I have some observations from practicing and teaching meditation methods from over my last 40 years. There has been much stigma in the US regarding meditation going back to when the Maharishi introduced it to the Beatles rock band from 1959 and into the 60’s, and consequently the whole American counterculture of “hippies” of that era. I was quite young at this time but remember how adults around me would comment on how meditation was religious, cultish, and maybe even related to drug use. Some of these factors may actually be true for some people but definitely don’t need to be. Meditation and its many, many various methods can stand alone from any of my previous mentioned groups. Once people become informed and more educated, then they can logically determine for themselves that meditation is more of a mental type of exercise than anything threatening or unusual. Once someone realizes that meditation can come in many ways other than sitting still for long periods of time, such as playing or listening to music, walking, hiking, cooking, walking, producing artwork and many other skillful means, meditation can become less weird, unusual, or threatening. Moving meditation through yoga, tai chi/qigong, dance, and some others are a great way to get away from the stationary methods of sitting and standing meditation. However, if someone is closed minded to the whole idea of learning and trying something new, then it doesn’t really matter how hard another tries to convince them.
Time is another big deterrent to regular and consistent practice of meditation. Many people have the false assumption that if one is not sitting in the lotus position for hours on end, then they are not meditating or may not be doing it long enough to benefit. Studies have reported that some college students who practice mindfulness as part of their coursework, showed cognitive and wellbeing benefits, even when practicing for as little as five minutes twice a week, depending upon the type of mindfulness method implemented (O’Hare et al., 2023).
I have come to understand that it takes about 3 minutes of regulated slow breathing to engage the parasympathetic nervous system and its relative benefits of slower heart rate which affects metabolic functions, helping to induce stress relief, relaxation, and mental clarity. I have come to call the “foot in the door” approach seems to work best for beginners. This is when I suggest to someone with an interest in trying meditating, to start with using a timer set for 5 minutes. Almost everyone can agree that 5 minutes is quite easy to carve out and into one’s schedule. Often after the 5 minutes goes by relatively quicky and without incident, a beginner can easily add another 5 minutes, and then another of they feel better from the initial starting. Our mind has this interesting ability to adjust our perspectives on time and relative priorities as our thoughts and emotions level off to see what truly is more important.
Other challenges that I have encountered either with myself or others are physical discomfort, inability to relax and/or quiet the mind, boredom and even some people become so relaxed that they fall asleep. Practice, practice and more practice. Meditation is a slow path to a greater reward, that will pay off over time of the effort is invested. If you were to eat a salad once a month, this will not make you healthy. Similarly, meditating once in a while will not yield much results. Slow and steady wins the game.
O’Hare, A. J., & Gemelli, Z. T. (2023). The effects of short interventions of focused-attention vs. self-compassion mindfulness meditation on undergraduate students: Evidence from self-report, classroom performance, and ERPs. PLoS ONE, 17(1), 1–20. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0278826
Some other tips regarding meditation:
Meditation can offer numerous benefits for mental, emotional, and even physical well-being, but it’s not always an easy practice to master. Common challenges people face with meditation include:
To overcome these challenges and improve your meditation practice, consider these recommendations:
Remember that meditation is a personal journey, and everyone’s experience is unique. It’s okay to face challenges along the way; these challenges are often opportunities for growth and learning.
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