Is there a recommended Bipolar Meditation?
(Note: That's MediTation -- not mediCation!)
Rather than bore you with links and references to scientific studies "proving" the health benefits of meditation, its therapeutic effect on the brain and nervous system, on emotional regulation and stress-hormones; on the stimulation of the pleasure center of the brain - I want to explain meditation from my personal, professional, and experiential point of view.
I have meditated in one form or another since I was 16 years old. For many of those years I was doing it in a very inconsistent fashion - trying a jumble of different technique - sometimes just finding my own ways to do it. Through my early 20's it would often put me to sleep, or simply bore or frustrate me. But I never gave it up entirely.
In my later 20's my spiritual interests and explorations in consciousness took a turn towards ancient Indian spiritual practices - namely Yogic meditation - the oldest on the planet. I had previously rejected this path, out of my own ignorance and prejudice - believing that the transcendental goals of that type of meditation was "out of touch" with "reality," or that it was somehow a denial of the body, or of worldly life.
And indeed, from a certain perspective, that is exactly right. "Yoga" means roughly "union with the Divine," or "the merging of Jiva (your Soul) with Shiva (God or Divine Spirit)." All of the great meditative traditions - particularly throughout the Eastern world - have developed and flowed from the ancient - thousands of years old - yogic practices of the high Himalayan Yoga masters.
Since practicing one such yogic meditation - Kriya Yoga - beginning in 1998, I have seen the tremendous benefits that this type of meditative practice can produce, in my own life and the lives of many others.
I have been teaching meditation for about as long as I have been a licensed psychotherapist and use the two equally in my work with clients.
Since specializing in Bipolar Disorder, I've had the good fortune to witness the recovery of many people who previously suffered greatly from this disorder. And for those that have practiced some form of meditation on a regular basis, recovery and stability have come quicker and been maintained better, than those who have not meditated.
In my Bipolar Support group, the principles of Mindfulness Meditation, Yogic philosophy, and use of guided meditation in every group session have made a tremendous difference. Meditation is a timeless experience - a safe haven - a respite from the constant mind-chatter that can be unrelenting when mania is stirring and threatening to break through one's defenses. Meditation also provides a soothing and nurturing rest in times of depression and despair - as it gives permission for all feelings to be felt. The repression of hopelessness, fear, sadness, guilt and shame only creates greater despair and depression. In meditation, we meet these emotions head on, with grace and courage, and compassion. In the light of compassionate self-awareness, these emotional states lighten and clear like clouds after a storm. Tears may flow on their faces as they sit with closed eyes, but this is more than okay - it is deeply healing.
So to the question of whether meditation is good for Bipolar Disorder - I say with great conviction - "YES!"
Is there any contra-indications to meditation for someone with Bipolar Disorder? Any times when it is not a good idea? Any types of meditation that should NOT be practiced?
The answer again is YES!
Not all types of meditation are the same. Ignorance can get you in trouble. Meditation is a powerful, consciousness shifting technique that is often grossly underestimated. Just because it looks simple doesn't mean that it is. But you're just sitting there, right?
When the mind becomes deeply concentrated, it is like a laser. A flashlight is harmless. A laser can bore through steel. Both are simply a beam of light. So what's the difference - concentration. For most of us, dabbling in this and that type of meditation practice, we don't ever go deep enough to cause any real disturbance in ourselves. (Sometimes even positive changes start with a major internal dissolution - or falling apart).
But for anyone with the will, the patience, the intention and the perseverance to sit and meditate for longer, more focused periods of time, on a more regular basis... lots of changes can occur.
For the sake of keeping this simple and practical - there are two major types of meditation. (Each has countless numbers of sub-types within them):
1. Yogic Meditation - the Mother of all meditative traditions. Involves the conscious and deliberate use of breath control to alter the flow of the life-force energy - Prana - in the body and mind; also involves the use of concentration. May include visualization, mantra (mentally chanting or repeating sounds), and other techniques. Specific practices such as placing the tongue on the roof of the mouth (kechari mudra), gazing upward at the point between the eye-brows (Agya chakra), and producing a soft "whisper" in the throat with each breath (Ujjai) each have specific benefits in directing subtle energy (prana), and balancing the nervous system. These techniques vary greatly and are not always used together in all yogic meditations.
The main point here is that it is a traditional sequence of posture, breath and energy control, leading to concentration that is the main internal activity and vehicle for entering deeper states of meditation and expanded consciousness beyond the intellect.
