How to Meditate for Mental Health
“When you sit down to meditate, you might just be creating extra space and time for rumination instead of finding relief.”
Open awareness based meditation: Meditation practices like mindfulness teach us to be present and observe our sensations, feelings, and thoughts. This is great for developing self-awareness and gaining insight into what’s going on inside our minds. While this can be a very therapeutic practice, it has a downside too. Because there is no clear object of focus, this type of meditation can be challenging if the mind is dull. If the mind does not manage to maintain some level of presence and we drift off into a dreamlike state, it may not bring about any shift in awareness and perspective. So it may be more beneficial to do something else first to balance your energy so that the mind is a bit more alert so that you can actually benefit from the open awareness meditation.
Concentration based meditation: Meditation practices that make you focus on something help you untangle from your thoughts and bring about higher awareness by shifting the focus onto an internal or external object of concentration, like a mantra, chakra, counting, gazing at an object, or focusing on a physical location. It can be a great practice to break us free from a stubborn stream of thoughts. Experiencing this ‘break’ between thoughts can be helpful to get us out of a mental rut and gain perspective. It is a great way to break unhealthy mental habits, like ruminating. While concentration based meditation is a great practice for a specific purpose, it shouldn’t be our only practice. Because we’re directing our focus onto one specific thing, we’re excluding a whole other things from our awareness, like our bodily sensations, thoughts, and feelings. In other words, there may be the risk that we’re using our meditation practice to escape our deeper feelings. This can result in dissociation and spiritual bypassing which in the long run creates a split inside the personality and can leave us feeling more disconnected from ourselves and from life.
Concentration based practices are a great way to break the constant stream of thoughts. They are an accessible way for beginners to have a first glimpse of what it means to have a somewhat quiet mind. It’s also an accessible form of meditation in case of mental dullness, like can be the case in people experiencing depression. Open meditation practices, on the other hand, give us more insight into ourselfves. This is a very important part of developing the self-awareness that is needed in order to cultivate better mental health.
Ultimately, all meditation techniques are meant to take us beyond the technique and into a space of expanded, relaxed yet awake state of awareness where we feel present, connected, and whole. When we can sit and drop into that experience, we can call that a “natural meditation”.
People who struggle with mental health problems can find it challenging to access inner peace. That’s why all practices should be focused on how to bring about the right balance between relaxation and focus so that students can access and experience the meditative state in a way that is accessible to them. For some it may mean doing physical exercise, for others guided relaxation practices work best. There are many ways of accessing meditation.
As mental health aware yoga teachers, we need to rethink what we have learned from yoga and meditation traditions and have a thorough understanding of how the body-mind work in order to use these practices in an individualized and therapeutic way.
From my experience working with clients, symptoms of depression and anxiety respond particularly well to embodied techniques, ranging from yoga asana, somatic therapy, and dance, to embodied types of meditation.
“So, does meditation really help with depression?
Yes, absolutely! But we have to know who the person is who meditates, what they need, and what their goals are.”
Deniz Aydoslu, MA, is an advanced certified yoga and meditation teacher and expert in the therapeutic application of yoga and somatics for mental health. She helps women heal emotionally and restore their connection to Spirit by integrating the body, heart, inner child, and soul into a meaningful whole. She offers deeply transformative work as well as simple tools to improve well-being, creativity, and productivity through fun, easy, and nourishing self-care tools.
As an experienced yoga and meditation teacher, somatic educator, and shamanic psychotherapy practitioner, she infuses her work with the healing power of love and the value of nature as medicine.