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If your doctor tells you to start taking vitamins because you’re deficient, you’ll probably do it.
At least for a while. But if a doctor tells you to meditate, how likely are you to do it?
If you’re anything like my husband: probably not. He struggled for a long time with Long Covid. He finally went to go see a naturopathic physician who, after looking at his blood results and talking to him about his diet and lifestyle, prescribed him certain vitamins and supplements to even out deficiencies, a diet change, and 15 minutes a day of “nothing” to tune in and reconnect with himself.
Fifteen minutes of nothing could mean a mixture of mindful gentle movement, meditation, or mindfulness. Those 15 minutes she said were incredibly important to help release tension and allow the body to heal.
My husband was diligent with taking his supplements and decently followed his new diet. But the 15-minutes of nothing? Yeah, no.
I was talking about it with a close friend of ours who studied psychology. He said at University they briefly studied the benefits of meditation and mindfulness, and while he and his classmates saw the science behind its benefits, he admitted that many of them rolled their eyes at it. Meditation just seems so far-fetched, even if there are thousands of studies to support it.
So here’s the question, what deters people from meditation?
I think there are many reasons, especially depending on the person and the culture they’re from. Here are some I’ve heard:
It’s for monks, not for everyday people.
Fair enough, there are millions of monks all over the world, all throughout history, present and, I’m sure, future who meditate. And I’ve no doubt they get bundles of benefit from it. But! That doesn’t mean it’s not beneficial for the average Jane either. There have been many studies that have looked at the benefits of meditation for children, doctors, managing chronic pain, managing stress, anxiety, depression…and the list goes on and on. Meditation is for everyone.
It can be. But being bored is not necessarily a bad thing. In a world where we’re constantly stimulated, no stimulation can be incredibly beneficial. When you’re constantly bombarded by stimulants, it’s hard for your brain to shut down and recharge. Recharging is important for the brain to function properly. Research shows that boredom can actually help with creativity. A good friend of mine, actor, playwright, and director, told me that she meditates to help her get into her role, “I’ll do a lot of deep breathing and take myself through releasing the tension from my body […] to fully relax into my character.”
I don’t have time.
I get it, our lives are often filled to the max with things we have to do or we want to do. In general, we don’t like doing nothing. Whether that’s because of cultural pressures, we can’t say no and feel uncomfortable asking for support, or because we’re so used to being constantly stimulated we don’t like downtime so we don’t allow it. And I know what you’re thinking, “You don’t understand! I have work, I have kids, I have meetings, I have friends, I have family, I have…” I do get it. I still maintain what I said above. The point is we’re busy.
For meditation to be beneficial you don’t have to do it for long periods of time. Research is showing that just 5-10 minutes of consistent meditation practice can make a huge difference. Taking time to meditate doesn’t actually have to take time from other things. For example, you could meditate while you’re showering by slowing down and really being mindful of each step. You could meditate while drinking a cup of coffee or tea. You could meditate while you walk to work. While it can be super amazing and beneficial to sit down and “meditate,” that isn’t the only way.
It can be uncomfortable and could possibly trigger past traumas.
Yes, meditation can be uncomfortable. When I first started meditating I really struggled with it because it made me feel like I was hyperventilating. When we meditate, we connect with ourselves on a deeper level. We become aware and sometimes that awareness is uncomfortable. There have been many studies to show that meditation can support, relieve, and even change our relationship with trauma, anxiety, depression, and PTSD. If you are worried about how meditation could affect you, I recommend starting your meditation journey with a professional who knows how to support those who struggle with mental health.
I can’t relax, I’m too tense.
I have this same problem. I don’t relax well and my brain doesn’t shut off. I have really struggled with meditation and yoga because of it. Start off slow and gently, and perhaps with movement. When I was first introduced to meditation as a teenager, it freaked me out. Instead, I found solace walking through the forest. Whenever I arrived my mind would race, but the longer I walked the more I began to notice the trees around me, the light on the leaves, the crunch of pine needles underfoot, the scent of deep forest green, the sounds of the birds and squirrels…
Little by little I felt the tension leave my body, my gaze focused, and I breathed easier. Moving meditation can be incredibly powerful, especially for those of us who struggle to relax and sit still. It doesn’t have to be a walk through a forest, it could be something more simple like a Nyasa hand meditation, matching the movement of your thumb against your fingers as you inhale and exhale.
It has religious connotations.
There is no denying that meditation stemmed from a spiritual background. Mindfulness is a key factor in Buddhism. That doesn’t mean however that meditation is intrinsically religious. As Neuroscientist Sam Harris said in an interview with BigThink, the act of meditation is to cut through the “continuous conversation that we have with ourselves” that can cause us to hold onto emotions much longer than they need to be held onto.
Meditation allows us to acknowledge a feeling for what it is, accept the emotion, and stop what could be a cycle of bitter inner dialogue about it. So while meditation has roots in religion, it in and of itself is not religious. It’s getting to know your true self and cutting through the layers of guises we put on ourselves.
Nope. Not even entertaining that one. If anything meditating—self-care practices in general—is giving back. Is your phone helpful if it runs out of battery? No. It’s about as helpful as a brick. You have to recharge your phone for it to be helpful. You are the same, you need to be recharged. We need to recharge so we can do what we love and support those around us.
Meditation is a fantastic way to give ourselves time to pause and reset. Cut through the chaos. As a good friend of mine and one of my former students said, “[Meditation] is very freeing and therapeutic because it’s actually just a bit of time to not have to think. And to just enjoy being. Just being present in yourself.”
It’s doing nothing for me.
Sometimes meditation has a pretty immediate effect, other times it takes a while. A study headed by Phillippa Lally in 2009, examined 82 participants over 12 weeks and found that 95 percent of the people were able to form a new habit between 18 and 254 days. The average was 66 days, just over two months. The point is while it doesn’t necessarily take years to form new habits and start to register the benefits, it does take time. If you’ve meditated only a handful of times and didn’t see any change, perhaps it’ll just take you longer. Keep trying! And, try different types of meditation; one might suit you better than another.
I don’t know how.
That’s okay! There are so many wonderful teachers out there. You can find free tutorials on places like YouTube and apps like Insight Timer. You can join meditation groups and courses. You can get a private teacher. Meditation comes in so many different styles it’s hard to write how to meditate in a few sentences. But in a nutshell: you meditate when you allow yourself to focus in a way that cuts the subconscious inner narrative in your mind. You become aware of your thoughts—you don’t stop them, thoughts are what make us human—acknowledge them, don’t start a conversation with them, and let them pass as though they were in a river flowing past you.
I don’t like it.
Fair enough. It’s pretty much impossible for anything to be liked by absolutely everyone. But, before you throw in the towel completely. Answer this, what is it that you don’t like about meditation? Was it one of the above points? Was it something else? And if you’ve exhausted it all, and you’re still like, “Nope. Not for me.” That’s okay. There are many other wonderful practices that can support your mental health. But please, give it a chance first.
Are you convinced?
There are so many reasons to not do things. As a collective, we humans are very good at stepping away from that which is initially uncomfortable, unknown, or outwardly unattractive. Meditation can be one of those things.
I think it’s time we stop downplaying, stigmatizing, and rolling our eyes at holistic self-care practices like meditation. There are so many different forms of meditation that can be incredibly beneficial; it’s important we talk about them, practice them, and share them with others.
If your initial impressions of meditation are holding you back, dive a little deeper. Try something new. Give yourself the opportunity to cut through the day-to-day illusions we all project upon ourselves and allow yourself a moment to just be.