While the practice of mindfulness meditation brings so many benefits, has helped millions of people with the ‘art of living’ (and is a practice I believe in and am committed to 100%), under certain medical, clinical or health conditions it is not recommended.
It’s not simply ‘one size fits all’. It may not be appropriate to practice at particular times in our lives and with some conditions. It may be that it’s better not to undertake meditation practice, or to take a break from it.
Which is why it’s a good idea to have a trained teacher to guide you, especially when starting out, so you can begin with proper care and guidance, and have a chance to discuss any concerns or queries beforehand.
If you have any existing health or medical conditions, physical or otherwise (or even from the past), it is a good idea (strongly recommended!) that you check with your doctor or relevant health professional before starting a meditation program. And to inform your meditation teacher – also to keep your teacher informed of any changes, throughout the program, after you begin.
Meditation does involve quiet introspection, stillness and silence. Sometimes when we quiet the body and the mind, and start to turn our attention ‘inward’ and become curious about our present moment experience – when we begin to consciously pay attention to what we find in our body and mind – as we do in meditation practice, we may start to notice things that we haven’t before.
Things like pain – physical or emotional – feelings or thoughts that might be difficult or unpleasant. (Of course we also discover ”pleasant’ or ‘neutral’ aspects too!)
Meditation teaches us to sit with the full gamut of our experience, not just the ‘pleasant’. Our instinct is to usually to turn away from anything we don’t like – to resist or block, run from or withdraw from unpleasant or difficult experiences. Which is of course very natural and normal!
Again, in meditation the invitation is to turn towards ALL experience – pleasant, unpleasant or otherwise – and to investigate it with an attitude of compassion, kindness, warmth and “friendliness”.
To open up, to soften towards, be curious about our experience, so that we might find a different way of ‘being with’ the difficult experiences that are unavoidable in life.
But it’s not always easy to do! Especially when this is a new experience, this “leaning in” towards things we usually turn away from. So it can be important to be sufficiently resourced and ready, emotionally, to face some of the things that might arise during the practices or exercises, so that you feel safe while doing them.
While meditation practice is often called ‘gym for the mind’ it’s not like going to regular gym where we’re taught that pushing beyond limits is just what’s needed – the ‘no pain, no gain’ mindset. Mindfulness meditation is certainly not about forcing anything, striving, or blindly following the guidance that you are given.
The ‘mindfulness muscle’ is built incrementally. Baby steps are just fine. So approaching meditation gently, and being ‘mindful’ of our experience, is also part of the practice. We take good care of ourselves as we go about the training of creating new, healthier habits and letting go of those which may no longer helpful.
It’s a process of discovery that comes from inside our experience; it takes courage, perseverance, persistence, patience and above all, kindness. While meditation is demonstrably beneficial in so many ways, occasionally (usually seldom) there are circumstances or time periods where the kindest thing – the wisest thing – is to not meditate. (Or, to take it very slowly, and/or begin with ‘informal’ mindfulness instead of its ‘formal’ practice of meditation). Again, a good conversation to have with your teacher if you’re unsure.
The emphasis is that you are your best guide. You are the boss of you! (This is also applicable during meditation sessions with a teacher. At any time if anything doesn’t feel right, ask for further guidance or clarification; change direction by grounding yourself in the sensations of breathing or body; or cease the practice entirely).
At the heart of mindfulness is very much a sense of self-care, a trust in your own ability to look after yourself, and a belief that you are fundamentally responsible for your own well-being, and the best judge of what is right for you in any given moment. And this might well change from day-to-day and practice-to-practice.
Part of mindfulness practice is about ‘checking in’ with yourself – heart, body and mind – listening to your needs, and above all, acting on them.
The sincere encouragement is to do so also with the practice of meditation.
– Megan Spencer, with thanks to Signe Glahn for her contribution to this text.
- Read about Ts&Cs here