Understanding the pros and cons of mindfulness is the key to successful meditation. In this article I will explore what they are and how you can overcome them. Mindfulness is a way of life, but mindfulness meditation is also a skill. A set of various techniques and meditations where you concentrate on experiencing the present moment. You are discouraged from mind wandering, and instead encouraged to observe all your thoughts, emotions and behaviors, whether good or bad in the here and now.
Can Meditation Be Harmful?
Mindfulness is a powerful tool supported by an overwhelming amount of research which emphasizes the many benefits of the practice. However, no practice is perfect. Some of the downsides to mindfulness include: It takes practice and hard work. People often feel uncomfortable, and many people use it to avoid personal issues and feelings.
When I learnt mindfulness practice I did so with a well-trained teacher. I read many books, attended classes and hung out with like-minded people. This helped me immensely. Recently, I have noticed many people starting their mindfulness meditation practice after reading a few articles online or after watching a YouTube video.
While this is a great start to your journey, I believe you need support in this practice -so I advise you find a proper teacher. A teacher or mentor can walk you through your mindfulness hurdles and show you how and when to meditate and what to watch out for. In the meantime I have listed some common negative effects to meditation and mindfulness that I have encountered in my practice, and what you can do to manage them.
People who meditate say it can be hard work
Practicing mindfulness can be uncomfortable, and you may face some meditation problems. It takes time to master the skill and there are no lasting benefits without continued practice. If you think about it this way, mindfulness can be likened to exercise. When I started running, I was terrible at it. I barely made 3 Miles, and it was frustrating and I often felt discouraged.
With perseverance and consistency I can now run 6 Miles easily. There are some days when I don’t feel like running, and other days when I struggle to run far. Thats normal. I keep trying because it makes me feel good. The key for me is to make sure I make a habit of running, this way I don’t lose momentum. So whether I run, 3,6, or 10Miles it doesn’t matter. All I do now is make sure I run at least twice a week.
Mindfulness meditation is the same. If you have difficulty meditating, start small. Aim for only 3-5 minutes a day. Do not pressure yourself, and practice in anyway you feel comfortable (sitting, standing or lying down). Let go of all your expectations and enjoy the journey.
It is not a magic pill
One of the dangers of meditation is that many people believe it is a panacea. Mindfulness is not the only way to reduce stress and improve your life, and it does not suit everyone. Always choose an approach and practice that fits with who you are, your beliefs, interests and needs. If you start practicing mindfulness, please do not abandon other coping mechanisms. There are many different ways to cope with life, so always approach life in a holistic way.
Also note that mindful meditation is only one technique out of many that we use in mindfulness. So next time you feel depressed, anxious or angry instead of meditating why not go for a walk. Get outside, go and watch a movie, or have coffee with a friend. All these activities can be done mindfully.
Negative Effects Of Meditation
Meditation can be used as avoidance. One of the biggest downsides to mindfulness is that many people use mindfulness meditation to suppress and block-out difficult emotions and experiences. It is used as a tool to push aside negative feelings and just accept life as it is. Instead of thinking through a challenge, you disconnect from it.
I had a client say to me, “If I am sad I will just meditate” – meditation alone cannot solve everything. Mindfulness is not about blind acceptance, you do not need to suppress all your needs and endure everything you encounter in life. The reality is thats some problems require more thinking and problem solving.
Mindfulness is complex. People who successfully practice, know when to deal with difficult moments and know when it is O.K not to. It is about accepting when feelings and thoughts arise, and then deciding what and if you need to do something about it.
Can You Meditate Too Much?
Being mindful all the time can be exhausting. One of the basic foundations in mindfulness practice is to pay attention to whatever comes up for you in the present moment. This does not mean you must constantly pay attention to everything. Please do not try and hyper focus and strenuously concentrate all the time. If you do this you will get worn down and tired. If this sounds familiar, you may be doing too much too soon.
Some people think mindfulness is like stoicism (enduring pain without complaint), but it is not. A large part of mindfulness involves self-compassion and self-care. It is not intended to make you feel overwhelmed and exhausted. So, listen to your mind and body, take a break from meditating and mindfulness when you feel stressed out. When you are ready to jump back into it, start slowly and simply, and only do what makes you feel comfortable.
Practicing without a teacher may have a negative impact on your mental health
Starting your mindfulness journey alone can be challenging so I would suggest seeking out a teacher. A good mindfulness teacher is equipped with years of experience and skills that will assist you along this path.
In the beginning often people find meditation a struggle, or they feel they are not good at it. This is where a teacher can help and be supportive. They will guide you on the correct path. Show you how your thinking is impacting your meditation or what blockages you need to work on .
A teacher will also asses whether starting mindfulness is appropriate for you or not. We do not encourage individuals to practice mindfulness when they are struggling with a depressive or psychotic episode. Personally, I would offer another solution until the person is stable.
Meditation can bring back repressed and traumatic memories and emotions. For many people this can be quite frightening and difficult to manage. An experienced teacher will know how to work with a person like this and make sure their meditation journey is a safe and comfortable one.
There are downsides to mindfulness, especially when it is not practiced correctly or with the adequate support. Also, like with anything in life, there is no one size fits all and I urge you to try out as many different practices and disciplines as you can. Then do what suits you best. It has taken me time to practice mindfulness successfully and even so, it is not something I necessarily do 100% everyday. So please be kind and patient with yourself.