging to sit down and meditate for extended periods of time, we actually meditate all the time.

Meditation is simply the practice of being fully immersed in the present moment on a point of focus for an extended period of time. Unfortunately, modern meditation has become watching Netflix, scrolling social media and searching the internet.  Even when you are washing dishes, vacuuming or painting by numbers you are “meditating” on these objects. You are distracting your mind away from its incessant chatter. These acts are just a little more “unconscious,” but they can still provide similar results – a “brain break!”

We all crave a brain break because our mind’s thoughts can be exhausting – mulling over and over the same old thoughts, worries and fears. This is the very reason a practice of “conscious” or, by choice, meditation can be just the prescription our minds need on a daily basis. Think of the act of meditating as going to the gym for your mind. We all know how important it is to exercise our bodies, but we don’t even consider that our mind needs its own training. Focus and concentration are the dumbbells for the mind.

The truth is that we often expect meditation to be something it’s not and we end up focusing on the wrong things. These misconceptions about meditation make us feel like we can’t do it. We get frustrated, give up and miss out on all the ways it can enhance our lives. What typically happens when you begin to sit quietly is this: your mind says something like, “I can’t just sit here, I have too much to do,” or “this is too hard, I’m not made to do this.” These are examples of why some people get up from their first session and never go back. 

Both science and experience show proof of meditation’s positive benefits –for health, happiness, work and relationships. Studies across the globe have shown that schools who have implemented mindfulness or meditation in their classrooms and have seen increased attention spans in students with ADHD or PTSD.

Think back to when you were first taught how to FOCUS. (Oh you weren’t? Me either!) I do remember in grade school the teachers told us to sit down, stay still, be quiet, focus and concentrate BUT they never gave us instruction or technique for how to do these elusive tasks. So, we modified, adapted and adjusted. Trying to do these things, especially for some of the more active personalities, is REALLY hard. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, “research has found that meditation may help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. When combined with conventional medicine, meditation may improve physical health. For example, some research suggests meditation can help manage symptoms of conditions such as insomnia, heart disease, pain, cancer and digestive problems.”

Here are some of my favorite misconceptions about meditation.

It’s NOT an altered state.

One of the biggest misunderstandings that I hear about mediation is it will take you into an “altered” state of being, this is not true. In fact it takes you into the most natural state there is…being YOU! 

Mindfulness, alongside other Eastern practices like yoga, has become more commonly accepted in the West over the last few decades. Mindfulness is a quality that every human being already possesses, it’s not something you have to conjure up, you just have to learn how to access it.

It’s NOT a religion.

Being a yoga teacher from the south, I have often been asked if it will interfere with my religious beliefs. My respectful answer is that all religions practice some form of meditation. The five major religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam all practice forms of meditation. The word “meditation” merely describes the act of accessing the inner peace which is already inside of you and is the best tool to help us clear worry and stress. 

It’s important to find a practice that is right for you. There are endless techniques for meditation, so here are a few suggestions to get started.  

  • Take a pause and focus your attention on your breath. With practice you will learn to simply redirect your mind away from your thoughts and back to your breath. Then, repeat this process with a timer. You can start with as little as 3-5 minutes and build up from there.  Sometimes you’ll notice days that you are constantly redirecting – and that’s okay – because now you are meditating!!  
  • Take a mindful walk. This type of meditation works well for people that find it hard to sit quietly. Slow down your pace and focus on each step. You can try Alicia’s Qi Gong Walk video or you can repeat something like “With each step I release,” or “With each step I let go.”
  • There’s an app for it! There are many apps available for download, often free of charge, that can offer endless techniques delivered right to the palm of your hand. Try Insight Timer or Calm and see what fits. 

That’s it – now you are ready! NO more excuses that it’s too hard or you don’t know how. Now that you know how simple it can be, start today. It does not matter what it looks like, just commit to starting the act of consciously meditating and I promise you will not regret it! Make the commitment, mark it on the calendar to chart your dedication, and remember it only takes 21 days to create a new habit! Happy meditating!

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