There is a trend in online circles, in yoga studios, workplaces and classrooms across the nation, to focus on how stressed we are, to focus on how stress can harm us, and how broken we are.
This is inherently wrong.
Most people are completely unaware of the contradictions to meditation and even mindfulness, and even assume that a Buddhist walks around all day counting their Mala Beads and chanting intentions, meditation and drinking green tea.
When you working with individuals who have been in trauma, or are in high crisis, while helping them to breathe a bit easier is going to help them, they should not be instigated to try to meditate or even focus on a deeper mindfulness, until you are completely sure that they do not have a disruption between their thalamus and prefrontal cortical, very high levels of cortisol and adrenaline or having a trauma in their past where in the last time that they were calm, they had the trauma experience. If this sounds out of your scope, it is important to take it a bit lighter in the “I'm going to teach you to love yourself and float on fairy dust with my mad mindfulness skills”.
This does not meant that helping individuals relax, be mindful or meditate is wrong; it just means you should be forthright that you are not a licensed mental health professional and that if they begin to feel struggles, you do not blame it on “monkey mind” or anything else that is an excuse for poor teaching or leading.
Studies have shown that people who are taught or, who believe that stress is affecting their health, have a double risk of having a heart attack. This study was multi-country and included over 7,000 subjects, and it followed individuals for almost two decades.
Those who reported that they were very stressed early on, in their 30's or 40's, even if they were partaking in mindfulness or meditation as a healing modality, were more than double the risk for heart attack, and from dying from it, compared to those who honored that they were not broken, stressed or in need of a healing modality to cope with stress.
From a psychotherapy stance, minimizing stress perception and reframing, and increasing the focus of empowerment, has a much more positive result for clients; this is where they can begin to add the behavior of mindfulness and then, after comfortable with mindfulness, create a meditative practice if they so wish.
Some tips for you for your personal or, professional life if you work with mindfulness or meditation.
- Focus more on what is right in someone's life, rather than trying to fix what is wrong. Part of resiliency is about finding strategies of coping not eliminating.
- Never start with meditation, but rather, with mindfulness, and only in small increments; even 2-3 minutes at a time is sufficient for someone new to the practice.
- Honor yourself and your client responses to mindfulness and add other modalities such as behavior modification, EMDR or physical therapies such as mindful walking, yoga or tai chi, to help burn some of the adrenaline that might be being produced due to the added stress of “trying to meditate” as well as the expected upheaval from meditation.
- Take breaks. Mindfulness is a lifestyle not an event. Eating slowly, and really tasting the food. Making eye contact and not interrupting a friend, listening to the birds as you take a walk; these are examples of incorporating mindfulness in small bites, without it being scheduled event. Taking breaks between the external world and inner world are crucial to rewiring the brain.
- By all means, be mindful and meditate- in a new way. Simply focus on how it can increase your resiliency and bring fulfillment, rather than “fix” a problem. The resiliency is where the magic is.
- Do not be naive'. Do not expect nor teach that the end result is “happy”. Happiness is a marketed, popular emotion these days, and while we are more and more focused on “happy” our depression and anxiety levels are going up. This is because the collective consciousness is trying to hold onto an emotion that is evolutionary-speaking, meant to be quite temporary, like anger.
How hard would it be to be angry all the time? Well, now see the absurdity of being happy all of the time. Rather, focus on being content, fulfilled and resilient. So that the swings of natural emotion that make us capable humans can be enjoyed and accepted.
So, stop meditating and being mindful in the “American Dream Pie in the Sky” way. It might be quite incorrect and, stressing you out.