Meditation, it’s been said, is self-medication. But are our modern-day forms of accessing this ancient practice for its proven health benefits doing us more harm than good?

guy meditating

Seems like everyone is meditating these days, but does it matter how you do it? Photo: Afonso Coutinho/Unsplash

As the collective of meditation businesses has grown to a billion-dollar industry, there’s been an influx of quick-hit meditation products and services popping up on every device and city corner near you.

There are now hundreds of apps, such as Headspace and buddhify, devoted to guided and “customized” meditation. There are also pricey drop-in classes available at increasingly omnipresent calming centers from New York to Los Angeles.

Inscape, a 5,000-square-foot studio in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, offers sessions like Deep Rest, where you can pay $22 to sleep, profoundly, followed by “curated drinks and bites,” if you’re so inclined. Just-opened The Lotus in Denver has 18 different classes with titles like “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and “Lighten Up.”

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So should we feel happy that we can stop by a studio for some quick relief after a stressful day at work or bliss out with our favorite meditation app while we’re waiting for a red-eye?

Are we really tuning into ourselves and getting the benefits of meditation in single doses, or are we just distracting ourselves with another feel-good health one-hitter with limited lasting impacts?

Is “dropping in” with other like-minded people, no matter how we do it, more powerful in the long run than dropping out on our bedroom zafu?

The answers are nuanced, according to Andra Brill, a Denver-based meditation instructor, retreat leader and founder of Happy Mindful Families. “I’m all for planting the seed and offering people a taste of what the experience is like,” she tells GrindTV.

She’s not too worried about the format, whether it’s an app, drop-in studio or committed practice through private instruction.

“We could all do yoga in our house for free, but we value what we pay for,” says Brill, who finds that many of her clients request paid private instruction even when they know they can do it for nothing. “I see it as a continuum. If I try a meditation app and it helps me sleep a little better and yell a little less, that’s a positive.”

It’s also possible that drop-in meditation centers and apps are just a contemporary version of building community.

“They’re all different flavors of the same thing. I see them as entry points,” Brill says. “For all the ways we self-soothe in modern society — excessive work, food, alcohol, TV, exercise — to deal with our frantic lives, I see meditation as one of the least destructive ways to do it.”

It’s better to do 10 minutes of meditation a day than an hour and a half once a week, offers Brill. So perhaps dropping in for breath doesn’t really undermine meditation after all.

Maybe one big hit of breath — however you get it — is more than OK.

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