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posted: 8/5/2013 6:00 AM

Clearing away meditation myths

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Taking your time: One big myth of meditation: Practitioners need to devote vast amounts of time to meditation in order to benefit from it. That isn't true, said Mary Jo Kreitzer, the founder and director of the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota.

"A lot of people can't find 45 minutes a day to meditate," she said. "The dose-response ratio will vary with people, but we're seeing results now from people who meditate for just 15 or 20 minutes once or twice a day."

She challenges the notion that meditating requires a special room filled with incense, soothing music and floor mats on which practitioners twist themselves into the lotus position.

"You can sit, you can stand, you can walk," Kreitzer said. "I wouldn't advise doing it while you're driving, but other than that, meditation can be done anywhere."

Keeping an open mind: Another myth is the belief that you have to empty your mind during meditation. Some people can do that, but only after years of disciplined practice. If the average person tries to do it, "you're actually going to produce more stress because you're going to start criticizing yourself for failing," warned Stefan Brancel, president of the University of Minnesota's Mindfulness for Students club.

A better approach is to think about other things, Kreitzer said. "Everyone has 'monkey mind,'" she said. "Instead of trying to keep thoughts from jumping into your mind, just don't grab onto them. Let the thoughts go. Concentrate on your breathing."

Chilling out from within: Calming the brain will have a trickle-down effect to the body, Brancel said. As the mind settles down, breathing and heart rates typically slow down, too. After their sessions, many meditators report being more aware of their surroundings.

"A lot of us live on autopilot so much of the time," Kreitzer said. "Meditation gives us a chance to slow down and be present in the moment. It helps us focus and be alert."

-- Jeff Strickler

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