What's the truth about meditation? Does it really have health benefits - or is it just a silly waste of time? These are questions Dr. Noman Rosenthal, clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical Center, knows a thing or two about. Best known for first describing the form of depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), he's also a widely acknowledged expert on meditation. In addition to practicing Transcendental Meditation and recommending it to his patients, he is the author of a new book on the topic entitled Transcendence: Healing and Transformation Through Transcendental Meditation.
Keep clicking as Dr. Rosenthal explodes 10 myths about meditation...
Myth: Meditation is New Age nonsense
There's nothing new about mediation. It goes back thousands of years. And unlike some unproven mind/body modalities, meditation has been extensively studied and found to bring specific benefits, including reduced anxiety and depression. Transcendental meditation, in particular, is known to reduce blood pressure and lower the risk for cardiovascular disease, the number one killer in the U.S. and other developed countries.
Myth: Meditation is a religion
Yes, meditation is practiced by adherents of many religions. But it's possible to meditate no matter what your religious affiliation, and without violating your religious principle and practices.
Myth: People who meditate belong to a cult
Cults are all about coercion. But coercion is alien to the spirit of meditation, which celebrates independence and freedom of thought and spirit.
Myth: Meditation is just relaxation
Unlike simply sitting on the sofa or lying in bed, meditation has been shown to produce specific chemical changes in the brain. Transcendental meditation, for example, is known to cause the brain to release a soothing hormone known as prolactin. So-called Buddhist meditation boosts brain wave activity in the brain's left frontal region, which is associated with positive, upbeat feelings.
Myth: You can't meditate if you can't sit cross-legged
To meditate effectively, you must be comfortable. For some, the so-called lotus position is comfortable. But people who find that uncomfortable can sit in a chair or find some other comfortable position. Some forms of meditation can be practiced while walking.
Myth: Meditation takes too much time
Any amount of meditation can be helpful, though some recommend meditating for specific spans of time. Transcendental mediation, for example, takes about 40 minute a day, in two 20-minute sessions. That's how much time Dr. Rosenthal spends meditation - and he says the effort has transformed his life. How? By filling him with "a greater sense of calm and vibrancy." In addition, he says meditation has become more efficient in his use of time - and thus more productive.
You can certainly close your eyes and say a mantra, but it's not likely to do you much good. True meditation is a learned skill.
Myth: You can learn to meditate from a book
Plenty of books purport to teach people how to meditate. But even meditation books often acknowledge that it helps to have a real person show you the ropes. If you want to learn Transcendental Mediatation - the type whose physiological and psychological benefits have been most extensively studied - you need a teacher. Dr. Rosenthal says.
Myth: Meditation takes years to produce benefits
While the physiological benefits of transcendental meditation might take several months to show up, people often feel better psychologically after a single session.
Myth: Meditation is hard work
Some forms of meditation may be hard, but Dr. Rosenthal says he and his patients have found transcendental meditation to be easy and joyful. He says, "I rarely miss a session not out of discipline, but because I would hate to miss such an integral part of my day - just as I would hate to miss breakfast, or brushing my teeth."