You might be wondering if you should embark on a meditation journey. There’s a lot of hype out there. If you’re a beginner, it might seem quite overwhelming. Or maybe like it’s a lot of effort to start. You’ve probably heard that meditation has been around for thousands of years and is growing in popularity due to its many supposed health benefits.
But like any practice, meditation can have both positive and negative effects. So, let’s dive in and explore what those are.
Benefits of meditation
On the positive side, meditation has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety. One of the benefits of meditation is that various studies have found it to have a positive effect on mental health – mostly because it decreases the levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Meditation improves focus and concentration, too. It works by training yourself to focus on one thing at a time which then improves your ability to engage in the present moment in your daily life.
Another well-known benefit of meditation is that you become more aware of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. The ability to detach yourself and observe yourself is a skill that improves your mental clarity and helps you to make better decisions.
Finally, engaging in regular meditation practice helps you to sleep better and for longer. And sleep is a foundational aspect of well-being.
In summary, the positive effects of meditation is that it helps you to chill out, become more productive, less reactive, and overall, to become a happier, healthier human being.
While it seems clear that meditation can be a valuable tool for enhancing well-being, there are potential risks. Here are some of the ways in which meditation could even be harmful to you.
Risks of meditation
For some people, meditation actually increases their anxiety. This is more likely in the kind of meditation where you focus on your breath, because focusing on the breath can be contra-indicated for anxious people. It can even cause you to panic.
It is possible that you might experience negative emotions during meditation. It makes sense that as you become more aware of your thoughts and feelings, you may notice some really intense, unhelpful stuff that can quickly become overwhelming.
Anyone who meditates is familiar with the physical discomfort that quickly builds up if you sit in the same position for a while. Obviously, this gets worse if you try to power through it.
If the meditation journey that you’re practicing conflicts with your beliefs or values, you may experience internal confusion or conflict.
So, how can beginners practice meditation safely and effectively?
BFB Success Formula: 5 action points for new meditators starting a meditation journey
- Start small. Begin with short meditation sessions of just a 1-5 minutes and gradually increase the length over time. Don’t try to be a meditation guru overnight. Research suggests that a maximum for meditation time is around 40 minutes. Anything longer than that starts to offer diminishing returns. Research also suggests that the most useful length of time with the most benefits is just 10 minutes a day. Personally, I prefer to stick to short and sweet sessions as needed, and if I’m really busy, I take just 1 Mindful Breath.
- Find a comfortable position. Whether you prefer sitting, lying down, or even walking around, find a position that’s comfortable for you and yet allows you to stay alert and focused. You don’t have to sit on the floor with your legs crossed!
- Choose credible guided meditation apps or teachers. As a beginner, following a guided meditation is a lot simpler and more enjoyable than simply sitting and focusing on your breathing (although if that is what you prefer, then go ahead of course.. But it’s important to research the guided options out there and make sure you’re using a credible, evidence-based site, preferably endorsed by a credible authority. Also, read reviews and not just the positive ones. Keep in mind that due to affiliate links, many of the so-called neutral reviews may be earning money every time someone signs up for a subscription to a particular app. Sites like trustpilot.com can be the most helpful here.
- Be mindful of your emotions, and give yourself grace. Meditation can bring up or trigger all kinds of emotions, so pay attention to what’s coming up for you and take breaks.. Don’t force yourself to meditate or continue meditation if you’re feeling overwhelmed or triggered.
- Reach out for professional help! If you’re struggling with negative emotions, repetitive thoughts, traumatic memories, developing anxiety or experiencing low mood, it’s time to consider talking to someone. Even if you’re just not sure what you’re doing, seek the help of a therapist or licensed counsellor.
So there you have it, folks. A meditation journey can be a great way to improve your mental and emotional health, but it’s not a magic bullet. By starting small, and simple, practicing physical and emotional self-care, choosing credible teachers, and seeking help if and when you need to, you can build a meditation practice that works for you.
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