Why meditation works for some people but not for others, according to new research

Written by Alice Porter

Have you tried and failed to get into meditation in the past? A new study has found there is one specific reason why some people just can’t make meditation work for them (and why others can).

Almost everyone has tried to meditate at some point in their lives but few people are able to stick with it despite the many benefits it has been shown to have. While some people cite meditation as the one thing that has helped them deal with stress, others find the idea of sitting down to meditate for more than a few minutes boring and frustrating. So why does meditation work for some people but not for others?

New research has found that there’s a very specific reason why some people reap the benefits of meditation and others find it unhelpful. Like with a lot of things, it’s all about your intentions. 

A team of researchers from the State University of New York at Albany studied the meditation practice of around 100 people to figure out how the reasons behind why people meditate impact their practice. Specifically, they were looking to find out if the reasons why people meditate would affect the outcomes of their meditation.

The study found that almost half of the participants meditated to manage difficult feelings or to get rid of stress or fear. The rest of the participants meditated with the purpose of better opening up and accepting whatever thoughts and feelings may arise. 

The people in the second group, whose purpose of meditation was to open up and accept themselves, got all the expected benefits of meditation: less anxiety, stress, worry, depression and better mindful awareness. The other group, however, who used meditation to manage difficult feelings or get rid of stress and fear did not experience these benefits.

It’s a bit of a catch 22, really – people who want to deal with their stress through meditation probably won’t be able to achieve that. So what’s the solution? The research suggests that a lot of us probably need to change our mindset when we meditate, looking at it less as a solution to all of our problems and more of an open-ended practice with many possibilities.

Meditation should be about opening yourself up to your emotions, good and bad, rather than only allowing yourself to have positive thoughts (which is a pretty unrealistic endeavour anyway, if we’re being honest).

In fact, the study found that people who “viewed anxiety as a problem” were more likely to use meditation with control-based intentions, ie meditating to deal with a specific problem. We all know just how problematic stigma around mental health can be and perhaps carrying around negative stereotypes such as anxiety are stopping us from being able to manage them.

After all, feelings like stress, anxiety and worry often don’t ever completely go away for most people, so it seems pointless to use meditation as a cure of sorts for these problems. Instead, look at it as something that could enhance your life in many ways – some of which you might not even be aware of yet.

Images: Getty

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