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Can you meditate too much?

June 5, 2009

Unfortunately I have to disagree with Mae West who said “too much of a good thing is wonderful”. When it comes to meditation, as well as almost every other “good thing” in life, there can be too much. Food, water, sunshine, exercise, rest — everything in life — needs to be in balance. As wonderful as good as meditation may seem, too much is not wonderful at all, but may cause discomfort and interfere with our functioning.

LoraC left a comment today saying that since starting meditation, she finds herself crying more easily and also has become clumsy and has been tripping and even fell. She loves the relaxation of meditation, but these things concern her. Of course, I didn’t have enough information to know for sure what is happening with her, but it is certainly possible that she is meditating too much.

Too much meditation can make you “spacey” and ungrounded. It can weaken your mind-body coordination. This could be why LoraC is feeling clumsy and tripping. As for her crying more readily, it’s just possible that some emotions are being released as a result of the deep relaxation in the meditation. Usually emotional releases would happen during meditation time and not create any concern. But if there starts to be a lot of release or intense emotional processing outside of meditation, it could be that too much is happening too fast. Since these things seem to have started after LoraC began “meditating in earnest”, an easy way to find out if it’s from meditation is to stop meditating for awhile or cut back on the meditation time or frequency. If the clumsiness and crying go away, then clearly too much meditation is the culprit and the time and frequency of meditation can be adjusted accordingly.

What is the right amount of meditation? How often and how long should you meditate? The answer is it depends. It depends on you — your constitution, lifestyle, goals for meditation and many other factors. It also depends on the type of meditation. For most people and most meditation styles, usually once or twice a day for 15 – 30 minutes, would work well. Unless you have the personal guidance of a teacher, you will need to experiment and find out what works best for you.

If meditation is enhancing your life, you’ve found a good balance. If it seems to be creating problems, it may be that you are meditating too much or that you might need to be doing a different kind of meditation. LoraC might find that if she does the grounding meditation or body awareness meditation, she would feel less clumsy as these meditations can help strengthen mind-body coordination.

Comments

27 Responses to “Can you meditate too much?”

  1. karthik on June 12th, 2009 7:52 pm

    Spaciness could be a problem, though I haven’t faced it while meditating.
    I think in the beginning, when one starts meditating a lot of clearing happens within the body and mind. For me, I had a lot of involuntary body movements like rotation of my torso, etc. They have reduced in intensity and frequency since I began meditating a year back.
    I also had to face some of my fears and get done with it.
    But once that clearing was done, my meditation was much smoother. I actually enjoy the meditations where I go up to 45 or 50 minutes.

  2. Mary on June 13th, 2009 1:29 pm

    Thanks for sharing your experience, karthik. It sounds like your journey with meditation has been quite profound (I enjoyed visiting your blog). It can certainly happen that a lot of clearing takes place when first meditating, and then it can get smoother. I imagine that happens more often than the other way around, where meditation would get more intense with time.

  3. Alex on June 13th, 2009 4:28 pm

    The human body is designed to be active in the day with all brainwaves in harmony with each other and relaxed and slower in the evening (more alpha waves) then down into sleep (theta to delta).

    I believe meditation is best in the evening as its a transition from being in “the zone” to more relaxed where focus / attention may not be as good but that blissed up feeling is allowed to become more prominent.

    Likewise Qigong is an excellent practice for the morning as it works as a stepping stone from sleep to daytime (the zone). In Qigong we are doing meditation but in an active manner. The movements are relaxing and gentle which bridges the states of sleep and “the zone”.

    All states can be done in the now. Therefore they are all meditations, some are active, others and inward. The is ying yang, life is about balance. Too much inward meditation is going against the balance. Those who spend their day meditating such as Buddhists are limiting themselves of the dance that is life. Many are chasing enlightenment but ironically enlightenment most often comes to those who don’t chase. I believe those who follow a balanced life are more likely to wake up and are less likely to want to. Life could already be very enjoyable. When you sacrifice for something greater the need for that greater thing must be ever presant.

    Regardless of this there is much to learn from the Buddhists, they are truly experts in meditation. On the same token though there is much to learn from Einstein however this does not mean that how he lived his life is an example we should follow. Einstein completely invested in thought to the detriment of everything else life had to offer.

  4. Mary on June 14th, 2009 11:19 am

    Thank you so much, Alex, for this thoughtful comment. It’s so full of interesting observations and I really resonate with much of what you say. It is all about balance and the timing and nature of our activities create balance or imbalance.

    I’m especially struck by your saying “When you sacrifice for something greater the need for that greater thing must be ever present”. That does take us away from enjoying what is already present!

