First, the good news: Meditation has risen in popularity in the U.S. in recent years, with more people experiencing the wonderful benefits of meditation than ever before. Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons has written a best seller on the topic (Success Through Stillness: Meditation Made Simple), Jerry Seinfeld is a well-known fan of transcendental meditation, and even more doctors are starting to prescribe meditation to their patients. But here’s the bad news: So many people still believe a variety of myths about meditation, and as a result, they never try it or experience its amazing benefits. Here are five common meditation myths debunked:
1. You have to be sitting with your eyes closed in a perfectly quiet room to meditate. This is a really common misconception about meditation. I have found from working with animals that the opposite is true; truly any moment can be a meditation, because meditation is about bringing compassion into our lives—and then sharing it with the world. We do this by taking our practice out of the quiet room and learning to meditate not just in a sitting position, but rather when walking our dog, taking a stroll on the beach, standing in a pasture with our horse, cuddling our cat and so on. These forms of meditation may be considered “informal,” but they’re just as powerful—if not more so.
2. Meditation is just woo-woo nonsense. Unfortunately, this is a common belief among many people. However, science has shown again and again that there are powerful health advantages to the regular practice of meditation. As explained in this WebMD article, those benefits include: improved heart health, lowered blood pressure, stress relief, a boost in your immune system, help with infertility, an improvement in the symptoms of PMS and hot flashes, stress management and more.
3. Meditation is time-consuming. Some people—especially busy ones balancing jobs, families, hobbies, aging parents, you name it—think they just don’t have time to meditate. While it can feel that way (and I can relate!), it’s very empowering to realize you don’t need to set aside an hour of your time every day to do this. It can be incorporated into your already busy life, and even just 15 minutes can help you feel better and more balanced.
4. You have to put your animals in another room to meditate. I’ve heard this so many times, and I’m not quite sure where this myth originated. But truly (and luckily for animal lovers), the exact opposite is true! I have found that animals make the best meditation teachers, if only we would open our hearts and listen. With their calming and compassionate presence, they are able to help us stay present and peaceful when meditating. You may have already discovered this on your own; your dog and cat have probably crawled into your lap when you’re meditating! I wrote more about animals and how essential they are to my meditation practice here.
5. Kids are too young to meditate. A lot of people think meditation is an intellectual, mysterious activity only for adults. This just isn’t true! Kids can learn meditation and mindfulness, too—they not only love it, but it helps them in many ways, such as improving test scores and attention spans and decreasing drop-out rates and suspensions, as reported in this piece on the recent trend of “ohm schooling” by ABC News. Teaching meditation to children doesn’t have to be complicated. You can start with simple breathing exercises and go from there. Here are a few tips to help.
What myths have you heard about meditation? Include them the comments below.
Ready to deepen your bond with your animals while you tune into the natural world around you? CLICK HERE for some special guided meditations I’ve created just for you and your animals.
Every time I see a black-and-white sheltie dog, I think of my first dog Muffett. She was the best! We did everything together as kids. But we didn’t just play together. Looking back, I realize now that she was an amazing teacher who also taught me many important life lessons. I just didn’t know it at the time! (When learning is fun, you don’t even see it happening.) And now with my own daughter, Indigo, I can see her, too, starting to draw important lessons from spending time with our dog and horses. I’ve come to believe that animals truly are influential teachers for children—and I wish every child had the opportunity to grow up alongside an animal. Here are three key life lessons kids learn from spending time with animals—either their own dog or cat, or by spending time with homeless animals at a shelter or in a classroom setting:
1. Compassion. Kids who grow up with animals understand that animals have feelings, too, and that helps to foster compassion, love and kindness toward both animals and people. Children learn to have empathy for a pet that is hurting—and they also come to realize they are much bigger than the animal, so they have to be very careful or the animal might get hurt. These lessons in kindness and sensitivity then translate to friends at school and people they encounter in the world as they grow up.
2. Responsibility. Kids who grow up with a cat, dog or hamster in the home learn the importance of feeding and grooming the animal, as well as how vital it is for the animals to have a clean bed to sleep on and clean water to drink. Managing these various tasks really teaches kids lessons in time-management and responsibility. Indigo is now of an age where she can help me feed, clean up after and take our dog, Mystic, on walks.
