With hundreds of thoughts circling through your mind from moment to moment, it’s no wonder many seek out the solace of meditation to calm the chaos, relax and restore.
But what does meditation mean to you? Do you meditate regularly, or do you see it as simply a form of escapism, or perhaps you avoid it because you tried it a couple times and decided you “failed” because you couldn’t quiet the constant thoughts?
There is quite a bit of misinformation floating around about meditation. And even more dogma around the “right” style of meditation. So I decided to address some of the most common myths around meditation, and decisively state that meditation is for everybody. Everyone can reap the many physical and psychological benefits of meditation.
So let’s start with eight common meditation myths… and next month we will cover 10 reasons why meditation should be a twice daily habit for you, just like brushing your teeth.
1. Myth: Meditation Requires Wiping Your Mind Clear Of All Thoughts
While it’s certainly true that during meditation you may find brief moments where you are between thoughts, that is a byproduct of regular meditation practice—we don’t actually try to wipe our minds clear of thoughts to meditate. It’s quite the opposite! Meditation asks us to focus our mind, seeing the mental chatter for what it is, just our brain at work, and learning to not attach to those thoughts. Meditation is about taking a moment of relaxation in stillness so that you can focus better when you are dealing with the stresses of life, thereby allowing you to make clearer, more creative decisions. Stress makes us stupid. Meditation makes us smarter. But more on that later.
2. Myth: Not Everyone Can Meditate
Everyone can meditate. Repeat after me. Everyone can meditate. Meditation is like exercise and food—there is a type of meditation to match every goal and taste. So if you have trouble sitting alone in a silent room and blocking out all earthly distractions (a Zen-style of meditation), try exploring other types of meditation—such as the Lila Method (based on Vedic meditation, and what I teach), Qi gong, yoga nidra, or even a walking mindfulness meditation, which challenges you to be present as you walk, focus on your surroundings, and feel the benefit of movement in your body.
3. Myth: I’m Bad at Meditation
This is similar to Myth 2 but is more personal. Maybe it’s not that you can’t meditate. Maybe it’s the style you tried didn’t work for you. That’s why I created the Lila Method of meditation. It incorporates ancient meditative techniques with 21st century understandings of neuroscience. It is adapted to our busy, western, modern lifestyle. I’ve utilized this technique with lawyers, executives and yoga students with great success. So if you have “failed” at blocking out all of your thoughts and negative talk based on previous attempts at meditation, take heart. I know other styles of meditation can be challenging. The Lila Method is a simple, elegant style of meditation that has worked for my super busy Type A lawyer mind, and can work for you.
Last point here before I move on. I make it a point to never judge my meditation practice by the time or quality of my meditation. Shorter or longer. Busy mind or quiet mind. Instead, I consider the aftereffects of my practice—for instance, did I get more work done in the afternoon? Did I sleep better? Was I more relaxed sitting in traffic? Meditation isn’t about what happens while you meditate. It’s about the wonderful after effects.
4. Myth: Meditation Is A Religious Ritual
If meditation brings to mind shorn-headed monks or yogis in robes, sequestered in a far-away monastery or ashram eating vegetarian food, you may be overthinking things. You do not need to change your lifestyle, or live in a cave to receive the benefits of meditation. Meditation is for anyone who is striving to reconnect with a more peaceful and less stressful way to live life. And anyone who wants to be more productive with ease and grace.
5. Myth: Meditation Encourages Escapism
If you fear that meditation is a way of running away from life’s problems—think again. Rather, meditation provides the tools to face and overcome life’s problems (i.e., fear, anxiety, depression and panic). Meditation practice also teaches us to accept life and people for what and who they are, and provides the inner strength necessary to live in the present with confidence.
6. Myth: I Don’t Have Time to Meditate
Sure, most of us are super busy and we don’t have time to add extra obligations to our day. However, even if your spare time is rare, you can benefit from taking a few minutes to unplug and relax. Try eliminating 10-minutes of scrolling through social media. Take a mid-morning or mid-afternoon break. Instead of hitting up the local coffee shop or vending machine for a jolt of caffeine, meditate. Go to a local park bench or a quiet meeting room over lunch for a 15 minute meditation and return more energetic and focused. Those who say they have no time to meditate benefit the most from a brief time out.
7. Myth: Meditating is Selfish
In order to meditate for even 10-minutes you need to take a bit of time for yourself. For many, that might be considered selfish, when it’s time you could be responding to emails, finishing that work report, studying, or spending time with your kids or spouse. If a brief moment of meditation seems self-indulgent to you; then consider the positive effect it will have on others when you return more focused, calm, happier, and able to devote your whole attention to them.
