While meditation Experts state that even a couple of minutes of meditation a day can do wonders for our brain functioning, sleep patterns and stress levels, recent reports have challenged this and highlighted the potential dangers of meditation. Some experts suggest that meditation can actually take us too far into the recesses of our minds and do more harm than good in the process. However, one of Australia’s leading meditation experts and clinical psychologist, Dr Paula Watkins, argues that these occurrences are rare and that for most people, regular meditation is a safe practice that everyone can benefit from, when practiced correctly.
“Meditation helps to give us access to parts of the mind we may not have regular contact with. The theory is that in doing so, some people may become overwhelmed with feelings of depression and anxiety as a result,” says Paula. “Research shows that even the smallest amounts of regular meditation can result in significant benefits to a person’s wellbeing, but it is still crucial to recognise that no one form of meditation works equally well for everyone.”
“Individual circumstances and personality must be considered to determine whether a certain style will be positive for that individual,” she says. “It’s also vital that we have realistic expectations about what meditation can bring to our lives. It isn’t an instant panacea for everything that’s going wrong, but rather a way that we can better explore our minds, our feelings and our true selves.”
Scientifically proven and backed by years of research, Paula has shared the five things people should be aware of when meditating, in order to develop a safe practice that can be enjoyed for years to come:
Meditation doesn’t cure all
“Traditionally, meditation was used for spiritual development and considered a tool for deepening your perception of yourself and the world. Now, it is often called upon as a remedy for all our first world woes,” says Paula. She suggests that the key is to always be aware that the practice is not a cure to all our problems. “We need to be realistic. Meditation will not somehow eradicate negative thinking or problems from our lives. But research shows that it can help us change the relationship we have with our own thoughts and with the experiences of our daily life so that we are less reactive and resistant to them. We no longer enter into such a battle with reality” says Dr Paula.
Beware of intensive retreats
“When meditating, you are tuned into your physical, mental and emotional senses, and so you may start to release all sorts of pent up issues,” says Dr Paula. “People who visit intensive meditation retreats after years of blocked and suppressed emotions can sometimes experience a rude awakening. It’s crucial to know that meditation on these intensives is not all bliss. It can be kind of like a psychological boot camp. Proper guidance is crucial here. It’s also important that you research the technique and the teacher first to explore whether that particular retreat is likely to be a good fit for you”.
Meditation is not a substitute for therapy
“Many people look to meditation as a quick and easy fix for all their problems and get confused as to how to use it correctly” says Dr Paula. “While meditation may help with certain issues, I recommend not solely relying on this if you are mentally vulnerable and in need of emotional support.” It is always important to seek help or see a therapist to address any underlying problems, and Dr Paula urges meditation teachers to be upfront and honest about this when working with their clients.
It’s not a one size fits all approach
While people often ask Dr Paula which meditation technique she thinks is best, she stresses that there is no straight up answer for this – “I recommend trying a few styles and then practicing what feels right for you,” she advises. If you have a specific purpose for meditating, then it will be much easier to make the right choice. “For example, if you’re looking to relax then choose a style that deeply soothes you. If you want to deal with negative thoughts especially – mindfulness approaches are the best practice to take.”
Meditation is not for everyone
“We’ve become increasingly aware from years of research that for some people, mindfulness can trigger anxiety, depression or flashbacks to past traumas,” Dr Paula states. As a clinical psychologist herself, she advises that although meditation can be beneficial to happiness and wellbeing, it should be performed under guidance if you are working through any emotional or mental issues.
Dr Paula has recently launched a nine week online course which offers weekly training modules that include easy-to-follow videos introducing you to the technique for the week. There is guided audio to help you practice, e-books that share the psychology and neuroscience behind the techniques and workbooks, journals and calendars to help you track your progress and stay committed to your meditation practice.
Dr Paula will also be hosting a live workshop of the course at the InYoga Studios in Surry Hills from the 9th – 30th August. For more details please visit www.inyoga.com.au/whats-on/event/calm-conscious-connected-1 Membership to Dr Paula’s Calm, Conscious and Connected course costs $199 as a one-off payment, or $55 over four instalments. This fee provides six month access to the course, as well as the exclusive members-only forum where people can interact with Paula as well as other participants. For more information or to sign up, visit: www.calmconsciousconnected.com.