You are about to read something extremely controversial and eye-opening for me.
This is NOT a 180° departure from my long term love affair with meditation, as a practitioner and master meditation instructor. HOWEVER, it IS a realization that has dogged me for the last few years in respect to the implicit values of meditation and mindfulness
My realization has put things into perspective where meditation and mindfulness are concerned. It’s a crystal clear understanding for me. Realistic and pragmatic.
I recently found an article from the BBC. It expresses my feelings on the impact of mindfulness and meditation. I have put a link at the end of this post. It is well worth reading.
I have been a meditation teacher for 24 years.
I taught mindfulness and meditation to veterans, seniors, those in recovery, teens, tweens, juvenile justice, LGBTQ, business professional, and many others.
Despite the claims of these techniques, and the fact that meditation and mindfulness has become a billion dollar industry, I have to, in good conscience, debunk a few myths.
First, let me say these practices are helpful. They induce calm and relaxation, and encourage feel-good hormones to be released bringing us more peace, or energizing us.
Here's the kicker:
On their own they are a panacea and a temporary respite from our ills.
They are NOT a curative.
They won’t rid anyone of PTSD, bio-polar disorder, anxiety, depression, chemical imbalance, or physical or emotional pain.
They MUST be implemented with other therapies, techniques, medical intervention and activities.
I hear some groaning out there. Hear me out.
Regardless of the hype, and the overuse of the buzz words meditation and mindfulness, they DO bring relief and release.
They help us transcend and navigate our issues in the short term.
That is why they must be practiced regularly if we desire any continual peace.
Just as those with substance abuse challenges find solace in regularly attending AA or NA meetings mindfulness only works with regular practice.
In brain scans meditators exhibit a change in their brain structure. This occurs while they are meditating and for a short period afterwards.
As that wanes you have to revisit the technique.
There are so many ways to reach a meditative state other than sitting in silence, breathing exercises, repeating a mantra, chanting, visualization and guided exercises.
I remind my students, who complain about the difficulty of maintaining a practice outside of the classroom, that a meditative state can be reached in many ways: walking, time by the ocean, a lake, river or stream, in the mountains, with animals, playing an instrument, listening to music, dancing, exercising, and so forth.
Classroom work is successful because there is structure. The benefits are palpable immediately in class via a good teacher.
Today teachers are riding the "miracle" wave of meditation and the press it receives.
Still, my students complain that their practice is hit and miss.
Short of watching a DVD or streaming a class - thank you, YouTube - maintaining a practice at home is difficult because of the distractions. Few people have their own meditation room where they can mimic class by closing out the world dedicating consistent time to mindfulness.
At best meditation gives the practitioner relief or a temporary high.
At worst it is a proverbial Bandaid for deeper issues that require more and different therapies.
Talk therapy, a change in diet, exercise, visits to a psychologist, psychiatrist or mental health professional, and sometimes medication are all important components to a healthier life.
There was a wonderful Zen master teacher who in all outward appearances had it completely together. Unbeknownst to his students he suffered from some debilitating mental health challenges. He was under a doctor's care and medicated. He avidly pursued meditation and yoga for relief.
From here the story is all-too-familiar.
Once he began to feel better he stopped taking his medication. It happens frequently. Patients begin to feel better and, for whatever reason, feel medication is no longer necessary.
I’m not advocating pharmaceuticals or medication.
THAT BEING SAID, in some instances when conditions are acute nothing works like medication in conjunction with other treatments.
Once he began experiencing drastic symptoms without the medication meditation, yoga and mindfulness did not alleviate those symptoms. He turned to a facility for treatment. He was rejected. Sadly, and out of desperation, he turned to street drugs for his pain. That resulted in an overdose and his death.
Even as an educated, beloved and very adept Zen master teacher he succumbed to the belief that these techniques can cure our ills.
They are wonderful tools. Period.
I was deeply affected by this story.
It changed how I teach, what I teach, and why I teach.
It changed my outlook on how meditation and mindfulness are being presented.
I hate to burst anyone’s bubble - especially my own - but we must be informed when we pursue meditation and mindfulness practices.
It's not a magic bullet, BUT it CAN be a valuable tool, along with other lifestyle interventions and support.
I'm in NO way trying to discourage ANYONE from participating in mindfulness or meditation.
We must look at the mind and body as a whole, not individual parts.
It takes many techniques, practices and elements to live a more comprehensive life.
As always, thanks for reading.
See you next week!
Here's the link to the BBC article:
KaZ is a self-proclaimed "thought provocateur". SO what does that mean? She has been in many facets of entertainment, plus the co-owner of two restaurants, a fitness center, a television production company and the owner of a cinema. She did a stint in politics, and in veterinary medicine, KaZ has done A LOT of thinking. To utilize all that thinking in a productive way she feels the importance of addressing thinking as a huge asset. Provoking contemplation AND creativity with writing.
In addition to the above, KaZ is an award-winning vocalist, a former dancer, stunt actor, circus artist, & professional water skier. She has also worked as a theater artistic director & writer.
KaZ has been a published writer in magazines & books since the age of 15. She has written plays that have been produced in New York, Florida & New Orleans. She has a featured chapter in the book How To Survive A Move. (Up-to-date she has moved 45 times!) She wrote an article for Organic Wine Journal, and also wrote an article featured at the Ground Zero Memorial.
KaZ co-wrote 2 television informational series & 3 television pilots. One of the pilots, a comedy, she originally wrote as a sit-com, but it was produced as a reality pilot. KaZ has turned it into the hilarious screenplay
“(And ) Then This Happened.” based on life, love, and everything in between in the mid- life years. It’s loosely based on her life and the life of two of her best girlfriends.
KaZ's many high pressure pursuits led her to meditation.
She began studying meditation in 1991. Her initial training focused on Kundalini Yoga with Yogi Bhajan and his teachers. Her love of meditation led her to become a certified Master Meditation and Qigong Instructor.
She has taught meditation in-person throughout California, Florida, New York & British Columbia, Canada and online worldwide.
Her signature moving meditation technique includes a unique playing of Tibetan & Crystal Singing Bowls.
Most recently KaZ taught in a juvenile justice facility, and lectured on mental health in juvenile justice for Compassion in Action.
With writing being her first love, look for KaZ's upcoming books:
"Moving Meditation for Mental Health:"
-Active Military and Veterans
Plus, a play is in the works based on letters from her two great uncles during the Second World War.