Katy Perry starts the day with it, Hugh Jackman swears by it and Madonna has been practising it since before it was cool – but studies have shown that meditation does benefit your health. Just a few minutes a day, away from noisy thoughts and the demands of daily life, can have a positive effect on stress levels and overall health.
Here, we debunk some meditation myths.
- It won't change the state of my health
Wrong! Meditation is proven to fight stress and illness. ‘The stress response, otherwise known as fight or flight, is great for getting us away from a threatening situation,’ says Associate Professor Craig Hassad, author of Mindfulness For Life. ‘Unfortunately, we activate that same response repeatedly in daily life when we worry about the past or the future. This produces emotions like anxiety, fear, anger and depression, which places wear and tear on the body, increasing our risk of acute and chronic illness and ageing.’ Craig explains mindfulness has been shown to reverse these effects by helping to ground our attention in the present. ‘It has been shown to produce a relaxation response, improve immune resistance, reduce inflammation, slow down ageing and help protect brain cells.’
- It's hard to do
Get rid of the preconceived idea that meditation is hard and you’re halfway there. ‘Meditating is not hard to do, but we can make it hard for ourselves – for example, if we get judgemental when we don’t have whatever experience we assume we’re meant to have, when the attention wanders or when the mind doesn’t quieten down when we want it to,’ Craig says. ‘If we practise with a self-compassionate and accepting attitude, then the mind doing its habitual thing of wandering doesn’t turn into a problem. We learn to bring the attention back and let the “trains of thought” go past without having to get on them.’
- I'm a mum, I don't have any free time
Pick a moment when the kids are occupied – when they’re eating dinner or watching TV, or when they are asleep. If you spend more than 10 minutes a day on Facebook, you have time to meditate – that’s all it takes for a world of benefit. You can even do it on the bus to work. ‘Start with five minutes a day,’ Craig says. ‘As motivation grows, try to build up to 40 minutes, whether it is in one or two sessions. The mind being the creature of habit that it is will always find a reason to avoid meditation. Working with that is part of the fun of establishing meditation in our daily life.’
- It's the same thing
Wrong! Once we fall asleep while meditating it may be a really good rest, but it is not meditation, Craig says. Separate the two. ‘Maybe there was a need for a power-nap, so do that first and then meditate,’ he says.
- It's just for yogis
What was once regarded as the domain of yogis sitting cross-legged on a yoga mat chanting ‘omm’ is now something you can do anywhere. Meditating is becoming such a recognised form of stress relief that it’s as easy as downloading an app or podcast on your phone.
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