Have you ever tried meditating? I know so many people who haven’t even tried because they’ve already decided it’s not for them. Today, I’m going to debunk the 5 most common myths I hear about meditation. (And hopefully help you realize you can do it too!)
MYTH #1: Meditation must be practiced in silence in the lotus position… 🧘♂️
Not true. Mindfulness meditation, as the name suggests, is about being mindful and aware of thoughts, feelings, and sensations. It’s the process of going inward and connecting with yourself as you are in the present moment. And there are lots of ways to do that beyond the prescribed ways we tend to think of.
For example, the process of checking in, of taking stock of how your body and mind are right now, can be done while walking or with any repetitive movement. Yoga asana practice could even be considered moving meditation. I like to think of meditation as purposeful attention that grounds you in the present.
So don’t think of meditation as a prescriptive practice that has to look one way. It’s more about being mindful and aware than about sitting on the ground with your eyes closed and your legs crossed. That is one way to practice meditation, but certainly not the only one.
MYTH #2: Meditation is relaxing and will automatically make you more peaceful
While it’s true that meditation and being mindful of your breathing can help calm your nervous system (especially when you lengthen your exhales), it’s also true that practicing meditation can bring all kinds of thoughts and emotions to the surface. It’s important to recognize that the process of meditation is about acknowledging what is, not by trying to change how you feel.
In his excellent book Trauma-Informed Mindfulness, David Treleaven acknowledges the tremendous benefits of mindfulness meditation, but cautions about overstating its effectiveness. He talks about how mindfulness can sometimes create problems with people who have experienced traumatic stress. When we ask someone with trauma to pay close, sustained attention to their internal world, they may encounter thoughts, images, memories, and physical sensations that may take them back into a trauma response. So, if you’re meditating or guiding others through the process of mindfulness meditation, be aware that you might become dysregulated. Staying within your window of tolerance and shifting attention to something that supports stability can help in these cases. This might be as simple as opening your eyes or knowing when to back out of the sensation.
MYTH #3: Meditation is about having no thoughts...
This is a very common belief. People tend to think that they’re meditating wrong or badly if they have recurring thoughts or can’t seem to calm their racing mind. Not true. It’s about being aware. And sometimes that awareness makes you realize just how busy your mind can be.
From years of practice and now teaching, I can tell you that one of the reasons meditation is such an intimidating practice for many of us is because it doesn’t fit into our usual process of getting things done. In fact, it asks us to do quite the opposite. Meditation is not about inner peace (although that can be a lovely result at times)—it’s about observation and choice.
This process of going back and forth from distracting thoughts or sensations to focused awareness is where the magic happens. The goal in this sort of mindfulness practice isn’t necessarily to remove those distractions or sensations from existence, but rather to play with strengthening your ability to consistently choose to focus on something else. Something that lives inside you. This isn’t always pretty. In my experience, it can be pretty ugly. But what I’ve learned from this practice is that my body and mind are constantly trying to communicate with each other. You just have to listen.
And attending to the fluctuations of your mind, but from a state of non-judgement (simply as an observer of your own thoughts), is what meditation is all about. Being willing to come back to yourself, to your breath, to your internal sensations, over and over again.
MYTH #4: Meditation is a religious practice...
While meditation is definitely a spiritual practice for some people and has connections to Buddhism and Hinduism, the practice of mindfulness meditation in its simplest form is a practice of presence and self-awareness that anyone, regardless of religious beliefs, can practice. Meditation is about looking inward, sitting with and attending to thoughts, emotions, feelings, and physical sensations—not to fix them or make them go away, but to just notice them. The practice of meditation (keyword here is practice) is a skill that anyone can develop.
MYTH #5: You need to be able to meditate for long periods of time with your eyes closed for it to be effective...
Like I said before, meditation doesn’t have to be prescriptive. You don’t have to necessarily sit a certain way, in a certain place, or even for a specific length of time. There are benefits to meditation, whether seated, standing, or in movement, for even just a few minutes. At first, being mindful for even 1 minute might be challenging, especially in a culture that prioritizes constant productivity and generally discounts the need for rest. But by carving out space to be with yourself—to allow yourself to observe your thoughts, notice your breath, and notice how you feel—you will immediately tap into the benefit of slowing down. So, break away from the thought that it’s not worth it if you don’t have lots of time to devote to it. You can see the benefits right away. To this day, meditation happens for me less often on my yoga mat and more in my day-to-day experiences (such as taking the bus, waiting in line, or preparing for a big gig).
So tell me, what is meditation to you? Have you heard any of these myths before?
Your friend in this journey together,