Seven misunderstandings about mindfulness meditation

Have you been wondering whether mindfulness meditation is something for you? and maybe you were thinking that you cannot do it right because you had too many thoughts or could not relax? or maybe you think that it’s just for ‘spiritual people’?

It’s normal to have expectations and assumptions when trying something new – but if these expectations are not met, it’s easy to feel disappointed or frustrated, have self-judgement, or think that the practice doesn't work.

You might even feel like you are failing in meditation, not progressing, or not doing it well enough to continue.

Setting the right expectations

If this sounds familiar, check out the seven most common misunderstandings about mindfulness below. 

We often expect meditation to be something it's not and end up focusing on the wrong things.  That's why it's essential to set the right expectations and clarify what mindfulness meditation is instead.

The seven most common misconceptions about mindfulness

1. There is only one right way to meditate

Mindfulness meditation isn't the only 'right' way to meditate. There are various types and traditions of meditations. Those who join our mindfulness courses might have prior meditation experience from other traditions. This previous experience can also create a certain expectation about mindfulness meditation and its effects.

  • A few examples of types of meditations include: mantra, transcendental, progressive relaxation, visualisation, and spiritual.

In mindfulness meditation we become aware of whatever is present in our body and mind with an open and accepting attitude. In the following text we use meditation as a synonym for mindfulness meditation, but we are aware that there are other types of meditation as well.

2. I have to be able to 'empty the mind'

Quieting the mind can happen during meditation, but this doesn't mean having a blank mind is the goal.

  • Mindfulness meditation involves developing the ability to observe one's thoughts, emotions and sensations with patience, non-reactivity and non-judgement.

You can think of this process as watching clouds in the sky passing by, where the clouds are your thoughts.

'The purpose of mindfulness meditation is to become mindful throughout all parts of our life, so that we're awake, present and openhearted in everything we do', Tara Brach.

3. My mind wanders, so meditation isn't 'working'

If you notice you are having thoughts during meditation, you are doing it right!

  • Meditation is about developing an ability to notice various aspects of our internal experience - not changing that inner experience.

The more we practice meditation, the less we get caught up in our thoughts – the so-called 'train of thoughts’ - that carry us away. Eventually, this can help us feel more in control and calmer, but the thoughts don't disappear.

4. Meditation should be relaxing

We may experience a sense of relaxation during and after a mindfulness practice, but relaxation is not the goal. Mindfulness meditation is not a relaxation exercise.

  • The goal of meditation is to notice what is present in your body and mind, which also means we tune in to discomfort and even physical, mental or emotional pain.

Therefore meditation can cause some challenges, because it might be the first time someone sits with the discomfort of their inner experience. They might observe things they dislike.

'True meditation is about being fully present with everything there is, including discomfort and challenges. It is not an escape from life', Craig Hamilton

5. I need to sit cross-legged to meditate

This misconception may come from a stereotype about how Buddhist monks meditate.

  • When it comes to a mindfulness sitting meditation, we encourage our participants to find a posture that will help you be alert, attentive and comfortable. This can be sitting on a chair, cross-legged on a cushion, or kneeling using a meditation stool.

But there are also other types of mindfulness meditations besides the sitting meditation. For instance: walking meditation, mindful movement or a body scan, which is practised lying down.

6. Meditation is only for spiritual 'high in the sky' people

Indeed, various spiritual traditions often practice meditation.

  • Mindfulness meditation is not a quest for alternative states of consciousness or about developing out-of-the-ordinary mental or physical capacity.

It's a mental exercise with benefits that are supported by extensive scientific research.

7. Meditation is only for reducing stress

Mindfulness meditation is often promoted and practiced as a way to cope with stress and manage and reduce pain levels. It's often the first thing people notice when they meditate regularly.

However, it can be so much more!

  • Mindfulness mediation also improves your focus, and gives you more clarity and insight in life.

Furthermore, it contributes to a better mental and physical health.

Reframing your mindfulness practice

To conclude, if we reframe our thinking towards mindfulness meditation as a practice of being present in the moment, helping to train us to become more mindful throughout the day and during difficult situations, then we can let go of some of our previous misconceptions.

As meditation teacher, Tara Brach, puts it: 'Mindfulness is your awareness of what's going on in the present moment without any judgment. Meditation is the training of attention which cultivates that mindfulness'.

Find support

It is recommended to learn how to meditate with a qualified teacher in a safe and supported group environment. Check out our agenda for our next 8-week In-Person Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Course where you will step by step how to acquire mindfulness skills. 

Check out our guide on how to start a meditation practice to support you in this journey and start practising with the free guided meditations on our website. 

Via this link you can watch our videos on mindfulness myths and misunderstandings.