By: Alexis Zinkerman
I try to sit on my yoga mat for 20 minutes in meditation a few days a week. I feel mentally and physically balanced. But I am no expert in meditation. I had some questions about my practice and my meditation teacher at the zendo was half a country away in Chicago. So I talked to meditation instructor Susan Piver on the benefits and detriments of meditation when you have a mental health condition.
Susan Piver is a writer, teacher and founder of the international mindfulness community the Open Heart Project. She is a New York Times best-selling author of Start Here Now: An Open-Hearted Guide to the Path and Practice of Meditation among others. She has been a student of Buddhism since 1995, graduated from a Buddhist seminary in 2004 and was authorized to teach meditation in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage in 2005. Piver teaches all over the world, and through videos on her Open Heart Project.
I discovered Piver through a fellow blogger and became hooked on watching the videos on her blog.
Piver suggests one study meditation with an instructor who has been trained to teach it.
“There are a lot of ideas out there on what meditation is,” she said. “It is a simple but spiritual practice with profound ramifications for your sense of self.” While she recommends in-person instruction, she said using books, videos, Youtube or her Open Heart Project can substitute.
She said that there are no failures in meditation. “Let yourself experiment for two weeks ten minutes a day or five minutes Monday through Friday,” she said. “Check in with yourself at the end of the week and ask yourself if that was useful.”
Again, Piver stressed there is no way to fail. Motivating yourself to meditate is hard but there is no such thing as willpower in meditation.
“It’s important in meditation to recognize that you are not trying to get anywhere, learn anything, you don’t even have to be good at meditation. What matters is that you see positive changes in the rest of your life. This should be your inspiration to get you on the cushion.”
“Willpower is not your friend when it comes to meditation,” she said. “You have to just put in your minutes.”
There are Apps on your phone such as the Insight Timer where you can see other people meditating when you are.
Piver said meditation helps your general wellbeing. It helps normalize blood pressure, can be employed in some depression treatments, and helps you sleep.
“Meditation helps develop compassion, deepen wisdom, and acquires courage,” she said.
She did say that meditation is not for everyone. “It may be harmful for people with certain mental health conditions. If you have a mental illness, especially anxiety or trauma, it can amplify these things. You should speak to a healthcare professional before you start.”
Many people have the belief that meditation can slow down their racing thoughts. Piver said that this is no exactly true. “Meditation will quiet your mind and change the way you notice your thoughts. Notice your thoughts as they are and place your atention on the breath.” “Rather than investigate your thoughts place your attention on your body.”
If you notice yourself having self-aggressive thoughts, let them go. “Meditation is not helpful in the realm of self-improvement. It is helpful in the realm of spiritual ease,” she said.
You can contact Susan Piver or find out how to join the Open Heart Project here.