Interested to meditate but too confused to get started? Get some of your doubts clarified.
Meditation is hailed as a way to reduce stress and chronic pain, and boost mental health. These days, it’s widely practised by people from all walks of life, including celebrities, high-powered executives, and top athletes.
Despite its growing popularity, prevailing misinformation about the practice prevents some people from trying or persisting with it.
1. THE GOAL OF MEDITATION IS TO CLEAR THE MIND OF THOUGHTS
The goal of meditation depends on the school of meditation and teacher you follow.
For Danielle Van de Velde, the founder and principal teacher of The Meditation Teacher in Singapore, meditation aims to establish a state of present awareness. Most people tend to have scattered thoughts that prevent them from being present, so her coaching tries to bring the wandering mind back to the here-and-now using a point of focus, which could be a mantra, a candle flame, or the breath.
Van de Velde adds that when we foster the state of present awareness, we shift from a reactive to responsive interface with life. This enables us to witness our behaviour; it is from this space that we can choose, heal and grow.
Meditation coach Toby Ouvry, the founder, director and facilitator of Integral Meditation Asia, does not dismiss the view that meditation can be about stilling the mind. However, he stresses this is not the sole purpose of the practice. “The goal of meditation in general is to learn to orientate the mind consistently around positive objects; that is, objects that, when we focus upon them, help our mind become peaceful, more centred, more confident, more loving, joyful, or any other positive state. Reducing the amount of thoughts in the mind is one such positive goal of meditation, but it is only one of many possible goals.”
2. YOU MUST SIT CROSSLEGGED TO MEDITATE
While some of her students do assume the lotus pose to meditate as it provides stability, it is not necessary to force yourself into this position if you are not as flexible, says Van de Velde.
You can meditate comfortably seated in a dining chair with a straight back or on the bed with bolsters and pillows propped at the side to keep your spine aligned.
Keeping the spine straight helps to prevent drowsiness. It also encourages focus and makes it easier to align the energy of the mind and body with each other, explains Ouvry.
3. YOU NEED TO DO IT IN A SPECIAL PLACE
It can be helpful to meditate in a place with fewer distractions, especially if you are just starting out, advises Van de Velde. As you master the art of meditating, you may also find it useful to follow a ritual — such as diffusing an essential oil or lighting an incense stick before your meditation session begins — she suggests. This is so that, eventually, the psyche creates an association and enters a state of meditation with the ritual.
4. MEDITATION SHOULD BE EFFORTLESS
Van de Velde reveals she has had students ask if it’s possible to “fast-track the mastery of meditation”.
“The magic-pill mentality is possibly the main reason why so many people’s attempts are hijacked,” she says. “Like re-training in any system; it requires a daily approach.” She compares it to fitness training: one massive effort at the gym may feel good, but doesn’t create lasting changes to form and fitness that only daily exercise can. “It’s the same with meditation. At first, it requires effort, a push towards establishing the practice and mastering technique, and thankfully that process is a quick one, as the system starts to recognise the movement inwards and neural pathways form to create the habit of meditation.”
5. IT TAKES TOO MUCH TIME
Don’t let being busy stop you. If committing to 30 minutes a day feels like too much, doing it for just 10 minutes can be beneficial. “It’s like getting fit. If you do a little bit every day, you’ll start to see changes,” Van de Velde assures.
6. IT TAKES YEARS TO SEE ANY BENEFIT
Regular practitioners experience psychological and cognitive benefits that can be seen after just eight weeks of consistent meditation, reveals a Harvard study.
The study, which involved mindfulness meditators, shows meditation’s powerful impact on regions of the brain associated with stress, empathy and sense of self. It found increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection.
Reduced stress also correlated with decreased grey-matter density in the amygdala, which has been proven to play an important role in anxiety and stress.
7. MEDITATION HAS TO BE RELIGIOUS
“Traditionally, meditation has been used to commune with the divine and seek enlightenment, but it doesn’t have to be experienced in an overtly religious context,” says Ouvry. “It can also be used in other ways. It can be used in a therapeutic way to deal with stress and anxiety; it can be used as an art form to build strength and positive functions in your mind.”