Seven Myths about Meditation

07/06/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Every time you surf the web or pick up a magazine there seems to be something about meditation practice, its benefits and why you should be doing it. And yet you resist undertaking this currently trendy road to nirvana, weight loss, treatment for depression, and stress -free, healthy living. Let's look at some possible reasons why.

It's boring. If we believe that only outward action and lively engagement with others and problems is stimulating, then by comparison, yes, it would seem boring to sit and do nothing for an extended period of time. But actually it takes a lot of attention and discipline to be able to do that- more than enough to challenge most of us. Plus there are many ways to meditate: walking, standing, moving, chanting, to name a few. The real challenge is to stay with it long enough to start noticing how incredibly engaging the process can be as whole new worlds of awareness and sensation open to us. It's anything but boring.

It is based on eastern religious practices and should not be done by people of other faiths. Virtually all major faiths have a component of meditative practice- whether specifically taught that way or embedded in its rituals and community practice. For instance, there are many ancient and modern forms of Jewish meditation. But if you look at part of the Shabbat services, you will see that there are by design rhythms, texts and actions that invoke a meditative state. Similarly, the Gregorian chants of the Catholic Mass, in their repetitive and simple beauty bring us to a deeper communion with our self and the Divine. In addition, the basic "relaxation response" in meditation, without any connection to organized theology, is a simple, scientific method to achieve states of deep relaxation that would not conflict with most traditional religious teaching.

It can be physically uncomfortable. You have to sit a certain way (in the lotus position) and not move during meditation. Of course there are many practices that teach sitting and position in a certain way and are very rigid about that. And yes there is value in keeping the spine straight: we breathe better, stay more alert, are less likely to fall asleep and it promotes the internal flow of chi energies. That being said, many students need to sit on chairs, lie down, move their bodies or even or walk in order to connect internally and focus their minds. I like to have students remove as much obvious physical distraction and discomfort as possible- our minds tend to create enough of those.

It's a waste of time when I have so much to do. There are lots of studies currently showing how learning to focus and de-stress in meditation actually makes you more efficient and operate with increased clarity and focus- just what you need to get the most important jobs done. Meditation reduces the less efficient practice of multi-tasking which often only gives us the illusion of getting something done. And if we are honest with ourselves, let's look at the multitude of ways that we can really waste time: channel flipping, web-surfing, mall wandering and tweeting to name a few. If we are going to numb our minds, let's be more conscious and selective about which part we want to click off for awhile.

I have to set aside a certain amount of time each day in order to practice. This actually is less of a myth than others. Regular practice is very helpful and I highly recommend it to really begin to build a foundation. Though the structure is helpful to many, it does not have to be the same time every day. Also short meditation breaks throughout the day can be very effective to de-stress and re-focus on your priorities. Anything that you value and that you want to learn requires commitment and practice- cooking, playing tennis, etc. Why should meditation be different?

Meditation promotes passivity. For some, sitting in meditation seems incompatible with the idea of seizing the day and taking assertive action and responsibility for your daily life. But seizing the day for many of us is about compulsive activity, feeding our voracious egos, bolstering our flagging self esteem or engaging in workaholic tendencies. We are so externally engaged and goal directed that we lose track of our center. Let's not confuse activity with effectiveness and satisfaction. That can only be achieved when you know where you are, who you are and use that collective power and focus to address what is most important to you. Some people already know how to do this. If you are not one of them, meditation can help. That choice is anything but passive.

It's a fad. Just like jogging, vitamin C and oat bran before it, meditation is being touted as a cure-all for our times and troubles. But it is in fact an ancient practice with a long, long track record. If a lot of people are returning in droves to practice now, perhaps it is because the stresses of our environment make it imperative to find ways to balance or lives. And it works. If you don't try meditation, then some other practices such as yoga, tai chi or even gardening might be just the thing.

Kay Goldstein, MA teaches individual and group meditation classes and writes poetry, fiction and articles addressing the challenges and joys of daily living and spiritual practice..

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