Mindfulness Meditation is a wonderfully beneficial practice that can be integrated into one’s day as a way to improve mental health and quality of life. Some physicians even promote what is known as “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)” as a way to help patients in mental health and pain management. MBSR is an evidence based experiential program that was created by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D in 1979 as a way to offer systematic trainingin mindfulness meditation and movement to his patients that they could incorporate into their daily life. With more than 40 years of research, MBSR has demonstrated exceptional outcomes in the improvement of both physical and mental health conditions including anxiety, depression and chronic pain. The best part about starting a mindfulness meditation practice is that anyone can do it at any time, in any place, and for any length of time and you do not need a prescription for it.
You may hear the words mindfulness and meditation used together or interchangeably when reading up on methods of stress reduction. To eliminate some of the confusion, the very simple definition of mediation provided by Merriam-Websters dictionary is: To spend quiet time in thought for religious purposes or relaxation, to engage in contemplation, reflection, or in mental exercises such as concentrating on ones breathing or repetition of mantra.
So what is Mindfulness?
Simply put, it is a state of awareness in which you can calm your mind, center yourself, and focus on the present moment. Mindfulness meditation is a practice of achieving this calmness through different methods that specifically resonate with the individual. There are many ways to be mindful in everyday life. Below is not an exhaustive list of mindfulness activities but definitely a good place to start familiarizing yourself with some of them.
There are many misconceptions about meditation such as meditationneeding to be done in very specific ways or only in the “perfect” environmentand circumstances but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Below are 10 myths about meditation that we need to clear up right away so that you can feel confident in starting your own practice:
Myth 1. Meditation is a religion
When it comes to spirituality, it can take many forms. While meditation is promoted in many religions around the world, meditation in itself is not necessarily a religious practice. Some people who pray feel peace and calmness in that activity, similar to those who choose to meditate. Regardless of who or what you believe in as a higher power, what religious group you are a member of, or if you do not believe in any of those concepts at all, meditation is a personal practice that is unique and special to your own way of life.
Myth 2. Meditation requires “extra’s”
If you think you need to light candles, lay out a special throw rug, wave incense around, all while wearing a special outfit or garment and sitting on a velvet tufted cushion- Let me be the one to tell you that will not be necessary. If you want to add external items to your mediation session to create an environment that makes you feel more comfortable and connected,you absolutely can, but know that it is not a requirement in order to start ameditation practice.
Mediation can be BYOB – Bring your own Body!
Myth 3. Meditation requires you to shut your brain off completely
This is one of the most common misconceptions about meditation. Admittedly, the one that prevented me from starting for a while. It is nearly impossible to not think. We are always conscious of something and in a world where people are managing work schedules, families, and other extracurriculars, it may seem like meditation just isn’t in the cards.
Good news is, you do not have to shut all of your thoughts off in order to meditate, in fact, mindfulness mediation is a practice that can allow you to focus on specific items or activities and learn how to regulate your thoughts. Clearing your mind while trying to de-clutter the brain during mediation doesn’t mean you won’t have thoughts about what to add to your grocery list pop up during this time. Take a moment to acknowledge that thought and then allow yourself to send it away for the time being.
Myth 4. Meditation requires an instructor
There are certainly meditation centers that you could go to or classes you could join in order to meditate, but unlike a yoga practice, you do not need to be taught necessarily how to meditate. Guided meditations are excellent ways to have a person walk you through visualization techniques during a mediation session and the good news is, you can find many of these for free online or with meditation apps that you can download.
Myth 5. Meditation has specific time requirements
If you have ever thought to yourself, “I don’t have time to meditate”, then you may actually need to do so more than anyone! If you have 5 hours a day, or 5 minutes a day, you can meditate. This is not a class presentation where your professor gives you a minimum talk-time that you have to meet in order to get full credit- you can absolutely take as little or as much time to meditate that your day allows for. Fitting in a time to meditate in the middle of your schedule can be beneficial for you to make sure not to let stress build up. You may find yourself being more productive as a result of it.
On the subject of time, there is no specific time of day that is “better” to meditate. Just like some people feel more productive during certain times of the day, you may find that there are times in the day that you feel more inspired to set time aside for your meditation practice.
Myth 6. Meditation is just a lot of breathing.
Breathing is essential for sustaining life so I would be lying if I said that you don’t do a lot of it by default, however, in meditation, focusing on inhaling and exhaling during meditation is a way to help bring you back to the present moment and allow you to connect the mind and the body. Sometimes this also helps you to be mindful of the breath and slow down breathing patterns, promoting relaxation. Simply saying that all one does during meditation is breathe is a little misrepresentative of the entire practice but do take away from this that mindfulness of the breath is a component of meditation, but not the only one.
Myth 7. Meditation needs to have a script
Some people might enjoy using a mantra during their meditation practice such as positive affirmations or expressions of gratitude, but it is not necessary. You do not need to memorize lines or verses of anything and in fact, repeating mantras may be distracting and the preference may just be to sit in silence and use visualization techniques instead.
Myth 8. Meditation needs to be done in silence
When we close our eyes and take that sense away, our other senses, such as the sense of hearing tends to heighten. Being aware of your surroundings and sounds that you may not have heard before should not be what stops you from meditating. Finding a perfectly silent space to do anything seems like more of a luxury in our everyday life. Depending on where you are located when deciding to meditate, you may hear noise and sounds around you but the goal will be to shift your focus away from those sounds. If you are easily distracted, you can try using a white noise app, or put in a pair of headphones and play some soft music. One of my frequent searches in YouTube is “Background music for Meditation” and I always find something that works for me. Ultimately it is an individual preference for what you choose to listen, or not listen to during your practice.
Myth 9. Meditation has to look a certain way
If this is what you envision when you think of meditation,well, you aren’t entirely wrong in your assumption about what ONE of the ways that a person may look during meditation. I say this with all sincerity, There Is No Right Or Wrong Way To Meditate. Whether it is in your room, on the beach, in the woods, on a mountain, in your back yard, in your FRONT yard, on a plane, on a train… I think you grasp my point here. You also do not have to sit in any specific position. If you prefer to lie down that is perfectly fine too- just find the most comfortable position for you at the time that you are meditating and you’ll be on your way!
Myth 10. Meditation and mindfulness is only a practice for adults
There is no age minimum or age limit for who can meditate.This should come as a relief to parents and caregivers to know that the same meditation and mindfulness techniques used in daily practice can be passed down and taught to their children. In fact, there are some schools around the country who are already incorporating mindfulness and meditation practices intotheir curriculum with results such as improved attention, emotional regulation, more compassion, and reduced stress and anxiety.
Now that we've cleared up some of these myths, I hope you feel inspired and more confident to begin your own mindfulness or meditation practice.
For more information on meditation, mindfulness, and mindfulness in schools,feel free to visit any of the following resources.