2. Mindfulness Meditation - Also called Insight Meditation and Vipassana - these meditative traditions developed out of the Buddhist path - which has its roots in the ancient Yogic traditions in which Buddha himself was born.
The practice of mindfulness is also a powerful and deep discipline, however the focus is less on reaching higher states of expanded awareness through deep concentration. The emphasis is more on loving-kindness, self-acceptance and non-resistance. It is more a technique of observing the content of the mind - remaining aware and non-judgmental as thoughts, images, emotions, desires, impulses, and sensations play out. Mindfulness leads to the release of subconscious attachments and thus a relief from suffering.
Which is better as a Bipolar Meditation?
For anyone with Bipolar Disorder or other potentially severe form of mental illness, such as Schizophrenia, there is some danger of flooding the conscious mind with unconscious material. This is one definition of psychosis - being so flooded with the delusive, dream-like content of the vast unconscious mind - that you can no longer tell inner from outer - or dream from "reality."
Any intensive, overly long period of meditation - of any kind - can unleash these unconscious forces and overwhelm someone with this vulnerability.
For someone with with Bipolar meditation can either be very healing, or can do harm - depending on the manner of going about it. For most people with Bipolar - sitting to meditate daily - for 10, 15, 20, 30 minutes at a time is fine. For some people, even an hour may be perfectly safe if you know what you're doing. But 3-6 hour marathon sessions are a recipe for Mania. Don't do it unless you are under the expert guidance of a master who absolutely knows about your condition and your meditation practice. As a basic rule - just don't do it!
As for type of meditation. When I lead meditations for my Bipolar clients, I most often use more of the Mindfulness type - since all of those qualities of self-observation, self-acceptance and compassion - as well as staying "grounded" in the body - aware of the body - seem to facilitate a balanced state. However, I also use a Tibetan singing bowl - to produce a steady tone - much like the sound "Om" or "Aum" that is at the core of the teachings of Yoga - the primal sound of creation - the ever present hum of the universe. The sound of the bowl - sustained harmonics over a long period of sitting still and turning inward, does produce an altered state very quickly for most people. In this way, I deviate somewhat from the more traditional type of mindfulness practice that is usually done in complete silence.
Yogic meditation practices sometimes refer to "Kundalini" - the potential life-energy or Prana that lies dormant, coiled around the base of the spine. Yogic meditation techniques gradually awaken this energy and channel it safely up the spinal column where it produces total transformation on every level. This is a gradual process, consisting of many layers of awakening. However, for those with Bipolar, meditation of this kind can more easily awaken these energies and overwhelm the nervous system - causing a state of extreme mania, psychosis, anxiety or other nervous disorder that can be very difficult to treat. Therefor I caution strongly against any Kundalini-related practices for Bipolar meditation unless you are working closely with a very trusted, experienced meditation teacher.
In moderation and with guidance, pranayama (breath or life-force control) methods can be done safely and can help balance the energy, reduce depression and anxiety and clear the mind.
The main goal of any Bipolar Meditation should be BALANCE. It should be about self-acceptance, self-awareness, body-awareness, groundedness, non-judgment, patience and acceptance of the present moment.
When in doubt - listen to your body, and your intuition. If meditating is increasing your anxiety and overwhelm, it's time to take a break. If you're having suicidal thoughts, and meditating is making them louder and more disturbing - then stop - and call your therapist. Bipolar Meditation should be gentle, non-stressful, and grounding.
Please check back soon, as I will be posting a sample of my Bipolar Meditation to download for your personal practice.
If you are new to meditation, try my introductory guided audio as a beginning bipolar meditation (start with the first 15 minutes only).
For more information about psychotherapy, energy-coaching, and Bipolar Meditation, contact Ben Schwarcz, MFT
The Alternative Depression Therapy website may serve as a self-help tool, but the use of this information does not constitute a therapist/client relationship and should not serve as a means of self-diagnosis or a substitution for actual psychotherapy. The information on this site is for informational purposes only. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression it is advised that you see your doctor or therapist for an evaluation. If you are having active thoughts of suicide please call 911 or the National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-SUICIDE.
Bipolar Meditation - Safe and Effective Practices
Copyright 2016 - Benjamin Schwarcz - All rights reserved. No part of this article may be used commercially or without citing the source, without the written permission of Benjamin Schwarcz.