By Ece Ozkan
Meditation has become quite a buzzword yet there is still some mystery around it. Some of the common misconceptions include:
- You need to have a certain kind of training to meditate
- You need to be a Buddhist monk, go to a Vipassana Silent Retreat or spend half of your day sitting in an uncomfortable position to learn proper meditation
- Once you start meditating you will let go of all your earthly dreams, ambitions and become a zombie
These misconceptions are all demystified in a great Coursera course offered by the Leiden University, if you want to go into more details. Suffice to say, we all have our own perceptions, yet they don’t always reflect the truth. One does not need extensive training to meditate, nor does one become a zombie when they start meditating. Quite the opposite actually, there are several researches on how meditation increases cognitive function and performance at work. In this blog post, I will briefly dive into some basics around meditation and how anyone can start practicing.
Practice, not Perfect
First of all, one of the biggest misconceptions/ myths to be shattered is around finding the “perfect” meditation spot, cushion, position, teacher, class…. It’s meditation practice, and not perfection. You don’t need any expensive gears or training to start. You just need willingness and some patience to reap the benefits. That said, I know it is useful especially for beginners to have some guided meditation practice – I started like that at least – so I’ll include some useful resources at the end 🙂
The second myth about meditation is that it can only be done in a certain uncomfortable cross legged position and that you need to stay there for hours. As a matter of fact there is more than one type of meditation practice you can follow (Headspace talks about 16!). It’s more about learning to live with the uncomfortable/ pain rather than suffering for the sake of suffering. Here are just a few different types of meditation practices you can try:
- Concentration Meditation: It involves focusing on a single point or thought. You can either follow the breath, repeat a mantra, stare at candlelight or count beads of a mala.
- Mindfulness Meditation: This is a big topic on its own, but suffice to say it’s an impactful type of meditation where you don’t need to sit cross legged at all. It’s more about being present in whatever you are doing. Walking, cooking, or simply just sitting and being aware of thoughts as they come and go.
- Body scan: It’s one of my favorites, at the end of a a yoga practice. You simply sync your mind and body by bringing attention to different parts of your body. I like the photocopy machine analogy at Headspace: “Imagine a photocopier light slowly moving over your body, bringing attention to any discomfort, sensations, tensions, or aches that exist.”
- Visualization: Here you picture something or someone, and the visualization lets you focus your mind on sensations and observe the mind.
- Reflection: This meditation lets you reflect on thoughts without obsessing about anything in particular. Questions like “what am I grateful for?” can guide you through.
How Often Should I Meditate?
As mentioned above, it’s meditation practice and not perfection. So there is no one answer to the frequency of your practice. That said, the rule of thumb to make anything a habit is relevant here as well. Start slowly, maybe 2-5 minutes per practice every day or every other day. Then you can increase the practice time and/ or frequency based on how you feel. Just like in any new activity, take it easy on yourself and don’t push your limits. The chart below gives you a rough idea on the frequency of a practice vs level.
Online Resources for Beginners
I recommend starting with guided meditations, yet it’s also a matter of preference. Hearing the voice of someone else helps some people to stop obsessing over their own thoughts. Yet for others, an outside voice can be too distracting. So give both a try a couple of times and see which one do you like better. Below are a couple of resources/ apps you can use to start your meditation practice:
- Headspace app
- Calm app
- Tara Brach – meditation podcast
- Sam Harris – Waking Up app
- De-Mystifying Mindfulness – Coursera course
- The Science of Well-Being – Coursera course (Not on meditation per se, yet a great course on overall well-being)
- Oxford Mindfulness Center – Free online mindfulness sessions and intro course
For more reading on learning to meditate and sit still
Check out this guide for how meditation can help seniors.