After two years of therapy and one year of mindfulness meditation — a basic quietness that I practice for about 10 minutes a day — I feel like a different person. As much as that sounds like a cheesy infomercial testimonial, it's true. I still get anxious, and I still get scared, but I know how to go to my quiet place on the regular.
When I spend time with my kids now, I finally feel like I'm right there in the moment with them. Even better is the fact that mindfulness has allowed me to release years of pain from growing up with a mentally ill father, and I'm beginning to like myself.
Turns out, my experience is not unique. Kate Sciandra describes in her book The Mindfulness Habit how she too used mindfulness to defuse the stress and anxiety she just couldn't seem to shake. She says, "It is entirely possible to find a place for calming the body and quieting the mind in your schedule, no matter how busy it is. There are more opportunities for you to find a way to become present, centered and more mindful than you ever imagined."
So, why aren't more of us sitting around on yoga mats and saying "om"? Meditation sounds like a great idea in theory, but it takes discipline to execute. And because of its hippy-dippy rep, many of us are turned off immediately.
Fortunately, the experts are here to bust common meditation myths that could be holding you back.
After spending seven years living in Colorado, I bought into all the meditation stereotypes hook, line and sinker: Meditation was for the crunchy granola types (and perhaps smug celebrities). Not so. Jennifer Owens, L.C.S.W. — a psychotherapist, licensed massage therapist and health and wellness expert with more than 13 years of experience in holistic health — insists that meditation is for everyone, saying: "Meditation is used all over the world by children and adults alike. Meditation is being used in the workplace to increase productivity and creativity. Mediation is being used in schools to improve test scores and focus. Mediation is helpful for people recovering from addictions or suffering from a debilitating mental health issue such as bipolar, PTSD or ADHD."
Before I started meditating, the thought of squeezing even an extra 10 minutes into my busy work and family schedule was laughable. But as the proverbial wisdom goes, you make time for what's important to you. Tiffany Cruikshank, L.Ac., M.A.O.M., R.Y.T., health and wellness expert, author of Optimal Health for a Vibrant Life and founder of Yoga Medicine, says, "I always love it when people tell me they can't meditate because they don't have time. What's more important is the frequency. I like to think of it as mental training. Just like our muscles, our brain needs training, and the frequency is more important than the duration when it comes to things like neuroplasticity or the ability to rewire how our nervous system responds to stress."
Mastering the monster that is my brain was and still is the hardest part of meditation for me. My mind never stops. But once I get past the buzzing beehive in my head to that calm, cool place (and believe me when I say that it can take a while), it's more than worth the effort. Laura Hollywood, B.Sc. (Hons), Dip. Couns., encourages, "One of the biggest myths is that your mind should be blank, and if thoughts come into your head, you are doing it wrong. If you are using a mantra, your breath or a visualization in your meditation, returning to this after noticing your thoughts without judgement will increase your stillness within the mind."
I'll admit it. Sometimes, I still walk away from meditation feeling flat, but that doesn't mean mindfulness isn't working. I've discovered that mindfulness benefits from a big dose of reality: Like life, meditation can be mundane at times. Four-year meditator Meredith Liepelt of Rich Life Marketing says that expecting meditation to be a "woo-woo" experience was what held her back from trying it years ago: "What I mean is you don't have to light candles, chant, hum and light incense. You can if you want, and sometimes I do. But I fit in meditation anywhere, as long as I can quiet myself."
I'm the type of person that prefers complete quiet when I meditate because it really does soothe my soul. But the beauty of meditation is that it is not a cookie-cutter practice. You do you. Joseph Feinstein — teacher, health and wellness expert and longtime meditator — explains his interpretation, "I use the singing bowls, and they really help more than silence. Listening to the warm sound of one of my Himalayan Bowls is transporting. It makes the meditation happen in an instant and cheers you up."
This brings us back to the pet "busy schedule" excuse — one I use often. How are you ever going to find time to meditate every day for the rest of your life? The good news is, you don't have to. After a car accident in 1991, Samantha Michael, founder and chair of an Aid to Help Foundation, was left with a severe closed-head injury. Michael credits meditation as the No. 1 tool that helped her to recover her cognitive skills and manage stress, which she details in her new memoir The Beauty of My Shadow. Michael tells SheKnows, "I believe that the number one myth people have about meditation is that they can't do it and that if they skip a few days that all is lost. Meditation for me was like learning to ride a bike. Once I got used to feeling my relaxation response kick in and having paired it with music, it became easier than ever each time."
By now, it's clear that meditation is all about consistency, not playing by the rules. As a type A, rule follower, this laissez-faire attitude bugged me. Yet I saw the biggest change in myself when I made mindfulness an all-day practice instead of a scheduled appointment. Courtney Pinkerton of Sync Yoga & Wellbeing in Dallas shares her secret to meditation success: "There is scientific evidence that the gold standard for meditation is 30 minutes a day for eight weeks. However, de-bundling your expectations about when to meditate can help make it more accessible, so be creative! Meditate first thing in the morning before anyone else in your house is up. Or, steal a few quiet moments in your car, backyard or at a local park over lunch. 'Happy hour' meditation can be nice right after work. Remember, the best meditation is the one you do."
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