Learning to meditate is one of the most fundamental and powerful tools we have to stay balanced and well. This is ancient knowledge, supported by modern science – wisdom of the ages that is more relevant than ever. A big part of understanding meditation is to understand what it is not.
Before you dig into what meditation is then, it’s perhaps best to clear up some common misconceptions. I call these Meditation Myths.
I Don’t Have Time To Meditate
When someone tells me this, I reply with a simple question: ‘What’s taking up all your time?’
The specific answers vary, and obvious things like work or children. When we dig a bit deeper, we always find some wiggle room. There’s time spent on stuff that’s not so memorable, necessary or life enhancing. (Read: social media!)
It comes down to the choices we’re making about what’s important, and the perceived payback on those investments. Meditation doesn’t have to involve many hours each day. My meditation practice only takes 20 minutes, twice a day. You might be reading this, thinking forty minutes a day! Where’s that going to come from?
Don’t panic. Meditators quickly notice that they gain time. The deep rest you get in a twenty-minute meditation leaves you more clear and alert. Ultimately, you’ll get more done. Investing in a few minutes of meditation delivers a return on productivity that’s more than worth it.
Meditation Means Sitting In Some Weird Position
When you look at pictures of people meditating you’ll often see a yoga pose, Someone sitting with legs crossed, perfectly straight, eyes closed, arms stretched out in front, hands contorted in some unusual gesture.
Actually none of this is necessary. You can practise meditation anywhere, sitting comfortably with the eyes closed. You might be in a chair at work, on the sofa at home or propped up in bed with pillows behind you. Anywhere where you feel safe to sit down and close your eyes.
It’s Not Easy To Meditate
This is the most common misunderstanding that I come across. The idea that meditation is difficult and requires a lot of discipline to control the mind is very common. And there are many techniques that do involve a focused approach like staring at an object, concentrating on the breath, or trying to block out thoughts.
However it doesn’t have to be this way. There are huge benefits in not attempting to control, concentrate or focus the mind in meditation.
Meditation is a process of working with the nature of the mind instead of fighting against it. When we let the mind follow its natural instinct, it’s possible for anyone to settle their mind spontaneously and effortlessly. All we need to take that inward dive is the proper technique.
Meditation Is For New-Age Hippies
All sorts of people meditate, from all walks of life: mothers, teachers, CEOs, nurses, actors, teenagers, you name it. All regular people, working, raising families, and being fully engaged in modern life.
It’s understandable why many people think meditation is something just for hippies. Meditation exploded onto the scene in the 1960s. It was the time of peace, love and happiness and meditation was accessible in a way that it had never been before. As time went on the importance of meditation became clear. A large body of research began to be published about the effects of meditation on health, brain functioning and emotional resilience. And of course, the world has become more hectic and demanding.
There are no lifestyle requirements in order to be a meditator. All you need to do is carve out a little time each day to sit and close the eyes. Then get on with your life with clarity and ease and make choices that feel right for you.
Meditation Is A Religion Or Belief System
You don’t need to believe in anything to meditate. It’s not faith-based. I’ve taught people who identify with many different faiths and religions: Orthodox Jews, Buddhists, Christians, Catholics, Muslims and atheists.
The knowledge base from where we get meditation comes from India. But it’s not Hindu, and it’s not even Indian philosophy. It doesn’t mean you need to shave your head, change your name or use prayer beads.
In fact, you don’t even have to believe meditation works for it to have an effect. All that’s required is to do the practice. When you do, changes occur.
Meditation is a technique that allows you to access a deeper aspect of yourself that underpins your mind and body – your least excited state of consciousness.
At your essence you are conscious. To be conscious means to be. It is the fundamental level of your existence and the source of everything. Meditation puts you in touch with this place, your essence. In this light, it is a profoundly spiritual practice.
It Takes Ages To See Results
Often people believe that for something to be really worth while it must take a lot of time and effort. The idea is that if it’s good, it’s going to be difficult. A regular meditation practice does involve a willingness to make the time each day.
However meditation isn’t something you have to do for months before you start to get it and notice a shift. With the right training and technique, even in the early days, you’ll notice the positive effects. The benefits of experiencing inner quiet and calm arrive swiftly.
Just like having a shower each morning, you find yourself wanting to do it. It feels good when you do it, others are happy you’ve done it and you feel better for the rest of the day.
Running Is My Meditation
What’s happening in your body when you meditate is very different to what’s happening when you run (or lift weights, or swim or cycle or any other exercise). Meditation is about de-excitation. Exercise is about excitation.
From an evolutionary perspective, human beings ran as part of the survival mechanism. The only time you needed to move fast was to chase food or get away from predators. Running as a sport or exercise is a relatively recent development.
I understand why running feels good and why someone might think of it as a way of tuning out. When your ancestor was running away from a bear they weren’t thinking about tomorrow or worrying about yesterday. Their body was having an automatic stress reaction that brought them to the present moment.
When you go for a run, a part of you believes you’re running away from something. So you stop worrying about the mortgage or what someone said in yesterday’s meeting.
When you run, your metabolic rate increases. Heart rate goes up. Blood pressure rises. The prefrontal cortex in your brain shuts down. Endorphins course through the bloodstream to compensate for the stress the body is under. It feels good; however, the purpose is to mask an underlying experience of stress.
The opposite happens when you meditate. The science is very clear. The body rests deeply and the front part of the brain lights up in a powerful way. The biochemistry of the body is the opposite of stress. Rather than fight-or-flight it is one of rest-and-digest.
Jillian Lavender has been teaching Vedic Meditation since 2003. As co-founder of the London Meditation Centre and New York Meditation Center, she has helped thousands of people across the globe to transform their lives.
This piece is an edited excerpt from Jillian’s new book Why Meditate? Because It Works which is due to be released in July 2021.