Picture yourself rising effortlessly from the floor with a beatific smile etched on your peace-filled face. That’s the perception people have of meditation: that it will transform you from a stressed-out ball of nerves into a vision of grace and calm. But the reality often is quite different. While the benefits of mediation are being recorded in scientific journals, what’s not discussed as often are the negative meditation side effects. It can be a frustrating, sometimes agonizing process that will bring you into contact with your limitations and inner conflicts. Rather than a metamorphosis, you can experience a setback.
The very act of sitting unmoving for up to 20 minutes is something that most people coming into meditation for the first time can’t achieve. Without any prior education on the kinds of meditation tools that are available to make the experience more satisfying, people can make the most rudimentary mistakes in sitting that will cause a negative side effect. If your inner thighs are not flexible, sitting in a cross-legged pose on a hard floor will cause you to focus on the source of your distress rather than finding a perfect union with your breath. Prop yourself up with pillows under your legs and buttocks and let your hands rest in any position that is comfortable. An agitated body will lead to a stressful experience that you won’t be eager to repeat.
Guilt and Resentment
Meditation is time spent on yourself. If you have a family that requires your attention, you could find yourself conflicted about indulging in your own well-being before theirs. You could also resent the constant demands on your time. Coming into meditation with questions that need answers or challenges that need resolutions is reasonable. By sitting quietly and comfortably and allowing your inhales and exhales to soften and lengthen, your body will have no choice but to relax, and your mind will be receptive to whatever solutions pop up. But if your approach to meditation is to sneak away and hope not to be discovered, you could be spending those precious few minutes ravaged by guilt that you’re not doing “your job.” The solution is to get your family involved. Let them know that you’ll be unavailable for 20 minutes unless there’s an emergency.
One possible negative side effect of meditation is that it brings you in touch with your deepest self. Some people are under the impression that the object of meditation is to have no thoughts, but thoughts will come unbidden, and although the idea is to acknowledge their presence and then gently swap them away, you can get caught up in the swirl. If you catch a thought that’s been troubling you and start to gnaw away at it rather than focusing your attention on your breath, then your meditation period is over. Meditation also can reveal aspects of yourself that you’ve never come to terms with and the side effect of being brought face to face with your inner demons can be a disturbing experience. But as meditation master Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “Wherever you go, there you are.” Learn to deal with your inner demons before you meditate.
Finding a Good Fit
There is not a one-size-fits-all style of meditation. The negative side effects you might be experiencing from your attempts might be due to the fact that you’re not meant to sit like an unmoving statue. Taking a walk or taking up yoga are alternatives to traditional meditation. Learning how to lower your rate of breathing through repetitive activities is useful to those who want to meditate but can’t sit still. Reduce negative side effects of meditation by experimenting with what’s right for you at this time. As you age and gain more experience, you might find that the negative side effects will change or shift and the greatest benefit to you will be to adapt.