  5. karthik on June 14th, 2009 11:32 pm

    I agree with Alex and Mary. Balance, that has also be an important lesson in my life…
    Thanks for visiting my blog, Mary. It’s been an exciting journey so far and I now see my life as a series of lessons or themes that I address through experiences. It’s easy to understand it intellectually, but meditation helps me put it into practice. Meditation helps me see circumstances as lessons that I can learn from instead of as taxing or painful circumstances.

  6. Alex on June 15th, 2009 10:54 am

    Hi guys, thanks for the comments.

    I had a little freeflow so it wasn’t 100% regarding meditation as focus / attention may not be as good but that blissed up feeling stronger.

    I think the focus / attention is excellent in a closed eyes meditative state but the focus is either open, i.e experiencing the space or inward, internal focus / attention. All meditation produces a predominance of alpha simply because eyes closed automatically produce that frequency but also often an increase in theta. So, although attention / awareness may be very good you’re going to move much more gently or slowly and no doubt your voice will follow suit. Some meditation practices describe the “zone” as a predominance of alpha such as TM. Really what you want is a harmony / equal measure of all brainwaves, this is the real “zone”. Calm still mind, yet alert and ready like a cat quietly sitting there one moment and then chasing a mouse the next. This is the ideal state for day time.

    If I could recommend my opinion of the ideal day it would like this:

    Qigong a session any time between 5am & 7am.

    Active morning

    A 20 to 40 min closed eyes meditation shortly after lunch. This is siesta time but science has proven a meditation works better. Not essential to do this but this is just ideal scenario.

    Active afternoon

    Maybe 30 to 60 mins evening meditation and or something relaxing like give / recieve massage, chilled music etc.

    Naturally the ying yang applies if you did something very active like a long run, then its reasonable to have an enjoyable rest if its needed.

    Obviously weekends can vary. In an ideal world I think we would have more clubs to go dance / party but during the day, here in London we actually have quite a few parties during the day which is great. I used to love clubbing through the night but these days I can see how out of balance that is. I still love the music and the freedom of partying so I sometimes go to a day party, either outside or in a nightclubl. Once you’re in, it’s dark, you have the lasers, you can’t tell plus you have the energy to party without needing to drink which is another bonus as although I enjoy the odd beer I really don’t like getting drunk which is often the case during the evening as people need the fuel to stay awake. When you look at it like this you can see this is a funny example of how out of balance clubbing through the night can be. Mind you every now and then it’s still lots of fun. If it’s a regular occurance it can cause quite a bit of imbalance.

    Yes on a spiritual note, we are all God’s children. I had a little inspiration last night when I was making dinner. I was making mash potato, I pre cooked a big bake potato but then decided I wanted to mash it. Bit of a random thing to draw inspiration from I know but I’m that kind of cat. So I plunged the potato plunger over the potato and lots of potato oozed through all the little holes. I noticed that under the plunger the potato was one big solid expression and the other side of the plunger there was many unique expressions. That is when it hit me. We are all the potato but we are all having our unique expression. If it was just the potato, who is conscious of the potato, where is the beauty, where is the dance? Subjectively the expressions can dance and play with each other in the space that exists between each expression. We are all god’s children, we are babies.

    I here people say, what is the meaning of life? I find this very funny, I love skiing. Imagine the same urgent question was asked, what is the meaning of you putting planks on your feet and sliding down a hill? I would laugh, I would say there is no meaning, but if I had to give an awnser, I would say humorously, the meaning is joy, fun, to play & to love every second of it. Likewise this same answer can be applied to life.

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  8. Alexander on April 5th, 2010 1:14 pm

    I was meditating one night after just taking a shower and when I finished I felt a tingling sensation through out my spine and my head. I was just wondering if this is a good sign or not.

    Also this answer to the question of if it is possible to meditate too much kept me from meditating all day like I was planning on doing since I had nothing else to do. I read from an article that it is extremely benificial to meditate for an hour a day and that for some if this is continued for a decade they can access the other part of their brain which normal people can not do.

    thanks very much for all the help,

    Alex

    :)

  9. Mary on April 5th, 2010 1:30 pm

    Alexander, The tingling may or may not be a good sign, depending on what your goal is in meditating. It’s hard to comment, actually, on what it is from a comment on a website, though.

    You will be able to find all kinds of things written about meditation, what is good and what isn’t. There are many different styles and many different opinions. You need to find the right style for you. If you are considering meditating for long periods of time, more than, say, 1/2 hour twice a day (which would be a lot for some people), I strongly suggest you get expert guidance.

    All the best to you.

  10. Jeff on August 7th, 2010 11:00 pm

    True meditation cannot be harmful to you in any way or make you ‘spacey’. What makes us spacey is improper or beginner meditation efforts such as mentally fighting to maintain our attention on the meditation object. Lots of mental activity during meditation or any attempt at forcing attention or calmness will make you feel spacey. True stillness will not.

