Almost every self-proclaimed wellness guru advocates the power of meditation. Shutting your mind off and focusing on a single object is thought to help re-centre your mind, body and soul. Meditation has been championed for its de-stressing and sleep-inducing powers and plenty of people will say it’s fundamental to them balancing busy schedules and unexpected catastrophes that modern life throws at them on a daily basis.
In theory it sounds like the dream and over the past year or so plenty of meditation centres and classes have popped up across the UK to help us dive into the technique. There are also more than enough apps to help guide us through a 10 minute pre-bed meditation.
However, you’re far from alone if you’ve tried and failed several times to switch off your mind and appreciate the art of meditation. And, you might be pleased by the results of a new study from the University College London (UCL). After surveying over 1,200 people online, researchers found that a quarter of people who regularly meditate have experienced unpleasant emotional feelings.
Participants were asked how long they’ve been meditating for, whether they’ve ever been to a meditation retreat and if they’ve ever had any particularly unpleasant experiences (e.g. anxiety, fear, distorted emotions or thoughts, altered sense of self or the world), which they think may have been caused by their meditation practice.
Deconstructive methods, such as Vipassana, which encourages you to look inward and focus on your breath and Koan, which invites you to explore a question, were highlighted as more likely to result in unpleasant experiences. Men and those who don’t have religious beliefs were also more likely have a negative feeling afterwards.
That’s not to say you should give up all efforts to try and meditate though. “Most research on meditation has focused on its benefits, however, the range of meditative experiences studied by scientists needs to be expanded,” says Marco Schlosser, lead researcher from the UCL Division of Psychiatry. “It is important at this point not to draw premature conclusions about the potential negative effects of meditation.”
It might also be worth exploring the active meditation approach, an ancient Indian technique that has been gaining ground across the pond in LA.
What is active meditation?
Well, rather than focusing on white space, your breath or your mind, active meditation encourages you to focus on the task at hand and draws your attention away from your mind and onto your body. For example, when you’re brushing your teeth you concentrate on each tooth or when you’re washing your face think about the feeling of the cleanser on your skin and massaging it in.
In a sense, it’s a way of retraining your brain and, without sounding cliche, living in the present instead of letting your mind run off in a tangent ticking off today’s to-do list or panicking about whether you remembered to send that important work email.
“If your meditation level is currently at 0 then active meditation or just approaching some of your daily activities in a more meditative and mindful way is a great way in,” says Giselle La-Pompe Moore, Reiki practitioner and meditation teacher.
That said, La-Pompe Moore still recommends trying to add just five minutes a day of seated or lying down meditation into your routine when possible. “We’re constantly moving and trying to be more active, so I believe there is a real need for us to be still – whether you call that meditation or just sitting with your eyes closed.”