Do you believe one of these common meditation myths? Dennis Buttimer, M.Ed, CEAP, RYT, CHC, a life and wellness coach at Cancer Wellness, sets the record straight.
- You must quiet your mind completely during meditation. It is normal to have random thoughts pop up during meditation. Even people who have practiced meditation for years, like Buttimer, experience this. "Meditation can slow down the firing of neural activity in the brain, but it's impossible to totally quiet your mind," he says. "Meditation is about coming back to your point of focus over and over again, despite mental chatter."
- You have to sit totally still. "Some days you may be able to sit still longer than other days. Just tell yourself, 'I'm going to sit here and do my best to be still and quiet my mind,'" Buttimer suggests. "Be compassionate with yourself. You're a human being, not a statue."
- Meditation is difficult to do. "Approach it like it's for fun and you're simply learning a new skill," he says. "You wouldn't expect to sit down at a piano for the first time and be able to play a song right away. Meditation isn't difficult, it just takes practice."
- It requires years of experience to reap the benefits. Scientific research shows that if you practice meditation for five to 20 minutes a day for eight weeks, you will see health benefits, such as lower blood pressure, better sleep and a less reactive approach to stressful situations.
- Meditation requires a large time commitment. While you will reap the most benefits if you meditate daily, you only need to spend five to 20 minutes a day to see good results. "We encourage people to meditate first thing in the morning because brain research shows that as the day goes on, your willpower will start to wane," says Buttimer. "You have a better chance of sticking with it if you practice in the mornings."
- You must tune out from your daily responsibilities. With meditation, the goal is not to block everything out, but rather to tune into yourself and the intention you set for your practice or your day.
- Meditation is a religious practice. "While most major religions from around the world use meditation in some form, in the United States, it is commonly taught as a psychological technique, not a religious practice," he explains. "You can use it in a spiritual way if you want to and many people do, but it's also a psychological tool."
- You only need meditation if you are stressed out. Anyone can benefit from meditation, regardless of stress level. "Meditation helps improve mental clarity, reduces inflammation in the body and teaches compassion for yourself and others," says Buttimer.
- You have to sit in a cross-legged position. Buttimer recommends sitting in a chair, maintaining good posture and placing your feet flat on the floor, particularly if you are a beginner. Avoid lying down as you may drift off to sleep.
- It will make you too relaxed or lose your "edge" at work. "Meditation will do the exact opposite. It will give you more clarity and focus so you respond skillfully even in stressful situations," he says. "You will make better decisions when you are calm versus when you are worked up."
Ready to try meditation for yourself? Check out the full-length meditation practices on our online classes page.