    If too much meditation is always a bad thing then every senior Buddhist monk would be suffering the negative results of ‘over meditation’. Many of the famous Buddhist meditation teachers meditated for 10 – 12 hours or more per day for over 20 years.

    Problems arise in meditation because we are training our minds to behave differently and we are no longer allowing it to roam free. Not everyone reacts positively to new experiences. This is why Buddha strongly emphasized the importance of equanimity in practice. Problems are due to attachment and aversion, not meditation. Meditation simply points them out to us and allows us to gain control.

    During meditation you should be aiming to maintain a focus on an object and simply watch things arise and fall away. Don’t become adverse or attach to anything, just let it go (which it will do).

    Another important point is that meditation is not something that is only done while sitting down with your eyes closed. Serious practice is meditating while sitting, walking, lying down, or doing the dishes. Monks will watch their breath all day long.

    Alex’s tingling is the Kundalini flow. It’s a positive sign as it means you are freeing up energy. Keep practicing! :)

  11. Rebsicle on December 12th, 2010 7:16 am

    Lately, I feel like meditating has been having a negative effect on my ability to think.
    Because I’ve been ‘clearing my mind’ so much, this has been making it harder for me to think deeply or recall memories.
    I don’t know how I should deal with this. Should I just stop meditating all together? Am I doing something wrong?

  12. Mary on December 16th, 2010 11:13 am

    Rebsicle, this is difficult to answer without knowing how you are meditating. Different kinds of meditation and ways of meditating have different effects. Are you using our meditations? If so, I would say perhaps you would want to meditate less and see what happens. Take a day off and see how that affects you.

  13. tyrone on February 25th, 2011 9:03 pm

    I say meditate more and since it is already a part of your life use it for all parts of your life and learn more and more as you go through contemplation on your inner self.SOUL. i can tell you from experience that if your going to meditate and you surpass a certain level there are many different types of meditation and different ways to meditate. and there are definitely meditations for grounding. tell your friend to buy a 1.00 black onyx stone and meditate with it and her problem is solved

  14. matt on September 13th, 2012 5:17 pm

    Hello, I have recently been having a tough go of things lately and been working through it with a certain book on curing panic attacks and anxiety. I have been doing all the exercises in the book over and over again and I guess it has somewhat turned into an obsession. Basically you follow a script and do progressive muscle relaxation and do visualization exercises. Just recently I have been feeling very anxious and anxiety ridden when doing this even though it was making me feel very relaxed before. I have been doing it six times a day sometimes for 30 mins even though I don’t really want to, maybe a little excessive. I’m wondering if I have some kind of OCD tendencies because I’m obsessed with doing this ritual six times a day. So if this was making me feel very relaxed (even though I didn’t always want to be doing it) why am I getting anxiety now. I thought progressive muscle relaxation and positive visualization was supposed to make you feel better. What gives??

  15. Mary on September 16th, 2012 10:28 am

    Matt, we are not experts here on progressive muscle relaxation or “positive visualization”, so I can’t really comment on your experience with those. You are certainly welcome to listen to our free guided meditations in our podcast which have helped many people with anxiety and panic attacks (go to our Listen to Our Podcast page). If you like those and they help, you might also want to try our At Ease — Anxiety & Worry Relief program which is available on this website and also as a smartphone app for Apple or Android phones. Finally, sometimes counseling or psychotherapy can be really helpful for anxiety (you need to find the right therapist for you). This could be especially helpful if you do in fact have some OCD tendencies. All the best to you…

  16. Bryan on November 28th, 2012 6:43 am

    Thank you, Jeff, for providing a counterpoint, even if it was the only comment not acknowledged by the author. Someone told me they’d heard that too much meditation was a bad thing and so didn’t meditate at all, so I decided to find out who was touting this information.

    Let me just say, meditation can not be harmful if you’re doing it correctly. If you become ungrounded, perform grounding meditation. It’s as simple as that.

    Your tingling sensation is a wonderful thing, and with awareness and practice I’ve learned to take that tingling and consciously draw it over my entire body.

    It’s not my goal to go on people’s posts to discredit them, and that’s not what I’m doing, but to turn people off from meditation prevents then from their awakening and eventual ascension if that is their desire. So, if you choose to meditate, do what feels right for you, but know that it will unearth dormant issues that you need to learn to let go. It’s all part of the process.

