Guided medtiations are all the rage because of their ease and speed. But guided meditations are bad substitutes for proper meditation. Here’s why…
Guided meditations are one of the most popular ways in which people start meditating. Most newcomers approach meditation from the same angle. They’re looking for a way to relax and unwind, perhaps a way to quieten their thoughts and feelings, to help them overcome complications that have arisen in the mind. They hear about “guided meditation”, recordings that they can listen to that will take them on relaxing journeys designed to lead them to tranquillity. And indeed, guided meditations are one of the most relaxing meditation techniques.
There is one very important thing you should note about guided meditations, though. While they are very good at relaxing you, they should not be used as an alternative to traditional forms of meditation.
But first… If you’ve not tried guided meditations before you might be wondering precisely what they are.
Guided meditations are really audio journeys; you listen to an individual describing a relaxing scene and your mind relaxes. Simple. Here’s a little example.
An example of a guided meditation
Close your eyes. Listen to your breathing. Hear your breath coming and going, up and down, as tranquil waves stroking on a shore. See that shore. The skies above are blue. There’s a gentle swooshing of the waves. The sun is warm on your skin. You feel the warmth spreading throughout your body, relaxing you. Your toes curl on the hot sands. The warmth spreads up your ankle to your knees, and continues up your body, right to the crown of your head. Your whole body is warm and relaxed, and your breathing is slow and gentle, matching the rhythm of the waves…
This is a classic guided meditation, a poetic and relaxing journey that leads you to relaxation and peace.
I personally used guided meditations for a short period of my life many years ago. I’d had a truly rough time, breaking up with my girlfriend, leaving home, staying in a rundown motel room, staring at white plaster walls wondering what had happened to my life. In the midst of turmoil I left (or rather “fled”) Canada, my then home, for England, my old home. And somewhere in the middle of it all my mind snapped and I suffered from what would later be diagnosed as an “Extreme stress reaction”.
The thoughts in my mind came like turbulent waves crashing on rocks. Holding myself together took my every strength. This was one time when I simply wouldn’t have been able to practice traditional meditation techniques. I needed a “pill”. But I don’t believe in actual physical pills. So I took the spiritual equivalent of a pill, a series of guided meditations (like pills, guided meditations come in packages and require no effort).
Those guided meditations helped me to relax when I was at a real low. That’s the main purpose of guided meditations: Helping you out when you can’t help yourself out.
Unlike other types of meditation (which require effort and commitment), guided meditations are pre-made. All you have to do is put them on. That’s the benefit of them: If you don’t have the time, energy, or mental strength to invest in traditional meditations, you can just put your feet up and listen to a recording, and it’s all done for you. It’s twenty first century dharma: spirituality on demand.
To be fair, what guided meditations do, they do well. They do relax you and they are easy, and that’s the whole point. However, there are serious limitations to guided meditations, and guided meditations are bad alternatives to more serious meditation techniques.
There is one serious limitation of guided meditations: They require no effort. That’s both the best and the worst thing about them. They’ll relax you with zero effort, but because they require zero effort they don’t truly exercise your mind.
If you want to get fit and in shape you have to sweat. You have to put in serious effort to get the health and the body you want. The same is true for your mind. If you don’t truly exercise your mind you’re never going to be mentally strong.
There’s nothing wrong with a spa day. It’s relaxing and helps you to unwind. But it doesn’t make you fit. It’s just a fun excusion. And the same is true for guided meditations. They’ll help you to relax and unwind. But they’re never going to make you mentally fit and strong. Like a spa day, a guided meditation is a superficial treatment, a band-aid solution. It’s not going to make your mind truly strong. You need genuine mental exercise to do that.
That’s not a criticism of guided meditations. They’re great for what they are: simple relaxation. But they are not substitutes for traditional meditation techniques. It’s important that we all realise that as good as guided meditations are, they can never replace the real exercise, the traditional meditations techniques like Anapanasati, Vipassana, Bhakti and other powerful practices.
That’s the same for binaural beats, audiovisual media, and other meditation products. They’re great products and some of them will definitely help you to unwind. But they are also definitely limited.
