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It's 2017. By now, you probably know that meditation is good for you. Your yoga teacher has told you this. So has your doctor. And hell, the internet is full of "meditation changed my life" stories.
Now, a Harvard neuroscientist has put all this anecdotal evidence into a pretty mind-blowing piece of scientific work. After just eight weeks, the group that learned to meditate had smaller amygdalae—this is the part of the brain responsible for fight or flight and anxiety, and fear, and stress responses got smaller. The hippocampus, responsible for learning, cognition, memory, and emotional regulation, got larger.
So yes, meditation is very good for you. And as a former "it's impossible for me to meditate so I won't even try" person, here are the top five problems I see people make when starting a meditation practice:
1. Doing the wrong kind of meditation
No two minds are alike, so it stands to reason that we shouldn't all be practicing the same kinds of meditation. What works for your best friend may not work for you, and that's OK. It's important to get clear on what you're struggling with and what you're hoping meditation will ease for you.
Ask yourself these questions: Is anxiety ruling your life? Are you lethargic and needing to light a fire under your booty? Has grief settled in and you're looking for ways to bring love and light back into your being? All of these experiences call for different forms of meditation. One size definitely does not fit all.
2. Expecting miracles overnight
I always say: You wouldn't go to the gym and expect to lift 300 pounds on your first day! It's the same with meditation. This is, hopefully, a lifelong practice for you, so go easy on yourself. Challenge yourself to short three-day sprints. Increase the sprints to five days. Just 60 seconds a day can lead to huge relief!
3. Expecting all thoughts to disappear from your mind
As an ordained Tibetan tantra practitioner, it's my fundamental belief that we are blessed with this amazing body and mind, and the goal is integrate them fully—not escape them by having our minds devoid of all thought. Most of us are "householders," meaning we aren't living in a monastery away from busy modern life. We have lives and jobs and relationships, and all these things require thoughts and connection.
As householders, the goal of meditation is simply to build competency around being our own air traffic control with regards to the thoughts that come into our minds. You want to choose what you put your focus and attention toward so you aren't knocked off your game by the monkey mind chatter. Think of it as mental cat-herding.
4. Believing it won't work
OK, just go back and read the first part of this post. It really is good for you! Don't doubt the power of meditation—let it work its magic.
5. Going at it on your own
Traditionally, meditation was taught one-on-one with a seasoned teacher, guru, or wise person. This person would be there to guide, encourage, and help adjust the practice right alongside the beginner.
So, knowing that, it's no wonder you haven't successfully started your practice just by reading things online or a book that's meant for mass appeal! Cut yourself from slack. This stuff isn't easy, and it's infinitely more difficult to get it right without support.
I encourage you to reach out to wise people you trust or look for meditation groups in your area. Or consult with your doctor. With the mounting clinical evidence proving that meditation really is good for you, more and more medical practitioners are referring their patients to meditation groups.
Definitely ask for resources. Good luck!
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