Intro to Meditation: Common Myths & Simple Methods


Curious about meditation? Tried to meditate, but hated it? Do you find even the word "meditation" intimidating? These are common experiences, often attached to the image of someone sitting tranquilly, aglow with the light of a thousand serenity fairies. The point is, there are so many ways to meditate. You'd be surprised about how versatile and integrative it is with your daily life.


*Spoiler Alert* I'm going to use the word "meditation" over and over in order to desensitize those of you who have an aversion to the term. <wink, wink>


Today I'll offer a few simple steps to start incorporating meditation into your life in a way that does not have to feel intimidating or burdensome. These steps are how I started, as someone who hated the idea of sitting still for any length of time. The methods discussed a little further below are directed more toward a seated meditation aimed at observing the inner experience, rather than a moving meditation, or energy-healing meditation (I'll save those, as well as many other wonderful forms of meditation, for another article).


First, I'll start off with some common myths about meditation:


Dispelling Common Myths

  • Meditation is not about emptying the mind. If you've ever tried to sit and simply clear your mind, you've probably found that this is not an effective approach, and may have the opposite effect. Meditation does not require you to repress your thoughts, in fact, it is often the opposite. Meditation is about turning the mind inward to observe your experience. In fact, meditation does not fight the mind. Rather, it embraces the process of regulating attention to continue drawing awareness back inside yourself.

  • Meditation takes too long. You do not have to sit for hours and hours in order to develop an effective meditation practice. You can still experience the benefits of meditation by practicing as little as 60 seconds a day. Like building any healthy habit, it takes time to integrate into a routine, but that doesn't mean that your new meditation practice needs to dominate your daily life. Starting small may actually be more effective in order to sustain your new routine. Cue the "What About Bob?" scene where Bill Murray "Baby Steps" all the way to Richard Dreyfuss' vacation home.

  • Meditation requires me to buy stuff in order to do it "right." Sure, there are things you can buy that can add an element of ritualism to your meditation practice, but you don't need anything other than your own precious self in order to meditate. In fact, my experience was that when I stripped away all the "stuff," I actually felt less distracted. Some people do like to have a "focus" object to hold or have near them, which can be a trinket, crystal, rock, or any other item that holds importance for you- but again, this is entirely dependent upon personal preference.

So, if this is what meditation is not, what is it? This is where defining meditation gets tricky, because definitions of meditation vary across methodology and cultures. For our purposes in this article, we can look at the word right now as being a process of "inward observation."

  • Meditation is, first and foremost, a skill that is built over time. Think of it like exercising any other muscle in the body. It takes time to build strength and conditioning, so if you've never tried it before, my suggestion is to start small (1-3 minutes) per day.

  • Meditation is a skill that may benefit you in a number of ways. Meditation can help you deal with symptoms of anxiety and depression; can improve self-awareness, the ability to focus and be in the moment; can improve self-confidence, empathy, and self-love; and meditation can also improve sleep patterns, and physical manifestations of stress.

  • Meditation is learning how to tune your awareness. The mind can be just like an instrument in this manner. Sometimes we need to tune our attention in order to be in harmony with ourselves. Through meditation, you practice observing without judgment. In the beginning, my most prominent thought was, "I am so bad at this!" Over time, with practice, it became easier to reframe or tune that thought to become, "I am noticing that I am distracted."

  • Meditation is observing your own unique experience. I can't tell you how many times I've been in one setting or another, and my experience of something has been completely different to the person sitting next to me. Whether you're observing your breath, thoughts, or sensations in the body, the uniqueness of our experience is a vast place to explore. Meditation gently guides you in that exploration, and can be a great way to inform how you transition to the rest of your day.

Simple Methods to Start Your Meditation Practice:


Sample: One-Minute Breath Meditation

  1. Find a comfortable space to sit, lie down, or stand.

  2. Hands can rest in the lap, or alongside you.

  3. Close the eyes or soften the gaze down toward the floor.

  4. As you settle into whichever posture best suits you, allow yourself to breathe naturally, at your own pace and rhythm.

  5. Draw your mind to observe the breath as you inhale and exhale.

  6. Notice the areas of the body that the breath travels to as you inhale and exhale.

  7. Continue for one minute.

Sample: One-Minute Thought Observation

  1. Find a comfortable space to sit, lie down, or stand.

  2. Hands can rest in the lap, or alongside you.

  3. Close the eyes or soften the gaze down toward the floor.

  4. As you settle into whichever posture best suits you, allow yourself to breathe naturally, at your own pace and rhythm.

  5. Allow the mind to flow as freely as the breath.

  6. Observe thoughts as they pass in and out of your awareness like clouds drifting in the sky.

  7. Notice, without judging the thoughts as good or bad.

  8. If you observe yourself getting stuck on one particular thought, gently release it, acknowledge that it may be important to you, and you can always come back to that thought at another time.

  9. Continue for one minute.

 

References


Fox, Kieran, et.al. Is meditation associated with altered brain structure? A systematic review and meta-analysis of morphometric neuroimaging in meditation practitioners. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews Volume 43, June 2014, Pages 48-73


Rabbit, Meghan. "How 31 Days of Moving Meditation Helped One Yogi Slow Down." March 15, 2019. Yoga Journal. https://www.yogajournal.com/meditation/moving-meditation-challenge


Shah, Parita. "How Shifting Your Energy Can Transform Your Life." September 25, 2019. Chopra. https://chopra.com/articles/how-shifting-your-energy-can-transform-your-life


Staff, Mayo Clinic. "Meditation: A Simple, Fast Way to Reduce Stress." Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/meditation/in-depth/meditation/art-20045858



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