With science-backed benefits in boosting mental health, managing chronic pain, reducing stress and improving sleep – there's no doubt that meditation should be part of your daily routine. But despite the growing popularity of this ancient practice, there's still plenty of misconceptions around it. So we've asked Nikki, Co-Founder of Centred Meditation, to set the record straight and clear up some of the most common myths about meditation.
1. The goal of meditation is to completely eliminate all thoughts
One of the most common misconceptions of meditation is that when we meditate we are trying to think of nothing. If this is your goal, you are only setting yourself up for failure. Put simply, it’s not possible to think of nothing. The very act of thinking implies that your brain is actively engaged in cognitive processes, and nothing implies no-thing is happening at all. Meditation is not about blocking out thoughts, it’s about allowing your mind to de-bug itself the way it knows best. It’s about giving your body the time and space it needs to simply repair itself. Certainly a by-product of meditation might be a period with no thoughts but it is definitely not the goal. Thoughts are a very normal part of the meditation process, the key is what you do (and how you do it) when you realise your awareness is on your thoughts.
2. You should always feel calm during and after meditation
Our goal with meditation is to allow our mind to debug itself and our body to repair itself in the way it knows best. The key is to never judge our meditation practice by what we experience inside the meditation itself but rather by the cumulative benefits that we experience outside of the meditation, in our everyday lives. Sometimes we feel calm during the meditation, other times we feel calm only afterwards, and other times still we don’t feel calmer afterwards at all. Like a workout, each meditation practice is different. And we need to remember that no matter what the experience is, the meditation is still working exactly as it is supposed to.
3. Meditation is hard
People who think meditation is difficult do so because they aren’t able to switch off their minds or stop themselves from thinking. There are many different styles of meditation and some are more difficult than others. At Centred Meditation we have an effortless approach to meditation. This means that our meditation should be easy, enjoyable, and effective. We do this by simply resting our awareness on an anchor, and effortlessly guiding our awareness back to that anchor whenever we spontaneously realise that it has wandered off. When you master the effortless nature of this process, it’s super easy!
4. You have to meditate for a long time to feel benefits
Often, the thought of meditation brings to mind images of monks sitting in a lotus pose for hours on end on their path to reach enlightenment. This concept doesn’t translate into our busy modern world, and nor does it need to. Research shows that shows that the ideal amount of time to meditate is 2.5 hours a week, or around 21 minutes per day. Although you don’t have to sit for hours at a time, and even 5 minutes can make a huge difference when you are stressed, it’s important to remember why you want to meditate and make it a priority. There is no doubt that the more you meditate, the more benefits you will realise. Consistency is key to reaping long-lasting rewards.
5. You have to be in a *quiet room / sitting down / special place* to meditate
There are many different styles of meditation and schools of thought which would all have a different response. At Centred Meditation, we say that the key is to be comfortable. There is no modern day evidence to suggest that sitting in a certain position or a certain place yields greater benefit. If you are comfortable sitting cross legged on the floor in a quiet room, then go right ahead. However, many of us don’t have the flexibility and that would bring us much discomfort. Others don’t have a quiet room either. However you sit and wherever you are, it's a good idea to help prevent yourself from falling asleep by keeping your head upright instead of leaning against the back of the chair. But, there are no rules when it comes to meditation. What works for you might be completely different to what works for someone else. Take the time to explore how you are most comfortable.
6. Meditation is just for people who are stressed
Thousands of scientific studies give rise to meditation as a powerful antidote to stress. It is a simple mind technique which triggers in the body a relaxation response that is the polar opposite of the stress response (fight or flight). But while meditation is a fantastic reactive solution when you are feeling stressed, it is even more powerful as a preventative strategy from getting stressed in the first place. What’s more though, the benefits go beyond just stress reduction – from increased longevity to improved sleep, and enhanced productivity to boosted immunity. Anyone can (and should) meditate. In fact, if the reported effects of meditation could be administered in the form of a pill, no doubt – everyone would be taking it!
7. Meditation takes years to learn
Research has shown that changes start to occur in the brain from the very first time you meditate. Effortless meditation takes seconds to learn and effects start to take place immediately. Having said that, since the benefits of meditation are cumulative, the longer you meditate, the more benefits you will experience in your life.
Nikki is the Co-Founder of Centred Meditation, an organisation shifting the accessibility of meditation in the world. It was while studying to be a psychologist at university when she experienced first hand the visceral effects of stress on her mind and body: constant anxiety, muscle spasms, digestive issues and the list goes on. She stumbled upon meditation online, and was taken aback by its immediate effects on all aspects of her life. She has since directed a non-profit organisation, trained as an Ayurvedic Practitioner, and travelled around the world organising, undertaking, and facilitating personal development and leadership programmes.