Practicing meditation is a very individual matter. There are many types of meditation and various possibilities to practice.
For some time I was asking myself a question, do the online mindfulness or meditation courses have the same benefit and safety precautions as face to face courses. I have attended myself many of those online courses and unfortunately I have to admit most of them had not been either safe nor effective. There are some different aspects and precautions that the course has to have in order to have the positive impact on the attendee.
Therefore I used to think that online mindfulness courses, or online meditation meetings have not the same value as the on site, group trainings.
Since the pandemic has started in March, with a regret I had to close my meditation studio in Galway and this change has brought me a new perspective in online course's matter. In the current lockdown circumstances, online option is the only option I had left and can prove to be of great support to people. I just had to make sure that the courses are safe and effective for all groups of people attending the course. It is important to have a clear understanding of what mindfulness is and what it is not and make sure that people get the support they need at every stage of their course.
Are mindfulness and meditation suitable for everyone?
Practicing mindfulness and meditation involves experiencing different states of mind.
What is often overlooked when promoting mindfulness or meditation are challenges and sometimes contraindications to practicing mindfulness at a certain situations.
Contrary to popular belief, mindfulness is not an appropriate practice for everyone, or it will not always be an appropriate practice at the given moment. It depends on many factors, e.g. the intensity of the practice, appropriate support from the instructor, and the emotional and mental state of the practitioner. Fortunately, there is more and more awareness and research on the effects of the so-called "side effects" and more emphasis on being open about it.
This does not mean that the benefits of meditation and mindfulness should be underestimated. On the contrary. However, it is important not to generalize these benefits and also inform about the possibility of less desirable effects. While the number of people experiencing undesirable effects is small, the lack of dialogue on the subject is a big problem, resulting in guilt and discouragement among practitioners who experience difficulties during the practice.
When discussing the topic of side effects or difficulties during the practice of meditation, one should separate the side effects and contraindications to practice from the natural obstacles and uncertainties encountered during the practice.
The mindfulness technique comes directly from Buddhist practices, where the student learned under the guidance of his teacher. In the Buddhist tradition, it is normal to encounter difficulties and even anxiety states. However, thanks to the wisdom and experience of the guru, it was possible to meet it with understating and move past the difficulties or not, and decide to stop practicing the certain technique.
Often the teacher supported the student with other techniques to adjust the pace of practice or the appropriate technique for a specific student at the moment. Nowadays, in our western world, a predominantly course-based learning model is used, with a standard course duration.
8 weeks proved to be a safe and effective period in which you can learn the mindfulness technique and start developing awareness and better concentration.
However, when mindfulness practice was taken out of context and reduced to learning simple techniques to achieve some specific goal for example a stress reduction or better concentration it lead to having big expectation about the benefits from the practice vs challenges and side effects.
Mindfulness practice is more than stress reduction technique, or quick fix. It is a process gaining insight and understanding at a deeper level and naturally this process has different stages and faces. Of course it will depend how much one is engage in the practice and what is the motivation behind taking up the practice.
While this process took place slowly and in a timely manner under the tutelage of a teacher in Buddhist traditions, we learn the practice according to the model of our Western education system.
If during the practice or after the course one experiences disturbing conditions, or when the practice causes more stress instead of reducing it and improving emotional regulation, it is necessary to study at the side of a person who will be able to guide you and distinguish disturbing symptoms from the natural process of meditation.
Is the online model possible for meditation practice ?
Each of us has different preferences and needs. Face to face meditation meetings, group meditation course according to me is the best option but not the only way to practice.
During a pandemic, we learn to adapt to new conditions, trying to maintain social contacts as much as possible.
I never thought that I would start to even consider creating online meditation courses or organise meditation meetings in this form one day.
For me thought about meeting with others on either side of the screen, close our eyes and meditate in silence or even with a guidance was hilarious. I could not be more wrong. I quickly realised the value of such meetings. After a while, having been socially distancing from others, loosing motivation and developing lack of discipline I found out that meeting with a group of friends to meditate and later participants is the only chance we have during the lock down.
This form of meetings turned out to be very motivating and providing contact and support in practice.
Although practicing meditation is our own internal process, group practice offers many benefits. When we learn the technique, the support of the teacher is crucial in cases where we suffer from panic attacks, trauma or anxiety. Currently, we have many different ways to learn about meditation through Youtube channels or mobile applications. However, when you start your adventure with meditation and want to deepen your practice, it is best to enrol in a course where you can contact the instructor for support.
Most current mindfulness courses is done in a group setting. There is a reason for that model being used, although this is not the only way that you can learn mindfulness and meditation.
Group courses certainly have benefis of regularity, motivation, social aspects and support from the group and instructor. During meditation, a special space, energy, is created. Being in a group makes it easier for us to practice, learn from others and practice regularly.
When I teach mindfulness in a group, face to face, it is important not only to practice together, but also to "give feedback" and talk with the group about the experiences, share difficulties, questions, and most of all get support from the teacher. It is a process during which participants learn from each other, and any difficulties are addressed by the teacher.
Such a model is possible online during live group webinars. In combination with access to materials on the e-learning platform, it is a great alternative to meetings in a meditation studio and it does not limit anyone's place of residence.
Courses available on the e-learning platform, without involvement of the group are a good alternative for people who prefer to learn at their own pace. However, it is important that these people can always contact the instructor in case of any problems and questions. People who want to decide on such a learning model should think about what they expect from the course and what are their needs and time availability.
The mindfulness course is not a form of therapy or the answer to all problems and should not be treated as such. So if you want to learn about practice, support your emotional regulation, or want to start living more consciously, such a model may prove to be a good one. However, if you are struggling with strong experiences, stress, trauma, it is best to join a group course or start working individually with the instructor.
The model we choose should be compatible with our needs and capabilities.
If you want to learn more about the benefits of meditation and mindfulness during the pandemic, check our article "Facing uncertainty in challenging times with the help of mindfulness and meditation"