Is mindfulness safe?
The Oxford Centre for Mindfulness recently reviewed the safety of mindfulness (yes, there are risks)! They compared it to assess the safety of physical exercise.*
Mostly, it is quite safe as long as it is not done in excessive amounts and as long as the meditator/ exerciser doesn't have a significant pre-existing vulnerability or illness. In those cases, the participant needs an experienced coach you can assess and develop a tailored training program whether it be physical exercise or mindfulness training.
In the case of mindfulness, it is important to recognise that most trainers do not have significant training in mental health issues. Participants who are particularly vulnerable are those with mental health conditions such as severe anxiety, depression, personality disorders or a history of psychosis as well as people with a past history of trauma who can also have unexpected reactions.
Moreover intensive trainings, such as retreats, can stress anyone. In these intensive trainings, it is important that the trainer is teaching an evidence based approach and that they have the training and /or the back up to deal with whatever arises.
If you would like to know more about how to find a good mindfulness teacher click here, and an excerpt is outlined below:
ASSESSING TEACHER'S ATTITUDE AND UNDERSTANDING
Does the practitioner promote an attitude of compassion and understanding of all or do they denigrate certain groups?
For example, males or females, perpetrators or victims, various religious or political groupings. Beware of liking a teacher just because their prejudices align with your own.
Does the teacher focus mostly on relaxation or awareness?
Even though relaxation is part of mindfulness, it is not the main game. The main game is changing the way you relate to your thoughts, feelings and experiences by cultivating non-judgemental awareness. If your teacher is not making that clear then they don’t really understand mindfulness themselves. A good teacher should be able to make it clear as to how you train yourself to change the way you relate to your experiences.
Is the teacher’s main focus on helping you to learn how to be with whatever experience arises rather than trying to control it?
That is the correct focus but many teachers try to teach you to change your experience using visualisations or breath control techniques. This is not mindfulness. There is no evidence that is helps any more than reading an enjoyable book. Visualisations and breathing exercises can be used along with other techniques like exercise or physical yoga to set yourself up to practice. All of these practices can also be done mindfully. That is applied mindfulness. That is quite different and in fact very useful.
However, when these practices are habitually done to avoid unpleasant sensations and maximise pleasant sensations, they are working against the core element of mindfulness, which is here and now non-judgmental awareness or an openhearted curiosity. Avoiding unpleasant sensations and maximising pleasant sensations is still teaching you to run way from yourself. As long as you do that you can never find an authentic deep inner peace and it won’t help you to be more skilful in your day-to-day interactions and activities.
Does the teacher recognise their own limits?
For example, do they acknowledge whether they have mental health training. If not do they refer on to someone who does have that training or do they at least have back up from someone who does?
*See the original article here.