In my last post, I looked at a whole bunch of benefits of meditation for the modern man. Meditation and mindfulness are now part of the mainstream and are practiced by entrepreneurs, corporate executives and politicians through to sportsmen, artists and the military.

However, many aspects of meditation aren’t understood. There are a number of myths that get in the way of many men trying it out. Here are several of those myths debunked to help you get started.

It is hard isn’t it?

Actually meditation is quite simple and anyone can do it. It is deceptively simple but not always easy for most men. In a culture of busy-ness, meditation can be counter intuitive, but as Sylvia Boorstein said, “don’t just do something, sit there”.

In reality we make it more difficult than it needs to be. Usually we are trying too hard to concentrate or think that meditation should look a certain way. Let’s face it, as men we can get too focused on a particular outcome and the need to control!

The most basic and accessible practice is focusing on breath or repeating a mantra/focus word, both of which are very simple and easy. Then it is just a matter of practice.

Do I have to be spiritual or religious?

Although meditation started in Hinduism and Buddhism, it doesn’t matter whether you are spiritual, agnostic or atheist. Meditation is about focus and concentration rather than spirituality. This is part of the reason why it is becoming popular with business leaders (e.g. Bill Ford and Russell Simmons of Def Jam Records) and in sport (e.g. Phil Jackson is an experienced meditator and won the NBA 11 times ).

Mindfulness is really about enriching everyday life for everyday people. Even the Dalai Lama has said that meditation is not about religion or spirituality, but rather the transformation of the mind.

I don’t have time!

Many men are so time starved that the idea of finding time to meditate can be daunting. Like many things that are good for you though, you are missing a trick if you don’t.

You can start to derive benefit from meditating for as little as 10 minutes (or less to begin with – it is better than not meditating at all). Studies have shown that as little as 20 minutes a day has a significant impact on stress reduction.

More than that, meditation helps to make you more present so the time you have is of higher quality. It also slows you down from rushing around quite as much and you get into the flow more and more as your thinking and awareness become more efficient.

Don’t I have to empty my head of thoughts?

This is probably the single biggest thing that gets in the way of starting meditation. In reality, we can’t stop our thoughts but we can pay them less attention. Meditation is about finding a single pointed focus and coming back to that.

Our mind is like a crazy overactive monkey (hence “the monkey mind”) that just needs guiding back to a point of focus. If you are thinking during meditation, that isn’t a failure. It is just human nature. All that is needed is to bring your mind back to the object of focus (breath, mantra etc).

Eventually meditation becomes about observing your thoughts and becoming less attached. In essence, your thoughts are like clouds. They pass by and you don’t have to pay them too much attention.

Don’t I have to sit in funny positions and need stuff?

As with any activity, having a routine or ritual can certainly help. Many meditators light a candle or incense and have a specific place to sit. None of this is actually necessary. It is actually just about doing mediation. That is what makes it so simple.

There are some things that can help a meditation practice though:

  • Meditating at the same time of the day can help to create and embed the habit
  • You don’t have to sit in Lotus position! Sitting on a supportive chair with your spine upright is fine and will help you to concentrate. I even meditate on the train while commuting.
  •  Setting a timer for your meditation session can help your mind relax and let go. The timer on your smart phone is perfect.
  • Using guided meditations can be a great way to start. There are also some great apps which can guide you through the process of learning (I always recommend Headspace to clients).

Aren’t I going to have weird experiences?

While some people do have experiences of seeing colours or feelings of bliss, that is not the point. Meditation is about stillness, awareness and being centred.

Meditation also gives us benefits in the other hours of the day when we carry some of that mindfulness and stillness from our meditation session. It builds your self-awareness and perspective, giving your more choice and making you more resilient to daily pressures.

Doesn’t it take years to get any benefit?

Meditation is a practice – the more you do it the more benefit you will but it is about progress and practice not perfection. Many people feel better after their first session and certainly after the first few days.

Beyond that, huge benefits can be had in a matter of weeks. For example, a recent Harvard study found that 8 weeks of mindfulness meditation builds brain matter in areas related to memory, sense of self, stress and empathy. Other studies back this up.

The longer term benefits of meditation are well documented. Essentially, the more you practice, the better. Practice isn’t about reaching some end goal though. Practice will help you drop into a meditation more quickly, maintain it longer and access that state more easily during the day.

[reminder]What are you going to do to start meditating?[/reminder]

Image credit: Patrick M/Flickr