Meditation can be safely and beneficially adopted by most people. But sometimes, it might not be the best course for us.
Mostly people experience an improvement in their mental, emotional and physical health. However, the practice is not suitable for people suffering with schizophrenia or who are going through a psychotic episode.
New evidence is also coming to light that suggests that, while uncommon, meditation can trigger negative experiences in people with no history of mental illness. This is not to cause alarm, but it is important for all meditators, or those considering taking up the practice, to be aware of.
For those suffering from a serious mental health condition:
Consultation with your doctor is vital. Depending on the nature of the illness, sometimes meditation is best avoided rather than practiced.
The reason for this, is that sustained meditation practice can alter our levels of consciousness. And for most people, this is a positive effect—it moves us into the witnessing state, which is the awareness that neutrally observes ourselves in action, while our ego-mind goes about its daily business. For most people, this is an interesting experience which facilitates our spiritual growth.
But for those who struggle to have a firm grasp of our three-dimensional reality, moving into what is termed a “higher state of consciousness” is unhelpful, as it creates confusion about what is real in the material sense.
For the general population who would have no reason to be concerned about taking up meditation:
During meditation, we release pent-up stress from our bodies. This includes repressed emotions, some of which may have been stored in our bodies for many years. The safe way to do this is gently and gradually—and a daily practice usually achieves this.
We meditate for the benefits it brings to our mental, physical, and emotional well-being over time. Most people notice an improvement in their moods, reduced anxiety, and greater resilience in the face of stressful situations. If you notice the opposite effects, during or after meditation, it is best to stop the practice and to seek medical help.
In the event that traumatic memories resurface, it is important to address these with appropriate professional support, rather than ignoring them or attempting to re-suppress them.
A recently launched website provides helpful guidelines about what to watch out for and when to know you need to seek help.
Another important point to be aware of is that the effects of meditation are amplified when people meditate together in groups.
Again, this is mostly a beneficial effect. However, it can also intensify negative experiences if we are going through a particularly stressful period or if we have significant suppressed trauma.
For this reason, it is unwise to begin your experience of meditation with intense retreats—particularly silent retreats. Ten-day retreats are becoming increasingly popular and often hailed as life-changing events. However, they are hardcore, even for experienced meditators. We’re pretty much guaranteed that lots of sh*t is going to come to the surface for examination, and we need to be sure we’re strong enough to deal with it.
If under any doubt—and especially if we’re being treated for anxiety, depression, or any other mental health issue at the time—we need to ensure the retreat organisers are aware of our needs and have sufficient support in place to deal with difficulties that may arise amongst participants.
We all need to be as respectful of our mental and emotional health as we are of our physical health and realise that they can be equally fragile.
Each of us could potentially develop a mental health condition at any stage in our lives, and we need to be aware of what to look out for and how to deal with issues that arise in the same way we’d be vigilant about our physical health.
With that in mind, following are some general guidelines to consider:
>> Start off with 20-30 minute sessions (or shorter), until you are practiced at comfortably processing uncomfortable emotions that arise.
>> If suffering from depression or anxiety, start with face-to-face classes with a qualified instructor, rather than taking an online course.
>> Inform your teacher of all health issues.
>> Inform your teacher of any uncomfortable experiences that arise during meditation.
>> Avoid week-long or 10-day retreats while new to meditation.
>> If you’re being treated for anxiety, depression, or another mental illness, discuss your intention to learn meditation with your doctor.
>> Pay attention to how you feel during and after meditation. Hopefully, you will have the common experience of increased well-being. If do you have any reason for concern, however, discontinue the practice and seek medical advice.