The benefits of meditation and mindfulness have been touted for years, but some people still have reservations. We bust some myths about the practice, plus give you steps to get started.
Self-help bookshelves are full of guides on the benefits of meditation and mindfulness, claiming that techniques used to find inner peace can boost focus, reduce stress and make us happier. The calming rituals also have physical health benefits, researchers say.
In a study at Massachusetts General Hospital, 40 to 60 per cent of high blood pressure patients experienced a significant lowering in blood pressure after meditating regularly for three months. Another study found that mindfulness was associated with lower cognitive and physiological activation at bedtime, which could have benefits for sleep quality.
Despite this, many people still have reservations about committing to it as they either don’t identify with the ‘type’ of person who practises meditation or they don’t believe they have the time.
How are mindfulness and meditation linked?
It’s the ability to be aware of your thoughts and emotions, without judging them. It allows you to see what’s going on in your head without getting carried away by it.
Practitioners say that mindfulness is like a muscle. When you build it through exercise, it can:
- Prevent you getting carried away by passing emotional upheavals.
- Learn to respond rather than react to the stuff that comes up in your life.
- Your happiness will depend less on unstable, constantly changing external circumstances.
What does meditation do to the brain?
In a 2011 Harvard study, researchers took people who had never meditated before and had them do short, daily practice. Then they scanned their brains and found that the grey matter in areas associated with wellbeing and compassion literally grew, while areas associated with stress shrank. Here are some other proven benefits:
- Meditation reduces stress: Mindfulness doesn’t just make us feel less stressed, it’s also linked to lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone).
- Meditation makes us more compassionate: Research among pre-schoolers showed it made them more willing to give their stickers away to strangers. And among adults, practice made them laugh and socialise more often, and use the word “I” less.
- Meditation boosts self-confidence: People who regularly practise mindfulness meditation are more accepting of their emotions, which in turn, boosts self-control, resilience and performance.
For the more apprehensive and sceptical readers out there, here’s a guide that busts some common myths and reveals the basic science behind meditation and mindfulness.
Myth 1: I don’t have time to meditate
Reality: Five minutes is all it takes. Even if you have four jobs and 27 children, everybody has five minutes – and that’s all you need to start with. If you increase your time gradually, great. If not, totally fine.
Myth 2: Meditation is only for hippies, gurus and fans of Enya
Reality: It’s for everyone, even those who are allergic to all things touchy-feely. Business executives, scientists, even the military are embracing the practice as ‘exercise’ for the brain.
Myth 3: I can’t meditate because I’m too preoccupied
Reality: The good news and the bad news is … you’re not special. Everyone’s mind is out of control, and even experienced mediators struggle with distraction. You don’t need to ‘clear your mind’ to meditate.
Myth 4: Getting happier will make me lose my edge
Reality: If you’re already the ambitious type, you will likely stay that way. Meditation might help you realise that some things are out of your control. It will teach you how to fail, get up and dust yourself off, and get back in the ring.
Ready to get started with meditation?
- Sit up straight.
- Close your eyes.
- Focus your full attention on your breath coming in and going out.
- Every time your mind wanders, just return your attention to the feeling of taking breaths.