We as humans have an ability to stuff down or cover up the pressure or stress we feel. We do this by procrastinating, consuming prescription drugs, doing excessive exercise, or indulging on alcohol or other substances. However, those are quick fixes. They take you out of present moment awareness and momentarily allow you to escape the reality you’re currently in. Those outlets are fleeting — it’s not the external situation that we need to change, it’s our perception of the external. We are best able to relieve pressure, and stress, when we are rested.
When is the last time you took a minute to close your eyes, and let your mind go? How would that feel? Do you feel many thoughts would come? Do you fear you may not be able to adapt to those thoughts? If an exercise like this is uncomfortable for you, it’s likely because you’re not getting the rest you need.
Rest is the antidote to stress, and one of the best ways to rest and dissolve stress is through meditation. Meditation allows an opportunity to rapidly release stress that’s been accumulating for long periods of time. Let’s dive into the myths surrounding meditation.
Myth One: I am bad at meditation because I can’t stop thoughts or quiet my mind.
The nature of the mind is to think. The average brain fires off between 50,000 and 70,000 thoughts a day. Take solace in this finding; we can’t forgo the automatic workings of the mind. That said, everyone can learn a simple technique and begin implementing it daily with ease. If you can think, you can meditate, it’s that simple.
The only goal we should have with meditation is to do it. The practice of meditation is process-oriented rather than goal-driven. Pivoting to this mindset is freeing; we’re no longer bound to speculation and can relax into the practice. I recommend setting aside fifteen minutes of your day to start. This mental reprieve is just one percent of your day, and with consistent practice, will begin to quickly yield the fruits of its labor. Consistency is important for meditation, as it is for all behavior where you hope to improve over time. If I have a membership to the gym but never went, I can’t blame the gym for lack of muscle growth.
Myth Two: There is no correct way to meditate.
One of the most common questions I receive is, “Why do I need to be taught meditation if it’s a process of self-discovery?” I can best answer this question with a personal anecdote from my childhood. Swim lessons boggled me as a kid. I remember my initial fears early one summer, as I learned to slowly build up a stride, diving head-first into the deep end, and swimming across to the pool’s side. By the end of the summer I had mastered this sequence, coming back the following summer to learn a variety of strokes from the same instructor. Had I not learned the proper techniques in sequential order from a coach, would I have figured out how to swim efficiently and with grace? Probably not. Would I have been able to get certified as a lifeguard and be able to utilize the techniques learned to then be of service to others? No.
Meditation, like virtually all disciplines, improves with proper instruction and consistent application. Two individuals; one using the doggie paddle and the other slicing through the water with freestyle and flip turns, are both swimming. But, if you asked yourself, who you’d most want to offer you tips on your own swimming, it’s an easy answer.
Myth Three: I don’t have time to meditate.
We make time for things that are important. These things fall into two categories; activities we want to do and activities we need to do. Meditation applies to both categories, and as it becomes habitual, it no longer appears to be taking time from other activities. The idea of meditation has changed for me over the years. At first, I found it difficult to sit for even a very short period of time. I knew meditation was good for the mind, body and spirit, but I didn’t necessarily enjoy it when I was “dabbling.” And when I say “dabbling,” it varied from a few times a week to a few times a year. In reality, I was doing the best I knew how but I did not have a foundation to build on. It was like trying to figure out how to swim after being dropped in to the vastness of the open water ocean.
My lukewarm approach to meditation changed when I learned the simple techniques behind Vedic Meditation, a practice whose use is backed up by hundreds of scientific studies. My practice went from something I “had to do,” to something I “got to do.” This shift in mentality made all the difference, with the fruits of my meditation appearing in the first weeks of persistent practice. Events that use to upset me no longer controlled me, and I developed a new level of introspection. I was now able to sit with myself, alone, in a quiet room, and not feel the urgent need to do something. For me, that was huge.
Myth Four: I can meditate while doing other things.
Now that we’ve covered some primary misconceptions surrounding meditation, I’d like to turn to a question I’m often asked. “Can I meditate while doing other things, like exercising?” The short answer is, no. When we partake in high intensity physical activity the body utilizes the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response). The brain then induces a release of chemicals (e.g. cortisol or adrenaline) indicative of what would have been needed to survive a prehistoric altercation. With the sympathetic nervous system on high alert, or body is unable to alleviate stressors using the parasympathetic nervous system. This precludes proper meditative practice from taking place.
Beyond exercise, there are a couple other things to avoid before meditation. With meditation, we are in the business of de-exciting mind and body. This can’t happen anytime we ingest food or have an intake of caffeine. These catalysts light up our body’s mechanisms, blocking an enjoyable meditative experience. When both mind and body start to de-excite the body can then go into a deep state of profound rest. This is critical as approximately 90 percent of our body’s repair occurs during rest states.
Meditation does not have to be boring, something you struggle through or something you are afraid of doing. In fact, meditation should be none of that. There is a technique in which it can be easy, effortless, beneficial and quite enjoyable.