  17. Mary on November 28th, 2012 9:56 am

    Bryan, thank you for adding your perspective. There are so many different kinds of meditation practices, and as individuals our physiologies and nervous systems are so different, that it makes it difficult to even discuss this topic. For example to say “meditation can not be harmful if you’re doing it correctly” raises problems for me because the word meditation refers to so many different practices. With some practices, it’s been my observation that people need to find the right amount of meditation for them.

    It certainly wasn’t my intention in writing this post to discourage anyone from meditating, only to point out that one needs to find the right balance of meditation and activity. And yes, dormant issues can surface and ultimately this is a good thing, but sometimes people need support when that happens and may need to pace the process.

  18. Shane on April 11th, 2013 11:54 am

    I just started to meditate when I do I get goosebumps am I doing it right

  19. Vijay on April 13th, 2013 7:48 pm

    I am glad I found this page. I had learnt TM about 20 years ago and I have practiced it on and off. Off late I have researched psychology (CBT), nervous system (sympathetic and parasympathetic in particular), kundalini awakeing practices and meditation.
    Someone commented about acquiring a cat like ability, who is relaxed but alert. Cat is relaxed and nappy one moment but jumps to hunting a rat next. More importantly, cat is able to go back to napping/relaxing once mouse is gone or threat is gone.
    I have always wondered if one can attain such ability thorough meditation etc. To me such ability is having very strong and fine tuned sympathetic and parasympathetic systems.
    To acquire that nimbleness I am trying to mix strength training (which fires up sympathetic nervous system) and meditation (which strengthens parasympathetic nervous system).
    Perpetual calm state of mind is not what I am looking. Like most people, I want to be an efficient warrior who can handle situations like a warrior and get back to relaxed state as soon as situation is gone.

  20. Mary on April 14th, 2013 9:07 am

    Shane, It’s great that you have started meditating! Actually the goosebumps don’t mean anything about whether you’re doing it right or wrong. I wouldn’t give any significance to them.

  21. Mary on April 14th, 2013 9:09 am

    Vijay, Certainly meditation can help to develop this ability. It sounds like you’re using a very balanced approach!

  22. Andy Bellenie on May 27th, 2013 6:46 am

    Maybe it depends on the type of meditation. I practice Mindfulness meditation and although I’ve certainly noticed many things about myself that could be looked at in a negative light, the important thing to remember is that they were already there, I just didn’t notice! I think we should consider the possibility that the clumsiness and spaciness described by LoraC predated her meditation, and by meditating she has become aware of these things, and is already well on the way to working with them. The critical thoughts she feels towards herself will also, in time, become less of an intrusive feature. So no, I don’t think too much meditation is possible, especially since there are plenty of people who have dedicated their lives to the practice. It can be quite addictive, and hard to stop, but that is only an issue if it interferes with the more doing aspects of our lives.

  23. Mary on May 27th, 2013 10:21 am

    Andy, thank you for sharing your experience and thoughtful reply. It makes sense that in some cases a person may simply become more aware of what was already there. In my experience, though, too much meditation can cause spaciness — but it depends on the kind of meditation and the makeup of each person. I do think this would be less likely to happen with Mindfulness meditation done in the traditional way.

  24. Christian on June 11th, 2013 11:59 pm

    I had to read about this as I’ve only just managed to achieve what I would describe as ‘great meditations’ recently. But, my problem is now I’m managing to achieve what I’m feeling whilst meditating I’m wondering if there’s a possibility of it seriously affecting you when over done..The reason being I have pretty much never head a headache in my life (ignoring hangovers), and the past few times I’ve meditated for an hour it feels like I have pressure all around my head and sharp pains in the back of my head. It doesn’t hurt too much but i feel it could easily progress to being painful. I don’t think its a coincidence myself, but there’s also the possibility as I’m new to meditation there could be the factor of me doing too much too soon…or doing something wrong??

  25. Mary on June 15th, 2013 11:13 am

    Christian, it’s impossible to know for sure what is happening. It has a lot to do with what kind of meditation you are doing and how you are doing it. Headaches can come from effort in meditation. They can also come from a “purification” that comes about from the deep relaxation of meditation. The body takes the opportunity to release stresses and “normalize”. Also an hour is a long time to meditate, but this again depends on the type of meditation and how you do it. Best thing is to find a meditation teacher who can spend time looking into this with you.

  26. terry everson on July 15th, 2013 4:41 pm

    I totally disagree with the writers “Opinion” that meditation can cause a mind to go lazy. meditation is total rejuvenation of the mind and body. I don’t believe you can meditate to much, unless you miss work or obligations from it.

  27. Mary on July 16th, 2013 10:44 am

    Thank you for sharing your viewpoint, Terry. I agree, meditation does rejuvenate mind and body, but please note that I did not write that “meditation can cause the mind to go lazy”. “Too much meditation” also depends on the type of meditation you are doing.

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