What’s the big deal about meditation?

Written by Danika Desforges-Bell, M.Sc. Ps.ed.

People may have a misconception of what meditation is all about and may not understand why so many individuals embracing it: “Try meditation, it will change your life!”. Although meditation has many benefits, it probably won’t “change” your life. That’s why it’s important to demystify the myths surrounding meditation before listing its benefits. Please note that this blog post is based on my own clinical experience as a mental health counsellor and my own mindfulness practice. Others might have a different view or experience of meditation and that’s alright too.

Meditation Myths

MYTH #1: Meditation is about making your mind go blank.

Meditation isn’t the absence of thought, which to be honest, is almost humanly impossible. That’s not how we’re built or how our brains function. Meditation is about acceptance by allowing our thoughts to come and go as they please without judgment. Visualize your thoughts as clouds in the sky. You can label those different thoughts as fear, stress, worry, tasks, work, distorted, negative or important before blowing that cloud away. Meditation is about bringing your focus back to the present moment by grounding yourself with your breath.

MYTH #2: Meditation is only for buddhist, yogis and relaxed individuals.

Although meditation was originally associated with Hinduism, it is now practised all over the world as a spiritual way of connecting with ourselves and our own breath. Yes, religious prayer and yoga practices can be seen as forms of meditation but you don’t have to do either to be able to meditate. Anyone can do it anytime, anywhere, and you don’t have to be “zen” to practice it. In fact, meditation is the perfect tool for stressed and anxious individuals. As human beings, we all encounter different stressors throughout our day and life which we have to cope with as best we can. Meditation is a tool to help us accept the discomfort of strong emotions or uncomfortable situations instead of constantly resisting them or trying to change things we have no control over.

MYTH #3: Meditation needs to be at least 30minutes long.

Meditation can be done in many different ways, formats and lengths of time. If you are a beginner, it might feel very overwhelming to sit alone with your thoughts for as long as 30 minutes to 1 hour. It’s always easier to start small, 5 or 10 minutes, and to try different types of meditation to see what suits your needs best. Check out our Meditation page which has a variety of meditation styles and are all approximately 10 minutes long… figure out what works for you!

MYTH #4: Meditation can only be done in a quiet and calm space.

Well, this is isn’t completely a myth in the sense that meditation is usually easier in a calm, safe and quiet environment. That being said, the goal of meditation is also inviting your environment to be part of that practice instead of pushing it away, trying to ignore it or getting frustrated & annoyed by it. I guess this depends more on your own personal needs and preferences for meditation practice. If you are looking for a break to self-care and unplug, then yes perhaps sit up in bed, draw a warm bath or lie on your yoga mat for your meditation. If you are feeling worked up (on the bus, train or at work) and need a space to process difficult emotions, then maybe your meditation is more about accepting your present situation the way it is right now, right here. Ultimately, by practicing meditation regularly it would be nice to think that some of that presence, grounding and mindfulness transpires into other environments, right?

Benefits of Regular Meditation

The best way to find out the benefits of a regular meditation practice is by experiencing it yourself. That being said, if you’re still not convinced, here are a few of the generalized benefits that I have experienced and that have been reported by my clients. There is much research to support this as well.

  • Raises self-awareness and self-compassion.
  • Encourages you to give yourself a break and recharge.
  • Develops mindfulness to spread to other areas of your life (eating, walking, chores).
  • Allows you to unplug from constant over-stimulation and technology.
  • Helps you cope with stress as well as uncomfortable emotions such as anger, sadness and fear.
  • Inspires you to avoid resistance by accepting discomfort, both physical and emotional.

So, what’s the big deal about meditation? Well, it’s a tool, technique or strategy available within you and at your fingertips that might cultivate a sense of ease, peace and overall wellbeing. Why not try it? It’s only a few minutes a day…

1- Mental Health Tip: There are numerous studies, such as the research done by neuroscientist Sara Lazar from Harvard, that explore the scientific benefits of meditation on the brain. A lot of therapeutic approaches have been developed in the last few years such as Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction that incorporate meditation, breathing exercises and relaxation techniques to treat anxiety disorders and depression. Try meditation today, right here on our website. (Danika Desforges-Bell M.Sc. Ps.ed.)

2- Nutrition Tip: When the body is stressed, digestion is impaired. Calming the mind and the body is essential when you are about to start eating. A simple technique is to take 3 deep cleansing breaths. This will put your body in para-sympathetic mode which is your digestive mode. Bon appétit! (Lyne Desforges R.H.N.)

3- Naturopathic Tip: Many studies have repeatedly confirmed the benefits of meditation within the realm of health psychology. But did you know that meditation has equal benefits from a physiological standpoint? The world of research has started exploring its benefits for cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death in North America. A mindfulness-based stress reduction program for women with heart disease showed promising benefits in reducing their anxiety. Another study evaluated the effects of meditation in hypertensive patients. There was an overall average decline in blood pressure of 8-10% after a 3-month follow-up. I think it is safe to say that meditation can improve health from both a psychological as well as a physiological standpoint. (Sofie Desforges-Bell, Naturopathic Doctor)