Even The Best Guided Meditations Are Actually Bad For You

Even The Best Guided Meditations Are Actually Bad For You

There is one massive flaw that even the very best guided meditations have. If you ever use instant meditations you seriously should stop.

Yes, stop. 

While guided meditations and “instant meditations”  are in hot demand, they are not good for you. 

Guided meditations are one of the most popular ways in which people start meditating.

Over the past few years we’ve seen the rise of many meditation apps like Calm and Headspace.

It’s easy to see why these apps are so popular. They offer a quick and easy way to meditate. And they even have “instant meditations” which can be as short as two  minutes.

But while you’re cramming a two-minute guided meditation into your day, you are totally missing the point, and you are depriving your mind.


Guided meditations will not give you the 100 benefits of traditional meditations.

Here’s why.

Why Even The Best Guided Meditations Are A Bad Idea

There can be no doubt that guided meditations are one of the most relaxing types of meditation.

And the audio recordings make it quick to start meditating [though I do have a better strategy for time-tracking and habit-building]

But instant meditations are the equivelant of fast food.

They are not real meditation. 

Consider this example of a simple relaxing guided meditation.

An example of a guided meditation for relaxation.

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 relaxing guided meditation.

And for some people, instant meditations like this can potentially be a good thing.

The Only Benefit Of Guided Meditations…

Sometimes you just can’t meditate. And at these times, guide meditation recordings are handy.

Even as a meditation teacher I have personally used guided meditations. It happened 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. [Read: How I Regained My Confidence]

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.

I took a series of guided meditations (like pills, guided meditations come in packages and require no effort).\

Specifically, I used guided meditations for stress and anxiety.

Those guided meditations helped me to relax when I was at a real low. And I am grateful for them.

Sometimes guided meditations are helpful.

If you are using a guided meditation for:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • stress
  • ADHD…

…then your mind might not be in the right place for serious meditation, and guided meditations are a viable alternative.

Sometimes we need help.

But for most people they are ineffective. And if you are using them, you are probably missing out on the entire point of meditation.

Even The Best Guided Meditations Cannot Compare To Actual, Proper Meditation

Thousands of people read my guide to the best brain exercises.

Many people asked why guided meditations are not on the list. After all, it is weird for a meditation teacher to not put guided meditations on a list like that.

But the whole problem with guided meditations is this: they require no effort. They are not mental exercise.

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.

For a healthy mind, you have to exercise. There are lots of ways to and meditation is one of the best.

But when you don’t actually do the meditation yourself, you do not get the exercise.

The entire point in meditation is the mental effort it takes to focus and to control the mind.

[bctt tweet=”Real meditators are committed to training their minds to be fit and healthy.” username=”t_d_meditation”]

If you are just listening to a guided meditation recording, you are letting someone else do the effort for you, and you are not truly exercising your mind.

When you use a guided meditation:

  • You do not train your imagination because it’s done for you (performing your own visualization, on the other hand, does train the imagination)
  • You do not control your own consciousness
  • You focus only about 30% as much as you do in traditional meditations
  • You do not gain insight into your own mind because you are too busy listening to a recording
  • You do not train your mind to produce inner peace. Instead, you train your mind to be dependent on a recording

“Instant Meditations” Are Even Worse

Scientific research has shown us the amazing way how meditation works.

The brains of monks are different to the brains of other people. But those monks have spent years doing traditional meditations like Vipassana, Anapanasati, Bhakti and Dhyana. Not instant guided meditations. They didn’t listen to audio recordings. They actually meditated.

Headspace and other meditation apps are offering meditation sessions as short as one minute.

One minute?

It’s like Instant Zen. Except, it isn’t.

We humans cannot change our state of mind in one minute.

Science has proven that there are over 100 benefits of meditation (see the link at the top). But outside of funded research specifically done by corporations to market their own products, next to no research has proven the benefits of “instant meditations”.

If you think you are getting the benefits of meditation from a guided meditation, you are mistaken.

Meditation is traditionally practiced 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?

Why Apps Want You To Meditate For 60 Seconds Only

Most meditation apps earn money through advertising or by selling guided meditations.

The more guided meditation recordings you listen to, the more money they get.

Hence why meditations that take trained monks at least 20 minutes to do (Vipassana, Anapanasati, Zen) etc, now have a one-minute guided meditation recording

Well we’re not falling for it.

The world (eventually) woke up to the fact that McDonald’s is not real food. And soon the world will wake up to the fact that instant meditations are not real meditations.

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 instant meditation recordings.

There is a reason traditional meditations are not “instant”

Take a look at this guide to every major meditation technique in the world.

They all take a minimum of 20 minutes.


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”.

There is a good side to this: Those instant meditations have gotten more people meditating. And it probably is better to meditate for just one minute than to not meditate at all.

But what’s the long term effect of these “instant meditations”?

Not good.

The effects of guided meditations:

  • They reward you for short-changing your inner-peace
  • They prevent you from putting in the effort to actually train your mind
  • They make you dependent on a recording instead of being self-depenedent

And If you Think You “Really, Really, Really Don’t Have Time To Meditate”

Enlightened people make the time to meditate.

And smart people know that the whole notion of being “too busy” is just a psychological trick.

But pretending for one second that it is literally impossible to squeeze ten minutes into a day to meditate. What then?

You use your spare time more wisely.

There is always time to meditateJust as there is always time to eat healthy.

If someone said, “I ate McDonalds because I didn’t have time to eat anything else” you’d probably raise an eyebrow.

And if you catch yourself using “instant meditations” because “I just don’t have the time”, you should guess again.

Yeah but:

If you seriously think you do not have the time to meditate, join the legions of people who are using my guide to meditating in your spare time.

Paul Harrison

Paul Harrison is a meditation teacher and writer. Paul has helped thousands of people to discover their true potential through mindfulness, yoga and meditation.
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