8. Myth: Meditation Takes Away Our Competitive Edge
The goal of any type of meditation is to help you live and experience the now, including the emotions that come from present experience. The idea that meditation strips us of our competitive edge is contrary. Rather, meditation practice teaches us to be more in tune with our emotions, our goals, and helps us to disengage from unhealthy negative talk, as well as emotionally draining people and situations. Leaving us empowered to attain more, with greater clarity, and with more energy and focus, than if we didn’t meditate.
I hope this has dispelled some of the most common myths around meditation that I hear. With the right training, anyone can meditate with success, be less stressed, anxious and exhausted, and more engaged, empowered and resilient.
Not sure how to start meditating? Getting started with a sustainable meditation practice is just an email away.
Lana Layton is a recovering lawyer and judge who decided it was time to make a change. She began practicing yoga and meditation, which led to her actually waking up, stop miserably going through the motions of life, and move into a career that matches her personality and skill set. Meditation profoundly and positively changed her life, and it can change yours too. Lana is available for corporate and private meditation trainings, coaching and more. You can also catch one of her meditation info sessions and classes at Firefly Yoga Center. Email us for more information or to set up a training or sample coaching session.
One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.
He said, "My son, the battle is between two "wolves" inside us all.
One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith."
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: "Which wolf wins?"
The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."
Whether or not it’s your first time hearing this story, it serves as an important reminder of the power we have over our experiences and emotions.
Imagine we have two “wolves” inside of us. The one we feed is the one that will be dominant in our life. When we feed the wolf of fear, the mind is consumed with danger and worry. We may feel overwhelmed by anxiety or sadness and paralyzed in life. When we feed the wolf of happiness and of well-being (santosha/contentment), we live in a place of ease, ready for what life offers. We are in the flow.
If accumulated stress has created a groove in your brain that feeds the wolf of fear, then it may be time to create a new groove for your brain's circuitry to follow.
When the wolf of fear is the deeper groove, the Inner Critic takes over our thinking. We get stuck in a rut. Anger, jealousy and anxiety can take over. It takes conscious effort to forge a new path and then deepen that path into a good rut, so that our brain feeds the good wolf.
Here’s what you can do to move toward feeding the good wolf:
• Start noticing which wolf is in charge.
• Then gently shift your focus to what your eyes see. Name a few things that you notice that are pleasing to your eyes.
• Notice what your body is feeling. Our body is a compass. It tells you how it feels about a situation if you will listen. When you feel relaxed, at ease, or energetic, you are feeding the wolf of happiness and well-being. Bring a sense of relaxation and ease into your body.
• Whenever your attention lands on something pleasing, describe it to yourself, as if you were telling someone who was fascinated by your perceptions.
• Allow a subtle shift of energy within, finding a focus of kindness, compassion or peace to fill you and create a sense of contentment.
• Breathe in and out slowly for a few cycles of breath.
These few simple steps can decrease fear thoughts saturating the mind with stress chemicals. The more often you engage these simple steps, your body enhances its capacity for well-being. Imagine your brain has grooves from past repeated thoughts. Remember, if you want to feed the good wolf, you must create new grooves for your brain to follow.
Create a ritual, or a time period in your day for feeding the wolf of well-being and contentment. When fear or anxiety start to take hold, see if you can shift your reaction to the situation. Observe the situation as if a third party. What advice would you give to a friend in your situation? See if that allows for a shift in perspective.
Take some slow deep breaths, journal, move your body. Whatever you need to do to discharge the energy created by the wolf of fear, and access your inner wolf of ease and happiness.
Sometimes we look to external objects to feed the wolf. We develop expectations that these things (a new job, a relationship, a lavish vacation, a brand new pair of shoes, a glass of wine, etc.) will finally make us feel the way we want to feel. And while this may bring momentary gratification, it isn’t realistic to maintain this long-term. Instead focus on activities, hobbies or work that allows you to create more times of being in the flow. Flow represents the times in life where you are so enjoyably lost or absorbed by what you are doing that time flies by. Find a way to incorporate more flow in your life. This way you can feed the good wolf from within, instead of looking externally. True lasting happiness comes from making an active choice to be happy, rather than depending on external things to make you happy.
You already have the tools you need to be content. You are whole as you are, right now. The feeling and experience of happiness comes from regularly feeding the good wolf. As the good wolf’s groove in your brain becomes deeper, you will be better able to handle life’s challenges from a place of peace. If you choose to feed only the good wolf, then that is the wolf that will win.
And best of all, when you apply these strategies, the only side effect is more relaxation, happiness and contentment, and less anxiety, anger and fear.