Does Meditation Work For Everyone?

In today’s blog post, we answer a common query, ‘Does meditation work for everyone?’ We begin by understanding meditation along with understanding a few facts about meditation. We then move to understanding the issues that can be addressed with the help of meditation. Finally we understand the reasons as to why meditation may not work for everyone and the alternatives to it.

Does Meditation Work For Everyone?

There have been a few people who report enriching transformations as a result of long lasting exposure to meditation, on the other hand there have been a few who have not been able to experience the benefits of meditation. Scientific studies have shown that with a certain type of people, several forms of meditation does not work no matter how they have been handling their stress, how they handle their depression and anxiety. Other studies have also shown that meditation does not lead to  much change which is different from any other intervention used. 

Meditation:

Meditation is an ancient practice aimed at creating a sense of calm and  inner harmony. It is about finding inner peace and awareness. Because of the hectic lifestyles of the people, meditation has quickly become a very popular way of dealing with the stress of day-to-day life.

There are nine popular types of meditation practices:

  • Mindfulness meditation:

Mindfulness meditation is a form of meditation that involves observing the thoughts as they come without judging them or getting involved in them. This practice is a combination of concentration with awareness. 

  • Spiritual meditation:

This form of meditation is popularly practiced in the Eastern cultures. It is similar to the prayers that are undertaken to establish a deep connection with God. This practice works well for those who are seeking spiritual growth. 

  • Focused meditation:

This form of meditation involves focus on any of the five senses. This is one of the difficult forms of meditation as the focus can be difficult to achieve for beginners. 

  • Movement meditation:

This form of meditation involves meditating while slowly walking through the woods, gardens or lawns. Movement meditation is guided by slow body movements. 

  • Mantra meditation:

Mantra meditation is widely practiced in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, and uses a mantra or a phrase on repetition to clear the mind. The most commonly used mantra is the chanting of “OM”. The mantra allows the person to be more concentrated and in tune with the environment along with facilitating deeper levels of awareness.

  • Transcendental meditation:

It is a very popular form of meditation, beneficial for those who intend to seriously take up and continue the practice of meditation.

  • Progressive relaxation:

It is popularly known as the ‘body scan meditation’ and is aimed at reducing the stress in various parts of the body and inducing relaxation. The process involves tightening and loosening each group of muscles in the various parts of the body. Sometimes, it may also involve imagining a gentle wave traveling through the body, and relaxing it. Progressive relaxation is beneficial in reducing stress and unwinding before bedtime. 

  • Loving kindness meditation:

This form of meditation is popularly used to enhance love, kindness and compassion directed towards oneself and others. It involves helping the person increase their openness to receiving love from others and giving love and kindness to others. This form of meditation may be ideal when addressing issues of anger and resentment.

  • Visualisation meditation:

This form of meditation focuses on inducing feelings of calmness and peace by having the person visualise calm scenarios and images. It involves imagining the scene as vividly as possible and using all the five senses to add as much detail as possible. This form of meditation is useful for boosting mood, promoting peace, calmness and motivation.

Facts about meditation:

  • It has been seen that meditation can sharpen one’s memory and attention. It has also shown a positive impact on improving the problem solving skills of the individual. Further, studies have also shown that meditation helps curb ‘habituation’, which is paying attention to the new information constantly appearing in the environment.
  • Mediation has also shown to increase resilience in  people. This happens because meditation is able to increase the connection between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. The stronger connection decreases the brain’s reactivity to stress and helps us react to stress in a relative calm manner. 
  • Meditation increases compassion, especially the practice of loving-kindness meditation is known to increase the feelings of compassion and love.  This form of meditation has shown to decrease the activity in the amygdala and activate the circuits in the brain that are related to love and connection.
  • Meditation also has a positive impact on mental health, and is often successfully used as a supplement to other forms of treatment for mental health issues. It also promotes well-being.
  • Mediation has a positive impact on the relationships. It also has a positive impact on the parent’s relationship with children with anxiety, special abilities and with preschoolers. 

Various issues suitable for mediation practice:

Sleep disturbances can be understood as the condition where people may have a difficulty in falling asleep, or maintaining a sound sleep cycle and it often leads them to experience fatigue, disturbances in mood and a reduced quality of life. 

A study conducted in California in 2012 used mindful based practices such as mindful sitting appreciation, mindful eating, loving- kindness meditation, mindful walking and mindful movement to understand whether meditation practices are associated with improving the sleep quality.  The control group was only provided education about sleep hygiene. It was seen that mindful based practices led to a significant improvement in the sleep quality.

  • Depression and anxiety:

Several studies have shown that mindfulness meditation has had a positive impact when dealing with panic disorder and agoraphobia. Further the mindfulness achieved through the breathing techniques has shown to lead to a significant decrease in the levels of anxiety and depression. More systematic studies have also shown that meditation has been more successful in reducing anxiety as compared to the usual treatments or attention control mechanisms.

  • Chronic pain:

Although studies have shown that meditation does directly lead to the reduction of chronic pain, it suggests that meditation has an impact on reducing the depressive symptoms and other mental health issues that may come up because of the experience of chronic pain. It also helps improve the quality of life which may have been compromised due to the pain. 