Like a spa day, use guided meditations to relax, but don’t allow them to take the place of more serious practice.
“Instant Meditations” Are Even Worse
Headspace and other meditation apps are offering meditation sessions as short as one minute. Don’t let your family be fooled by this spiritual equivalent of fast-food.
Are Headspace and other meditation apps going too far?
Unquestionably one of the the best meditation apps in the world, Headspace recently releases its revamped version. It’s packed full of updates and new additions.
The new update was released amidst heavy competition from the likes of Calm, Insight Timer, and Buddhify. These, and a continual string of new apps, are making it increasingly difficult for Headspace to stay at the top of the meditation app space.
Staying top means innovating, and the new version of Headspace does precisely that.
The new version offers many new features, some of which are truly excellent. There are different packs (happiness, health, foundations etc) that let you focus on different areas of your health. And there are customisable meditation sessions that allow for 20 or 10 minute meditation sessions.
Where the app gets a little crazy is in its uber-short sessions, some of which are just one minute long.
It’s like Instant Zen. Except, it isn’t.
Can we humans change our state of mind in just one minute? Is it humanly possible to find Zen in 60 seconds?
Meditation is traditionally practices for long periods of time. Buddhist monks will meditate for hours on end. Even modern meditation teachers like Jon Kabat Zinn [founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction] recommends meditating for at least 20 minutes.
How did we get to 60 seconds?
It’s the way things are, isn’t it? We want instant noodles, instant coffee, instant gratification, and instant meditation.
We humans like things fast. And that’s understandable, most of the time. When you’re at work and you need a coffee, you don’t want to be waiting for a pot full of water to slowly reach the boil, so you grab the kettle. Makes sense. Then there’s instant banking. Sometimes you just need to get things done.
We all live busy lives and we all like to save time.
Meditation is supposed to be the one thing that is intentionally not instant.
Meditation is about slowing down. It’s about unwinding. It’s about actually taking the time to enjoy life. It’s not about one minute meditation sessions, like the ones Headspace is pushing on us.
Take a look at this guide to every major meditation technique in the world. They all take a minimum of 20 minutes. Why? Because it takes at least 20 minutes to create a Zen state of mind. It cannot be achieved in one single solitary minute.
Headspace, and other meditation apps that promise “instant meditation”, are sullying meditation. They’re turning a spiritual practice into something more like fast food. But you don’t get high quality nutrition from a fast food joint. And you don’t get Zen from “instant meditation”.
So why are app developer putting out these “instant meditations”. Simple: In an effort to get more people meditating.
You and I are special. We are not like other people. Most people are not able to sit for twenty minutes focusing on their breath. They lack the focus and the patients to do so. (Some will say they’re too busy. But scientific research has proven that the idea of being “too busy” is usually just a delusion).
In an effort to reach those people who are “too busy” or who simply don’t have the patients to meditate for 20 minutes, app developers are making meditation quicker. Understandable. Business, plain and simple. And in some ways it is even commendable. After all, it’s better to get someone meditating for one minute than for zero.
But what’s the long term effect of these “instant meditations”?
What McDonalds did to food, meditation apps are doing to meditation. They’re offering a cheap and fast alternative. But you wouldn’t let your kids (or yourself) eat McDonald’s, because nutritionally it’s as empty as Donald Trump’s tax return. You’d cook your kids real food so they grow strong. And we should teach our kids real meditation too (speaking of which, here is how to teach kids meditation the right way).
Instant meditation is basically spiritual fast food.
Fast food fills you up. It tricks your brain into thinking you’ve eaten adequately. But in truth it’s done little but make you fatter. Instant meditations are similar. They make you think you’ve done something good, but really, you’ve just taken the spiritual equivalent of McDonalds.
There’s a reason meditation sessions are traditionally twenty minutes long. It takes those twenty minutes to produce true Zen.
Don’t let yourself or you family be fooled by these “instant meditations”. They will never be as affective or as healthy as genuine meditation. And if you need more convincing, take a look at this huge list of all the benefits of meditation, benefits that only come from proper meditation sessions.