As a guy with a busy life who has a tendency to push myself pretty hard, I sometimes find it hard to slow down. But as an integrative physician, I know all too well how important relaxation and release are for overall health. That’s why I’m such a big proponent of meditation, both in my personal and professional lives.
I’ve recommended meditation to countless patients over the years, and I’ve noticed that a lot of them share similar (false) notions about it. In the interest of clearing up some confusion, here are the top three meditation misconceptions I’ve encountered.
Misconception #1: Real men don’t meditate
I think a lot of men are reluctant to try meditation because they’re put off by the way it’s portrayed in pop culture. Mention the word “meditation” and many people conjure an image of long-haired hippies sitting on cushions, chanting the word “om” while tinkly music plays in the background. With all due respect to the cushion-sitters out there, meditation is so much more than just New Age woo woo! It’s actually a powerful tool—a scientifically proven performance enhancer that trains your brain in the same way that working out trains your body.
Here are some of the many research-backed benefits of meditation:
- Relieves stress
Meditation has been shown to reduce anxiety, even among people in highly stressful fields like health care. Since chronic stress is associated with so many serious health problems (like heart disease, depression, and even obesity), having a tangible stress management technique in your pocket can help keep you in top form.
- Sharpens the mind
Research involving brain scans of meditators have shown that meditation can increase the amount of grey matter in the frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for decision making and memory. In one study, meditators in their fifties were found to have the same amount of grey matter in the prefrontal cortex as people in their twenties—an especially remarkable finding when you consider that this part of the brain tends to shrink as we age.
Misconception #2: Meditation is hard to learn
If you’ve been shying away from meditation because you don’t feel like you have the time to learn how to do it, I’m here to bust that myth. In fact, aside from how well it works, my favorite thing about meditation is how simple it is.
There are a ton of helpful websites and YouTube videos dedicated to teaching meditation, and you can even download a meditation app to your smartphone. Here are a couple of my favorites:
- 10% Happier
This free app is named after the bestselling book by ABC News correspondent Dan Harris, who took an interest in mindfulness after having an on-air panic attack. It features a ton of different meditation options to suit all levels.
With meditation sessions ranging from 3 to 25 minutes, Calm emphasizes relief from anxiety, stress, and insomnia. It’s designed for beginners, so it’s super easy to use.
Misconception #3: Meditation requires you to sit still
When you’re always on the go, the idea of taking time out of your busy schedule to sit still, even for a few minutes, may seem impossible. But you don’t need to be immobile to meditate!
There are a number of “moving meditations” that can provide the same brain-boosting, stress-busting benefits of traditional seated meditation while allowing you the freedom to move your body. They include:
- Walking meditation
When practicing this form of moving meditation, the goal is to focus your mind on the sensations you experience while walking. Rather than thinking about all the unread emails in your inbox or what you’re going to have for dinner, you try to direct your attention to the feeling of your feet hitting the ground, the smells in the air, and other sensations.
- Tai chi/qi gong
Both tai chi and qi gong are traditional Chinese practices that feature a series of movements. They provide a great way to meditate while in motion, and they’ve also been shown to help with balance, coordination, and flexibility.
Bust the myths, believe the hype
Now that I’ve cleared up some meditation misconceptions, I hope you’ll consider incorporating this highly beneficial relaxation technique into your routine.
Wondering what others areas of your health could use your attention? Consider taking my Optimal Men’s Health quiz. It’s designed to help you determine your next best step to getting healthier and closer to winning.
Myles Spar, MD, MPH is board-certified in Internal Medicine and in Integrative Medicine. As a clinician, teacher and researcher on faculty of two major medical centers, he has led the charge for a more proactive, holistic and personalized approach to care that focuses on cutting edge technology and preventative care. Dr. Spar has traveled with the NBA, presented a TEDx Talk, appeared on Dr. Oz, and been featured in publications such as the Men’s Journal and the Los Angeles Times.