In my last post I talked about why I'm a fan of meditation and think it's more than just a passing trend. If you're new to the mindfulness world, the next reasonable question would be, exactly what is meditation and mindfulness? You've heard these two words probably a dozen times, from you co-workers, on TV, everywhere! But what are they exactly?
What is Meditation?
“Meditation is the practice of turning your attention to a single point of reference. It can involve focusing on the breath, on bodily sensations, or on a word or phrase known as a mantra. In other words, meditation means turning your attention away from distracting thoughts and focusing on the present moment.” - Psychology Today.
What is Mindfulness?
“A state of nonjudgmental awareness of what’s happening in the present moment, including the awareness’ of one’s thoughts, feelings and senses.” - Therapistaid.com.
Meditation helps us learn to be more mindful. Essentially it’s training our brains to stay in the moment so we can enjoy the present and avoid overthinking. Think of meditation as the road to mindfulness. The more we meditate, the better we get at keeping our brains on the present. If I had to sum up meditation and it's benefit, I would say "brain training." It's learning to work with your mind so you are in the driver's seat, instead of just being along for the ride.
When I talk to clients about starting a meditation practice, I've found there a ton of misconceptions about meditation. It's often these meditation myths that stop people from trying or quickly discourage them after giving meditation a try. Here are a few:
Myth 1: You need to stop thinking in order to meditate
This is probably the biggest misconception about meditation. When we are meditating, we are still thinking. However we are observing our thoughts, instead of reacting to them. When we are mindlessly thinking, we are not taking the time to really observe our thoughts. When we meditate, we try to notice our thoughts without reacting to them (we’ll discuss this more in another post when we look at specific meditation practices).
Myth 2: There is only one way to meditate
Thankfully, there are several different forms of meditation and mindfulness. Mindfulness meditation, breathing meditations, mantras, guided imagery and walking meditations are all different forms of meditation. This allows for lots of options so you can find the practice that works for you.
Myth 3: Meditation is used to escape reality
It’s actually the opposite. Meditation encourages us to be in the moment but by being fully present and alert. There are some meditations that will walk you through a pleasant image, such as guided imagery meditation. However these are used to lower your stress and help you feel more centered once the meditation concludes.
Myth 4: “I can’t meditate” or “I’m doing it wrong.”
Here’s the honest truth: meditation is hard for EVERYONE. Our brains like to be anywhere but the present. This is why sitting down to meditate is so difficult, because our minds resist it. Even for seasoned meditators that have been at it for years, it’s still tough to quiet the mind.
And here’s the other truth: there is not a right or wrong way to meditate. Taking the time to breathe or just notice your thoughts is meditation and that has benefit. Often people give up on meditation because they believe they are doing it incorrectly. But like most tasks, the more time and practice you put towards it, the easier it gets.