The simple answer is no…however, there are so many potential benefits that can come from a regular practice that I would highly recommend giving it a go. Developing a meditation habit is a lot like taking a multivitamin. It is not a cure-all, you won’t feel anything immediately, but over time you’ll be healthier for it. Plus, it’s free and you can do it practically anywhere!
Upon suggesting this to clients, I usually get mixed responses that range anywhere from feeling hopeful to intimidated to skeptical. I recommend that a meditation practice be done in addition to continuing work in therapy, utilizing healthy coping skills, improving communication patterns, etc. For those struggling with anxiety, it can help get you out of your head and back into your body. If you’re caught up in a negative head space, it can help create distance between your emotions and your reactions to them. If done consistently, it can foster a sense of internal calmness even when surrounded by external chaos. Results will of course vary from person to person, which is the nature of creating a personalized routine that works in whichever ways are best suited for you.
Below are some ways I have seen people get tripped up when attempting to begin a practice. I share this list in order to provide a framework for successful practice, as well as to normalize the fact that sometimes we can unintentionally get in our own way. If you identify with any of these stuck points, they would be great things to explore and bring up in therapy because they might have relevance in other areas of your life as well.
- The all or nothing approach – “I’m going to meditate every single day no matter what” can quickly turn into “I was so busy the last few days that I forgot to meditate and broke my streak, so if I can’t do it every day then it’s not worth doing”. – Cut yourself some slack! Set realistic goals and don’t be too rigid. The mantra “some is better than none” could apply here. Doing some meditation is more beneficial than doing none at all. If you fall off, get back on the horse and keep going.
- The longer is better approach – There are a few reasons why trying to meditate for too long too quickly can be problematic. One of the first concerns I usually hear from people is that they don’t have enough time to meditate, however research suggests that only 3-5 minutes of meditation per day is enough to make marked changes in brain function if done consistently. Also, the skill of being able to notice your thoughts without following them takes time to build. Trying to sit with a head full of thoughts for an hour right off the bat can be overwhelming, so start small and work your way up.
- The stop all your thoughts approach – The goal of meditation is not to turn your brain off or to stop thinking, but rather to become the observer of your thoughts and learn to notice them without becoming consumed by them. This practice over time will allow you to create space between thoughts and responses in a way that promotes a sense of curiosity without judgement and a more stable sense of self. If your mind starts to wander, just notice that and return your focus to the breath.
- The “I tried it 3 times and I don’t feel better” approach – I’m going to blame this one on our culture. Quick fixes and magic solutions sound great in theory, but in reality they either don’t exist or aren’t sustainable. Meditation in and of itself is not a panacea. In the midst of a crisis, it’s probably not going to provide much relief. Practice it proactively before a crisis though and it might be influential in how your mind and body respond to the stress. Remember, it’s like a vitamin not a Vicodin.
- The avoidance of being alone with yourself conundrum – For some people being still and alone with one’s thoughts can be more anxiety inducing than some of their biggest fears. If this is the case, keep it short and sweet in the beginning in order to develop more of a tolerance for the discomfort. This is where guided meditation can be helpful because you can focus on following the instructions rather than getting lost in your own head.
- The multitasking approach – Listening to a meditation while doing something else can be counterproductive when trying to improve awareness and concentration. Contrary to popular belief we can really only do one thing at a time. I’ve heard everything from “I listened to it while I was driving, taking a shower, cooking, etc.” which is shortly followed by an “it didn’t work”. To put it frankly, the meditation script will only work as hard as you do. Find a comfortable space away from distractions and give yourself permission to invest the time in your own well being. And for those of you who need to hear this, self-care is not selfish 😊
Where to start
So now that you know about the do’s and don’ts, how do you get started? These days there are several ways to use technology to assist you in the learning process. There are seemingly endless amounts of apps, Pinterest boards, and YouTube channels to choose from.
https://www.meditationintexas.org/ is also a great resource.
Some yoga studios offer meditation classes as part of their curriculum. It is a personal preference as to whether you choose to practice alone or amongst others.
A few apps that I have had success with are Head Space, Simple Habit, Waking Up, and Calm. They all offer free versions with an option to pay for more content if you like them.