The Beginner’s Guide to Meditation for Mental Health

May 14, 2024

By Christine Saari, MA, C-IAYT

Meditation has become a wellness buzzword, especially as efforts to optimize mental health gain traction in the post-Covid era. With decades of research showcasing its brain-boosting benefits, meditation for mental health is essentially like brain floss – you know it’s good for you, yet incorporating it into your routine can be a challenge.

Common Meditation Myths

So why is it so hard to make it a regular thing? For many, meditation evokes images of monks sitting cross-legged in silence for hours on end, or of serene individuals floating on a cloud of inner peace. But what if I told you that meditation isn’t just for the spiritual gurus or those with endless amounts of time? What if I told you that meditation is a practical, accessible skill that anyone can learn and benefit from? Let’s bust some common myths about meditation and shed light on why it’s worth giving it a try.

Myth #1: Meditation Goes Against Religious Beliefs.

Some may believe that meditation contradicts their religious beliefs, leading them to avoid it based on cultural or religious grounds. However, it’s crucial to understand that yoga, which encompasses meditation, isn’t inherently religious.

While meditation originated from various spiritual traditions, modern practices prioritize the neurological benefits and skills essential for concentration, mental clarity, present-centered awareness, and relaxation. This secular approach emphasizes techniques like mindfulness, breath awareness, and body scanning, which are accessible to individuals from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. Therefore, meditation serves as a valuable tool for anyone seeking to support their mental health, irrespective of their beliefs.

Myth #2: It’s Boring!

One of the most common misconceptions about meditation is that it’s boring. But in reality, meditation is anything but boring! It’s a journey of self-discovery, a chance to explore the depths of your mind and cultivate a greater sense of awareness and receptivity to somatic experiences. From guided visualizations to sensory practices, there are countless ways to make meditation engaging and enjoyable.

Myth #3: Clearing My Mind is Impossible.

Let’s address the misconception that meditation requires a completely empty mind. The truth is, meditation isn’t about erasing thoughts altogether.  In some traditions, the goal is to observe thoughts without passing judgment. However, if that approach feels daunting or if you’re managing conditions like ADHD, you might find “layering” meditation beneficial. This method, often employed in yoga therapy, involves introducing various focal points to keep the mind engaged, fostering concentration and awareness. This could entail looping awareness through different points in a circuit or maintaining simultaneous awareness of them.

While traditional meditation encourages creating space between thoughts and finding moments of stillness, this approach doesn’t work for everyone. The good news is that meditation for mental health can be adapted to suit different preferences and mind types, highlighting its versatility and accessibility for individuals across the cognitive spectrum.

Myth #4: I need to Sit in an Uncomfortable Position.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to contort yourself into uncomfortable positions to meditate. While sitting cross-legged on the floor works for some, you can meditate in any position that feels comfortable for you – whether it’s sitting in a chair, lying down, or even walking.

Myth #5: I Don’t Like Stillness.

Some people struggle with the concept of sitting still and being alone with their thoughts. The idea of confronting their inner thoughts and emotions can be intimidating, leading them to avoid meditation altogether. However, yoga therapists are equipped with training to address this discomfort. They employ techniques that help individuals feel present without triggering them or causing excessive discomfort.

Practices such as mantra meditation, mudra meditation, and focusing on awareness points outside the body or tactile sensations in the hands or feet are commonly used. Additionally, rhythmic rocking or somatic techniques can gently guide individuals into a meditative state without overwhelming them with feelings of solitude or vulnerability to uncomfortable thoughts or experiences within themselves.

Myth #6: Meditation Needs to be Done in the Morning.

While many people swear by morning meditation routines, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to when you should meditate. The beauty of meditation is its flexibility – you can practice it anytime, anywhere. Whether it’s during your evening wind-down routine, before bed, or when you find a spare moment after dinner, the key is to integrate it into your existing routine. By attaching meditation to a habitual activity, you create a consistent cue that supports habit formation and ensures you’ll stick with your practice over time.

Myth #7: Long Sessions are Required for Mental Health Benefits.

You don’t need to meditate for hours on end to reap the benefits. Even just a few minutes of meditation each day can significantly improve your mental well-being. Start with short, five-minute sessions and gradually extend the duration as you become more comfortable with the practice.

Over time, you may find that 10 minutes daily provides substantial benefits, or you may opt for longer sessions of 20 or 30 minutes a few times a week. The key is to find a duration that works for you and fits into your schedule. As you begin to notice the positive effects of your practice, you’ll naturally look forward to these moments of self-care, reinforcing a new, enjoyable habit that contributes to your overall sense of equilibrium.

Myth #8: I Need a Meditation App.

While meditation apps can be helpful for beginners, they’re not always the best choice if mental health benefits are your end goal. Constant talking within these apps can keep you in the cognitive thinking zone, rather than the experiencing, being, feeling, and sensing zone. Without moments of silence, it can be challenging to fully engage with your internal experience. Research suggests that this internal awareness is crucial for reaping the mental health benefits of meditation. Therefore, if your aim is to deepen your practice and connect with your internal sense, meditation apps may not be the optimal choice. Remember, you can practice meditation on your own with just a few instructions and a phone timer – it’s simpler than you might think.

Myth #9: Meditation is Only for the “Woo” Crowd.

Finally, there’s a misconception that meditation is only for those who are deeply spiritual, alternative, or New Age. In reality, meditation is a scientifically proven practice with a wide range of mental and physical health benefits. From reducing stress and anxiety to improving focus and emotional regulation, the benefits of meditation are backed by decades of research.

Myth #10: I’m Not Sure Where to Start.

For beginners, starting a meditation practice without guidance can seem overwhelming. Many feel unsure about where to begin or which techniques to try. In a world filled with generic advice, opting for personalized guidance can offer a more meaningful and supportive experience. Starting with a complimentary phone consultation with a yoga therapist can provide invaluable insight and direction.

Yoga therapists take into account your reasons for wanting to try meditation, your time constraints, stressors, health needs, and preferences. Based on this information, they will likely recommend three trial techniques out of the numerous options available, usually designed to be completed in under 10 minutes.

After finding something that feels easy, clients can expect to receive a custom meditation recording that they can use independently, allowing their practice to evolve alongside them. Typically, investing in two or three private sessions is sufficient to gain the confidence and resources needed to establish a sustainable home meditation practice. This personalized approach not only addresses the uncertainty of how to start, but also provides individuals with the tools to gauge the effectiveness of their practice.

Meditation is Accessible

By debunking common myths surrounding meditation, we reveal its accessibility, opening doors to a world of personal growth and well-being. From countering the aging process to managing neurological conditions, breaking free from unwanted habits, navigating life’s challenges, finding relief from mental health conditions, and complementing therapies like EMDR, meditation proves to be a versatile tool for enhancing every facet of our lives.

Through the guidance of yoga therapists, meditation can be easily adapted to one’s personal preferences and health needs, applied as a tool for symptom relief or optimized wellness.  Starting with manageable time increments, individuals gradually build their meditation practice routine, reaping immense benefits along the way and skills they can carry forward in their lives for ongoing symptom management and well-being.

So, whether you’re seeking to improve your cognitive function, overcome health or life obstacles, or simply cultivate inner peace, meditation offers a powerful tool for enhancing your quality of life. Meditation is not reserved for a select few – it’s a skill that anyone can learn and benefit from. So why not give it a try? You might be surprised by what you find.

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