When Meditation Goes Bad

Ashleigh Sharman asks if meditation can ever be harmful to health and wellbeing.

Is it possible that meditation could be bad for you? My first reaction, like most, is a resounding no. How can a simple activity, merely taking ‘time-out’ to breathe ever have a negative health impact?

Despite a string of recent articles with headings such as ‘The Dark Side of Meditation’, ‘When Mindfulness Goes Wrong’ and ‘The Dangers of Meditation’, Dr Paula Watkins, argues that for most people, regular meditation is a safe activity that everyone can benefit from, when practiced correctly.

“Meditation helps to give us access to parts of the mind we may not have regular contact with. The theory is that in doing so, some people may become overwhelmed with feelings of depression and anxiety as a result,” says Dr Watkins who is a clinical and cognitive behavioural psychologist specialising in neuroscience, meditation and positive psychology.

Dr Paula Watkins_web
Dr Paula Watkins

“Research shows that even the smallest amounts of regular meditation can result in significant benefits to a person’s wellbeing, but it is still crucial to recognise that no one form of meditation works equally well for everyone.”

Paula stresses that individual circumstances and personality must be considered to determine whether a certain style will be positive for that individual, adding it is vital we have realistic expectations about what meditation can bring to our lives.

“It isn’t an instant panacea for everything that’s going wrong, but rather a way that we can better explore our minds, our feelings and our true selves,” she says.

Dr Ali Walker, author, academic and media presenter in the fields of self-development, happiness, consciousness, human behaviour and mindfulness, agrees that the key insight to this idea of ‘bad meditation’ is in seeing aspects of wellbeing as an achievement.

“What we are seeing so strongly is the commercialisation of spirituality with businesses springing up to satisfy our spiritual ego — so much so that yoga studios have become the cathedrals of our generation,” Dr Walker explains.

“Part of me loves how we are participating in so much spiritual activity by the anxiety and social media pressure surrounding it can be worrying.

Bad Meditation_Dr Alexandra Walker
Dr Alexandra Walker

“I want to be good at it, I want to be the best at it; this thought pattern can form part of identity, how I appear to others, and begs the question, am I more spiritual than you?”

Dr Walker says it’s important for us not to see meditation as an achievement, despite the promotion of spiritual celebrities leading enviously enlightened lives. We must instead find our own intention through authenticity and inspired action.

“Your home within is not an achievement, it’s a given, and anytime you stop and reflect is going to be good for you. Simply turning up to meditate makes a difference yet people can be meditating and not even realise it! Maybe it’s colouring in, maybe it’s your walk home, it’s about a personal expression of spirit,” she says.

Meditation then should not so swiftly be removed from your routine. Rather, in order to develop a safe practice, we need to understand its personal and professional limitations; that it does not provide a one-size-fits-all approach to wellness; and that, at its heart, is our intention for meditating in the first place.

www.calmconsciousconnected.com, www.drawalker.com

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