  • Brain functioning:

Studies have shown that mindfulness based stress reduction techniques have improved brain functioning by altering various parts of the brain. One such study showed that mindfulness based techniques led to the alteration of the grey matter within the left hippocampus, posterior cingulate cortex, the temporoparietal junction and the cerebellum. The changes in these areas have the potential to lead to improvement in the cognitive areas of learning, memory, emotional regulation, self-referential processing and perspective taking. 

Meditation also has an impact on the neurotransmitters affecting the person’s mood. It has also shown to reduce the activity in the amygdala, thereby reducing the reactivity to stress. 

Meditation allows an opportunity for deeper self-reflection, thereby giving a better chance to understand positive qualities about oneself. By enabling the person to view their thoughts without any judgement, it facilitates greater self-acceptance and self-esteem. 

  • Helps deal with addiction:

Meditation has shown to alter brain function and help the person manage their cravings for drugs and alcohol. It provides a person with the opportunity to become more aware of their cravings and manage them better. It also helps in preventing relapses in future. 

Does meditation work for everyone?

An important area of discussion that has emerged in recent times is the question of whether meditation really benefits everyone.

  •  Several studies have shown that meditation can in fact be an unpleasant experience for a few people, especially those who practice the deconstructive forms of meditation such as vipassana, koan practice and for people who have a higher degree of negative thoughts. 
  • Sitting quietly with one’s thoughts can be a painful experience for a majority of people. This may be the case for people who have had a recent experience with trauma or for people who have unresolved trauma experiences. Meditation may lead to resurfacing of the trauma memories which the person may not be in the position to confront.
  • Additionally, studies have also shown that some people report feeling anxious, panicky, fearful, numb and have an extreme sensitivity to light during meditation, making them uncomfortable during this process. This indicates that discomfort due to meditation is not restricted only to trauma and can happen to anyone. 
  • In extreme cases, meditation can alter the individual’s sensory perceptions. Studies have shown that people may experience visual or auditory hallucinations as a result of meditation as well as a distortion of time and space. 
  • People sometimes also experience physical side effects. A study in 2017 has shown that people reported experiencing pain, pressure, involuntary movements, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, weakness and gastrointestinal issues due to meditation.  
  • For some issues, there may be a requirement of more action oriented and structured interventions and meditation may not be helpful for the same as it is not very structured in its implementation. Also, the person’s orientation towards intervention can also determine whether meditation will work for them. 

The alternatives:

No studies show that meditation is the one stop solution to issues. There is also significant research that suggests that some people may not benefit from meditation and its allied practices. 

  • One way of understanding whether meditation may benefit a person is to experiment and try various types of meditative practices, to see which form of meditation is the most beneficial for the person or his/her problem. It is important to understand that although meditation is beneficial for most people, it is not universally applicable and a person may or may not benefit from it.
  • Several new forms of therapies have emerged as a supplement to the traditional therapeutic techniques, such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a technique that is very commonly implemented for the treatment of trauma, particularly PTSD.
  • Similarly, art based therapy, music therapy, dance movement therapy, play therapy, animal assisted therapy are newer forms of alternative therapies that can be used if meditation does not work well with the person’s issue.

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Frequently Asked Questions:

What’s better yoga or meditation?

Relaxation and self-discovery take place with meditation. Yoga is more physical than just meditation. Yoga exercises treat physical issues such as stress, soreness, strain, pain and discomfort.

Is meditation good for everyone?

Meditation has shown to have numerous benefits for people. It increases calmness, induces peace and helps gain perspective. However, there can be downsides of meditation for a person. 

Is 10 minutes of meditation a day enough?

Sitting down to clear your mind for just 10 minutes can be sufficient  to overcome stress and anxiety.New research suggests that a short period of meditation will help block out the internal thoughts of restless people and allow them to concentrate.

What is the dark side of meditation?

Willoughby Britton suggests that there can be   potential negative effects of meditation such as  fear, panic, hallucinations, mania, loss of motivation and memory, and depersonalization.

Can  one meditate too much?

This can be termed as an addiction to meditation. Meditating has been proven to reduce stress and to be beneficial for treating depression,anxiety and panic disorders. However,  Meditation can become a habit, and even an addiction in severe cases.

Conclusion:

In today’s blog post, we answered a common query, ‘Does meditation work for everyone?’ We began by understanding meditation along with understanding a few facts about meditation. We then moved to understanding the issues that can be addressed with the help of meditation. Finally, we understood the reasons as to why meditation may not work for everyone and the alternatives to it.

I hope this article served its purpose with respect to showing both the benefits and the potential pitfalls of meditation and its allied practices. Please drop in any comments or queries regarding this blogpost. 

References:

https://www.insider.com/why-meditation-can-be-bad-2018-3

https://blogs.webmd.com/mental-health/20160314/meditation-is-it-really-for-everyone

https://www.theweek.in/news/health/2019/05/13/Meditation-doesnt-work-for-everyone-Study.html#:~:text=Meditation%E2%80%94which%20is%20widely%20believed,more%20research%20into%20such%20practices.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/balanced/201907/meditation-and-mental-health

https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/types-of-meditation#movement-meditation

https://unsplash.com/photos/VD-Vjc8VmRA?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditShareLink

https://unsplash.com/photos/IHfOpAzzjHM?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditShareLink

https://unsplash.com/photos/V-TIPBoC_2M?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditShareLink

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