When you think about meditation, you might imagine that it can only ever happen when seated beside your very own serene waterfall, soft linen garments billowing in warm breeze. Or you might think that you’re not doing it right unless your mind transforms into a perfect blank slate, thoughts of to-dos or appointments completely banished. Or that someone like you could just never do it. There are a lot of misconceptions about what meditation is - or what it can be for you - and we’re here to debunk a few of those, so that maybe, just maybe, you can consider if it’s a practice that could be right for you.
It doesn’t mean you empty your mind
When you first meditate, your mind may race, feel full, or be distracted by all sorts of thoughts. You might also feel bored, anxious, or just uncomfortable. This is totally normal, and you’re not aiming to empty your mind of everything. Our days are busy, our minds are busy - so it’s no surprise that stillness might feel strange at first. The aim is really just to slow down and move toward greater awareness of whatever you’re focusing on - whether that’s a mantra, your breath, your body, or something else.
It doesn’t have to be overly complicated
As you’re starting to explore what meditation is all about, you can definitely take a class, use an app, or listen to a guided recording. For many people, that’s an incredibly helpful way to learn about the practice, but those are really just tools to help you dive it. At its heart, meditation is meant to be kept pretty darn simple. Close your eyes, breathe, focus on your breath, and when your mind starts to wander (which it probably will), try to return to that focus on your breath. Not that meditation is necessarily easy (again, the mind may wander), but getting started can be.
You don’t have to be completely still
Many people practice meditation while seated cross-legged on the floor, seated in a chair, or lying down on the floor. (And sure, some people even practice while still as a statue beside that serene waterfall.) But maybe for you, meditation happens while you’re running, walking, doing yoga, or stretching. Maybe it happens while breathing deeply for a few minutes at the end of your morning or shower, as you balance among other commuters on a busy train, or as you settle in bed before sleep. Whether you’re really rather still or in motion, it’s still meditation.
You don’t need to clear your schedule to find time
You might think you can’t find the time for meditation, but If you want to make time for it, chances are you can find the time - even if you’re incredibly busy. You don’t need big stretches of uninterrupted time, and it’s entirely okay to carve out moments here are there - in the shower, in bed, on the train. Even a few minutes on your lunch break, in the car before walking into work, or after your kids are in bed. And if you think it would be helpful to very clearly carve out time for the practice, you can even set a reminder alarm on your phone or put an appointment in your calendar.
Even if you don’t get the hang of it right away, that doesn’t mean you can’t be good at it
Some people feel great after meditating for the first time, but for many people, it’s once they’ve been practicing for several weeks (8 weeks seems to be the magic number), that things feel really good. It’s a lot like working a muscle - the more you do it, the stronger you are. But meditation is also a lot like yoga, in the sense that every day is different - some days on the mat are good, some less so - and you just have to respect the practice and have faith in the process. If you have one session that’s not so hot, that doesn’t mean the next will be. Again, it’s really all about the process.
Even if your life is full of distractions, that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to focus
If your life is feeling full of distraction - maybe your job is super demanding, you have a noisy neighbor, you’re a parent, whatever the reason - it may seem like you’ll never have the peace and quiet you need to meditate. Certainly, do what you can to get comfortable and quiet and carve out time and space where you have fewer of those distractions if that’s an option - and maybe even grab some ear plugs. But don’t worry about blocking it all out, since meditation is about recognizing those distractions - not resisting that they’re there - and then trying to return your focus to your breath, your mantra, or whatever else you’re focusing your attention on as you meditate.
There’s no one right way to meditate
There are so many different options for meditation, so one day repeating a mantra while still in bed at the end of the day might work for you, and the next day you might want to meditate while outside for a walk. And if you’ve only ever imagined that meditation has to happen beside a serene waterfall, you might feel like you’re cheating to meditate with earbuds in while on a city bus. But that’s meditation too - you can do your practice your way and make it work for you.
Alice Boyes.“5 Meditation Tips for Beginners.” Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, LLC, March 18 2013. Retrieved February 5 2019. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-practice/201303/5-meditation-tips-beginners.
Sue McGreevey. “Mindfulness meditation training changes brain structure in 8 weeks.” Massachusetts General Hospital. Massachusetts General Hospital, January 21 2011. Retrieved February 5 2019. https://www.massgeneral.org/News/pressrelease.aspx?id=1329.
Lea Waters. “The Relationship between Child Stress, Child Mindfulness and Parent Mindfulness.” Psychology. 7(1): 40-51. January 2016. Retrieved February 5 2019. https://www.scirp.org/journal/PaperInformation.aspx?PaperID=62741
“Meditation for beginners.” Headspace. Headspace Inc. Retrieved February 5 2019. https://www.headspace.com/meditation/