“No matter how fast, slow, deep or shallow my breaths are, it feels as though my lungs are sealed. My instincts tell me to run, but I can’t move my arms or legs. I feel a rising panic and worry that I might pass out, my mind racing.” Dawn Foster, Guardian Weekend Magazine, 23rd Jan, 2016.
Does Dawn’s experience ring a bell? Some people think mindfulness meditation is going to make them feel calm. Everyone struggles some time or other when they meditate, but some mindfulness teachers, especially in standard 8-week mindfulness courses, ask people to persevere through difficulties in long guided meditations.Is this really a good thing to do?
"Even a year later, recalling the sensations and feelings I experienced in that room summons a resurgent wave of panic and tightness in my chest." Dawn Foster.
Even a year later, Dawn is struggling with her experience of mindfulness meditation. So what is the best thing to do? Just because the teacher sounds like they know what they’re doing or how well they’ve been trained, if you are feeling pressurised to struggle through with long mindfulness meditations, the teacher doesn’t know what they’re doing!
To start with, it’s really important to feel safe and comfortable when you start to learn mindfulness meditation.So often, people don’t find sitting round in a circle with a group of people they’ve never met before very comfortable. If you find yourself in this kind of situation and struggling, don’t force yourself to do what’s expected. It’s probably best to just recognise that this course or group isn’t for you. Find a group where you feel comfortable.
Then, starting with feeling comfortable in a group, it’s really important to start with short mindfulness meditations of a few minutes that help to build a sense of ease and nourishment as you get the hang of things. As mindfulness meditation becomes more and more nourishing, finding a moment of peace, developing a sense of ease and kindness in your heart, grounded in the body, you’ll naturally want to sit for a little longer and then a little longer until maybe you just want to sit for half and hour or even more every day.
You do need to sit upright to trigger a sense of confidence, free from threat, in the body but it’s really important to sit in a way that’s not stiff or builds up tension. Even sitting still you’ll notice small movements and all you’ll be continually adjusting the posture to sit up straight. Small movements will release tension.
You do need to follow the basic instructions of noticing sensations and then bringing your attention back again to the body every time the mind becomes absorbed in thinking but it’s really important to be generous to yourself and smile inside when you notice your mind has a mind of it’s own. It’s really that simple but it does take time to practice. DON’T push yourself and end up getting more stressed and tense or let anyone push you to do this!!!