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The Incredible, Fast-Growing Popularity of Meditation – Good Thing or Bad?

We’re entering an age where meditation centers seem just as popular as Starbucks.

A few years ago, I could’ve never imagined today’s influx of meditation centers. When I opened my own center in New York in 2010, it was a rare sight to behold. Not anymore!

I often ask myself, “Is meditation just as available now as a Starbucks coffee?” The availability to find a cup of coffee fast is a good thing; but the availability to find and pay for access to meditation may not be. I meet a lot of people who express happiness about this sudden interest in meditation. I also meet a lot of people displeased with it. Some people believe that meditation’s wide availability through apps, websites, and studios can do only good. Meditation has encouraged people to relax and find moments of calmness in chaos. The other side of the argument: Concern that meditation has become only about a teacher’s own personality and perspectives, and that it may not even be meditation at all. I have my own take on the debate.

One thing is clear: Meditation is truly becoming very popular.

Here’s why I love meditation’s far and wide popularity:

“If every eight-year-old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.” –Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama is wise! And with meditation’s increasing reach, more people than eight-year-olds are learning to meditate. The amount of people practicing meditation is increasing, and the practice seems set to only continue to grow in popularity.

I first experienced the power and benefits of meditation through my Guru. I received many opportunities to meditate at various tantra shrines in India, at the Dalai Lama’s monastery in Dharamshala, and at several other shrines with a multitude of Gurus. I’ve come to understand that many people don’t have this type of access to gurus, or they are uncomfortable visiting monasteries and tantra shrines. That knowledge inspired and motivated me to quit my finance job on Wall Street and launch Break the Norms, my nonprofit organization that offers meditation access to those who truly want to learn.

Since then, I have trained many students to meditate, and the results have been great. I’ve followed along with the launch of several new apps that help interested seekers meditate on their own. I live in LA, a city home to some of the country’s best-looking meditation studios. I lead weekly talks at Den Meditation, a cozy and beautiful space that offers various styles of meditation every day. I chose to practice at Den because I love and believe in the owner’s mission to present meditation in an authentic and accessible way. I’ve seen many transformations since I’ve started meditating there. These honest, genuine meditation centers are encouraging. In words of Tal Rabinowitz, the founder of Den Meditation, “As meditation grows in the world, it will only help and benefit everybody. Part of the reason we started the teacher training is to help bring up the new, modern day meditation teachers in a responsible way. I’m all for the modern meditator and meditation teacher. I think that will only connect with more and more people, however I do want to make sure that they are properly trained and educated.”

… and here’s why I’m concerned about it:

 Some say anything in excess is bad. But how could an excess of meditation possibly be bad? It isn’t. But, an excess of unqualified people teaching meditation is bad … and damaging. Meditation isn’t just about breathing in and breathing out. Meditation hits you where it hurts, awakens your suppressed self, and demands healing. If you can’t heal or don’t know what to do once you’ve reached that point in your meditation journey, you’re stuck.

Many self-proclaimed “meditation teachers” carry around a lot of their own unresolved issues. They find a great way to escape them is through teaching. But when those issues spark, it creates a complicated mess. I come from a Tantra lineage; I’ve been studying meditation since childhood, and have built my life around it for 13 years. Even with over a decade of experience, I still have a long way to go. I’ve led meditation workshops around the world, but my heart still races before every public talk and individual session. I worry about doing meditation justice and helping others with my teachings. I’ve been teaching meditation full-time for more than seven years and this nervousness still hasn’t diminished. But it keeps me on my toes.

Here’s the problem with some of today’s new “meditation teachers:” They think they can learn the art of meditation overnight. They don’t realize that it might take decades to become even mildly good at the art of teaching meditation. The books, teacher trainings, videos, and courses are only meant to inspire you. You must drop your ego, embrace your patience, and do some serious work if you really want to promote meditation as a public service. Teaching mantras and meditation, and guiding the masses is a huge responsibility.

My friend and fellow teacher Heather Prete, a UCLA Certified Mindfulness Facilitator, says it very well: “It would be insincere and, possibly, harmful to teach ‘mindfulness’ without understanding the application of the term about practice, and if one has not utilized this process in their own awakening. Ultimately, mindfulness is a psychology that utilizes neuroplasticity and has the potential to create seeming ‘miraculous’ change in one’s being, and therefore also can be mis-taught, causing more difficulty for the student. Mindfulness is in the process of being federally regulated for such reasons. I call for all teachers to check their motivations for sharing the practices.”