The Biggest Misconceptions About Meditation Debunked
January 17, 2019
This is a guest post written by Angelina Morino. As a former suit turned meditation teacher, Angie understands the pressures of the daily grind. Fuelled by coffee and cortisol, she experienced a rapid descent to burnout. Forced to step back and recognise the detrimental impacts her lifestyle was having on her happiness and health, Angie began to immerse herself in the world of mindfulness and meditation. Feeling the positive impact on her daily life, she began to develop simple, practical and creative techniques and programs and now educates students about meditation and mindfulness across Victoria and online.
As a meditation teacher, these are the most common things I hear:
“I can’t stop my thoughts”
“My mind is way too busy for meditation”
“I don’t have time to meditate”
In a world of non-stop connectivity, clouded by notifications, emails, never ending to-do-lists, it’s easy to see why we all find ‘taking a moment to ourselves’ to be a frivolous way to spend our time.
Fitting meditation and mindfulness into your life doesn’t have to be a chore, it can be simple moments throughout your day that enable you to pause for a moment and take a breath.
Here are the three most common misconceptions of meditation debunked.
I have to stop thinking or empty my mind.
Asking our mind to stop thinking is like asking our ears to stop hearing or our eyes to stop seeing.
Our mind’s job is to think and to process information.
I would encourage you to allow thoughts and imagery to fill your mind as it naturally does during your practise. Be the observer of your thoughts.
I have to sit still.
This is not quite the case, you can if you so wish, however, you can practice mindfulness pretty much anywhere, anytime and in any shape you can bend yourself into. You can sit, stand, lie down, you can be in motion - you can meditate whilst running a marathon with your eyes open.
I have to stay focused or I must not get distracted.
Although “focusing” is important during meditation, it is something that takes A LOT of practise. In our world of 24/7 connectivity, our ability to focus is continually compromised.
Becoming distracted is inevitable, be kind to yourself, recognise you have become distracted and then shift your focus back to your anchor, this could be your breath or a particular body part.
But above all, don't get annoyed with yourself.
It happens to everyone.
To meditate (amongst other things) is to focus continuously on the breath or on the body in some way. It’s about developing bodily awareness and developing focus.
Meditation involves two skills:
The first is physical - Learning to relax
The second is mental - learning to pay attention
There are loads of different styles of meditation and finding what resonates with you will help with a consistent practise.
The three most common styles are breathwork, body scanning and Metta.
The fundamental building block of meditation is our breath.
During meditation, we learn to focus as much as possible with an objective attitude and an objective mind, with an unbiased perception of the way things are.
We learn to observe what passes by without making judgements from moment to moment.
We learn to prevent being reactive to our thoughts and we train our brain to reduce the connections that are responsible for producing cortisol, which is our stress hormone.
Breathing is intimately connected to our heart rate, blood pressure and the secretion of adrenaline and cortisol.
High Arousal turns on our stress response which is our fight or flight mode and whilst we cannot control our stress response directly, we can certainly implement some strategies to help us in those moments.
If we consciously relax our breathing, it will have a ripple effect on the other components of our stress response.
Mini-Medi #1 - 7 deep breaths
By breathing deeply and deliberately sighing, we mimic the physiological effect of relaxation. It sends signals to the mind saying “It’s okay to relax now.” This is probably the fastest way to induce the relaxation response.
Breathe deeply through your nose, sigh outwards through your mouth & pause.
Wait for the next breath.
Breathe deeply again, sigh and pause.
Rest in the stillness at the end of each breath.
Repeat seven times.
Body scanning is like undertaking a careful exploration of the sensations within your body - It’s about bringing full awareness and focus to these areas and gently alleviating any areas of tension and stress.
It is bringing nonjudgmental, compassionate present moment awareness to every part of the body, one area at a time.
When participants become more deeply aware of their body-mind sensations, they may develop insight into the nature of their pain and suffering, and they have the opportunity to free themselves from unhealthy habitual emotional and cognitive reactions to sensations in their bodies.
Over time, the body scan can change the way that the brain regulates your nervous system and emotions, ultimately helping participants achieve a healthier nervous system mind-body integration.
Ultimately, it helps to ground us into the present moment by helping shift awareness purely from our minds.
30 second body scan medi
Starting at feet, scanning up to head - energising (great for the morning!)
Head down to feet - calming and relaxing (perfect in bed or just before bed!)
METTA Meditation - Loving Kindness
Most of us know first-hand the value of kindness and generosity.
We inherently have the instinct to help people, but our lives involve bumping up against situations or people – a challenging situation at work, a neighbor whom is abrasive – for whom good wishes or compassion feel harder to generate.
"Metta meditation," also known as "loving-kindness," is about extending kindness and well-wishes to everyone, (yes, everyone) which means even the people we find it hard to like.
Metta Meditation brings to mind the meditator in a non-judgemental compassionate way, they then think of people they love, people they know, everyone everywhere and wish them well may they be safe, happy, healthy.
As it turns out, the repetition of those phrases is psychoactive, it actually changes the brain and how you feel.
People who do this meditation have been noted to become kinder, they’re more likely to help someone in need, they’re more generous and they’re happier.
Proven to have reduced emotional suppression and rumination, more emotional clarity, and better emotion regulation.
When we practise sending loving thoughts and well-wishes to everyone we encounter, without exception, something kind of magic happens: our empathy muscles grow, our compassion faculties get fit, and it becomes easier and easier to generate good wishes for everything and everyone we meet.
Spot Meditation for when you’re out and about.
SEE. HEAR. FEEL
Notice 5 things you can see.
Engage your peripheral vision.
Focus on spaces, or the sky, or the most distant objects you can see.
Then, notice 5 things you can hear.
Pinpoint the directions from which sounds arise.
Compare the most obvious and most subtle sounds, or the most loud and quiet.
Appreciate different pitches and tones.
Finally, notice 5 sensations. For example, the texture of your clothing, the padding on the chair on which you are sitting or the ground underfoot, how your feet feel in your shoes, any tension in the body, perhaps an emotion, or just an itch.
There you have it - the most common misconceptions debunked PLUS three meditation styles you can try at home.