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A mindfulness practice – what problems might arise?

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What potential problems may arise when teaching mindfulness meditation practices to participants experiencing stress, anxiety & depression and pain & illness?

A number of potential challenges might arise when teaching mindfulness meditation to people with these conditions. For people stressed due to demands on their time, it may be difficult to find the time to practice meditation each day. Others may not feel comfortable in a group, feel under pressure to speak and/or question how the practices are helpful (Segal, Williams and Teasdale 2013: 99). For others, the practices will make them become more aware of their thoughts, emotions/feelings and bodily sensations which may make them feel distressed and uncomfortable, and as a result, they may find their mood lowers before it improves. People who are used to dealing with their emotions by ruminating constantly or pushing them out of their mind may notice that emotional issues are coming up in their class or during their home practice (Segal, Williams and Teasdale 2013: 99). For these participants, learning to be accepting, curious and non-judgmental of difficult thoughts, emotions/feelings and body sensations is a real shift from their usual way of relating which may have been to struggle, avoid and/or push away. As such, they may initially be sceptical and closed to exploring a new way of relating to difficult thoughts, body sensations and emotions/feelings.

As people experiencing depression and anxiety often report an impaired ability to concentrate (Dobkin, Irving and Amar, 2011), it may be the case that they find it challenging to learn and practice what is presented in each session. For people with clinical depression, current evidence also suggests that it may be prudent to wait until they have received the necessary help so that they are in a position to approach this new way of working with thoughts, emotions/feelings and bodily sensations (Segal, Williams and Teasdale 2013: 8). For people with psychiatric disorders such as psychosis and schizophrenia; eating disorders; and/or post traumatic stress disorder, mindfulness courses are not likely to be appropriate. It should be noted, however, that there is limited research on for whom participation in mindfulness programs should be contraindicated (Dobkin, Irving and Amar, 2011).

Cultivating compassion and kindness towards oneself, something that can be both implicit and explicit in the meditation practices, can have an impact on participants that is not always positive (pg 142 MBCT). For some people, even the mildest invitation to give oneself lovingkindness or self-compassion can activate old and persistent patterns of mind in which the self is viewed as unworthy, unlovable and imperfect (Segal, Williams and Teasdale 2013: 342).

Interested in learning more about the 8 week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course or the 5 week Learn to Meditate course? Email us ( to organise a time to chat on the phone or phone Melbourne Mindfulness Foundation on 0409 137 053.

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