3. Respect and acceptance. Anyone who grows up with a cat in the house learns fast about respect—respect the cat’s boundaries (and be gentle and kind!), or you’ll get scratched. Animals are also influential teachers when it comes to teaching diversity about race. Cats, dogs, guinea pigs and so on come in all shapes and colors and sizes—and children learn firsthand that the animals really aren’t that different based on how they look. The same idea holds true when an animal is injured or disabled; kids learn that the cat with three legs is just like the cat with four—which ultimately leads children to have open hearts toward those who might be in a wheelchair or have other physical challenges.
What important life lessons did you learn from animals when you were a child?
I just spent a wonderful weekend teaching animal Reiki at Chenoa Manor, a farm sanctuary in Avondale, Pennsylvania. The animals (and people) were so welcoming! I just loved spending time with them and being on the farm. There is something special about farm animals. I feel like these days, everywhere I turn I’m hearing stories of how farm animals opened people’s hearts to compassion, inspiring amazing lifestyle and diet changes. Even Jon Stewart of Daily Show fame has purchased a New Jersey farm to turn into an animal sanctuary. Here are a few more inspiring examples of farm animals inspiring change:
1. Rowdy Girl Sanctuary: A cattle rancher’s wife in Texas, Renee King-Sonnen recently converted their cattle ranch (which had been used to sell livestock for meat for four generations) into the Rowdy Girl Sanctuary. Now the 96-plus acres save farm animals from slaughter and give cows, chickens, pigs and the like a safe place to live out their lives. She and her husband are also practicing vegans.
Can I admit something to you? It isn’t always easy for me to meditate. There are so many “human” challenges that can trip me up—an overactive mind that refuses to quiet, difficulty in accepting the present moment, or being so busy my energy is scattered all over the place. I want to share with you my secret weapon to strike down these obstacles and ensure a more powerful meditation: the animals.
You see, in my work with animals and Reiki over the years, I began to notice something interesting; when I would meditate and my animals would happen to be present, I found myself able to quiet my mind and be present with an open heart much more easily. I began to realize that perhaps I should rethink the way I approached my own meditation practice. Meditating alone is all well and good, offering numerous health benefits that have been backed by science. But when I began to meditate with the animals and follow their lead, all of the benefits of meditation I had always experienced began to improve. Here are three ways animals helped me become a better meditator:
1. It’s easier to stay present and peaceful in the moment with our animals. If we are trying to meditate but our intellectual minds keep analyzing, judging and interpreting everything (which is just natural for us, really), the animals will often mirror this agitation. The more we feel ourselves shift into a state of quiet, and the more we can just “be,” the more we can see the animals relax. I can always tell what state I am in by how the animals around me are responding to my presence. A peaceful mind and peaceful heart means peaceful animals. In addition, animals have a natural calming presence. So when we have trouble letting go, and we’re stuck inside past problems or future fears, simply sitting with our animals can help to calm our energy, quiet our thoughts and take us to this moment right now.
2. Animals help our hearts to open, so that we can radiate our inner compassion. According to a 2013 study by Northeastern University, those who practice mindfulness meditation feel more compassion for others. But sometimes, compassion can be a difficult feeling to tap into. That’s where the animal factor comes in: Animals show so much unconditional love for us, we just can’t help but open our hearts when we are with them. If we are with our animals during our meditation practice, our inner compassion arises effortlessly because we are already opening our hearts to our animals at that moment. This compassion will radiate out to all animals … and even ultimately to the world.
3. Animals helped me realize an informal meditation can be just as effective. Some people think, “Oh, I have to light a candle and sit on this cushion to meditate.” And that sometimes works well, but it’s also very limiting. Meditation isn’t about escaping the world, shutting our eyes and sitting in a stiff position. The most important purpose of meditation is to bring compassion to our lives, and the truth is we have to learn to take our practice off of the cushion, bringing this compassion with us into the world. What the animals teach us by their compassionate presence is very freeing: That truly any moment in our lives can be a meditation. We can practice peaceful presence while sitting, walking or standing—cuddling our cat, walking the dog or standing in a pasture with our horse. You see, this is how our animals live already, and they can show us how to live this way too.
Meditation is about bringing all of our energy here to this present moment, and opening our hearts to the peaceful power that exists in the now. Animals are always present, they don’t judge like we do, and they live life with an open heart. They are my best meditation teachers: mirrors, reflecting to me how I should be, and lights, guiding me along the path of inner healing.
How have animals helped your meditation practice?