It is best to begin meditation during a period of relative stability. If a person is depressed and suicidal, a new meditation won’t help at all. If a terribly depressed person sits with these thoughts, things can get worse. After building a powerful experience, the same focus at the same time can help a person become free from such thoughts and become well. But not as a starter.

Anxiety is a similar situation. The beauty of using meditation to manage anxiety is that it uncovers self-defeating thoughts. As I said before, we all thought that I’m so worried I might die! Thinking about it shows that you are not dead. Thoughts increase anxiety, and if you see the thoughts as wrong and let them go, the anxiety they fuel will go away. But not until you’ve practiced long enough to confidently face and release the thoughts. For starters, rumination will further convince you that yes, anxiety will kill you.

Most studies proving the beneficial effects of meditation require their subjects to meditate 20 minutes a day for four to eight weeks before lasting positive results are seen. (Of course, you have to keep practicing for the positive effects to last.) It takes about that long to learn to successfully sit and feel the changes in you and around you. It takes that long to learn how to let go of irrational thoughts. It takes a little longer to predict episodes by recording signals in your body, emotions, and mind. If you haven’t practiced for a few weeks when you’re well, don’t meditate when it’s too hard to bear. Call a hotline or ask a loved one or doctor.

Little aware of the challenges that meditators can face today, many teachers lead students to practices that, while very positive and relaxing, can take an anxious mind to very dangerous places. Just as a poorly trained yoga teacher can lead a student to physical harm, an insensitive meditation teacher can introduce practices that add dangerous thinking to the challenges he or she may face. This can be especially harmful to people with serious mental illnesses.

Even expert, world-renowned teachers have students who fall apart, some requiring hospitalization. Recent research published in PLOS One shows that 25% of people who meditate for at least two months report particularly unpleasant psychological experiences such as anxiety, fear, distorted emotions or thoughts, or an altered sense of self or world during meditation. . . Meditators who practice for years or long periods at each sitting have even more difficult experiences.

Those most at risk are those who suffer from high levels of repetitive negative thoughts, such as those with many serious mental illnesses. This does not mean that meditation cannot benefit those with serious mental illness. It saved my life from the devastation of bipolar disorder. You just need to enter carefully and with support.

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