Mindfulness and Mental Health

In most cases the press around mindfulness is all good and positive. We know that the use of mindfulness practises, such as meditation and learning to live in the present, reduce stress and can alleviate both depression and anxiety. However, there are a few people who, by using mindfulness techniques, disturb deep held emotions they can be disturbing or distressing.

This week I was reading around some negative attitudes and ideas around the practice of mindfulness. There have been several cases when people have reported having negative experience as a result of practising mediation. So, what is this?

When you attend a mindfulness course, such as MBSR or a meditation course such as the Vipassana ten day retreat, there will be some form of vetting, some sort of assessment, to limit any participant who may have a negative experience as a result of practising mindfulness meditation. I should say that people in this situation represent a minute percentage of the population. Although this is something that we should be aware of.

The key often is the person running the course. Some people will set them selves up as a teacher without being appropriately trained and experienced? Any intervention into another persons headspace should only be undertaken responsibly and indeed mindfully. The MBSR register lists suitable qualified teachers who have undergone considerable and in-depth training, have experience in mindful practice, adhere to a code of ethics and so on.

We all have memory. Some of those memories will be good and some bad. In our cognitive mind we store this information and we use the mechanism of recall to access it. However some memories may be too difficult for the consciousness mind to deal with. When this happens the mind has a mechanism to lock those unwanted memories away in boxes in the attic of our mind. This is called repression or sometimes lost memories. There are a variety of mechanisms that can pull these memories out. The first is trauma when an event with a similar feeing releases a lost memory. The second is association that might be a smell, a sound, a colour and so on that resonates with memory and brings it back to the surface. Techniques such as hypnotherapy will release memory and so can meditation.

For most of us our meditation releases memory in bite sized chunks that we process and resolve and then move on. For those with psychiatric or cognitive disorders the chunks may be too big or our ability to process them diminished. It is this last case that leads people to question the effects of mindful meditation.

So, the things to look out for are first does your teacher have the experience and the knowledge to assist you as you memories release? Second, and perhaps most importantly, if you are meditating independently and you have deep, distressing or meaningful memory release that you cannot, or find it difficult to, process do something about it. See a psychotherapist, a counsellor, refer to your meditation teacher. Do whatever you need to do to process and not ruminate on unresolved past emotional memory. This is the seat of depression that can in turn lead to anxiety.

It is not enough to practice mindfulness we must also process the results of our practice mindfully.

Take care and be happy

Sean x