When I first tried meditating, I couldn’t help but think, “I’m definitely doing this wrong.” I tried to give it a shot, but I eventually gave up the practice because I didn’t think I was getting “better” at meditating. Years later, I wound up at this pop-up event in SoHo—a neighborhood in New York City. The event had mini tarot readings, face massages, shopping, and group meditation. It had been a while since I tried meditating, so I was curious whether I’d feel differently about it now that I was in a different city (and state of mind).
Two meditation teachers set the tranquil scene and took us through a 20-minute guided meditation. During the meditation, I found myself returning to my to-do list and getting distracted by the city noises. I tried to return to my center but could feel myself growing more and more anxious. At the end of the 20 minutes, I felt relaxed but disappointed in my “failed” efforts at meditating.
The two teachers then asked the crowd if anything came up for anyone or if anyone had any questions. Embarrassed by my lack of meditation skills, I sat still with my hands in my lap. Then, to my surprise, the first person they called on took the words out of my mouth by saying, “I feel like I’m doing it wrong. I can’t concentrate or clear my mind. I’m not good at meditating.”
Suddenly I felt the unexpected camaraderie lighten the load on my shoulders as a handful of other people in the room nodded their heads in agreement. The meditation teachers smiled and gave the room the advice I feel is often overlooked—meditation is not about clearing your mind. Meditation is about the return, the coming back, the balancing yourself when your thoughts have traveled and acknowledging the thoughts that arise. Meditation is being present enough to return again when you’ve wandered.
When it comes to meditation, it’s true that not all who wander are lost. Those who wander have the power to find their path again. Once you step foot on that path, you are meditating. I realized it wasn’t just me, and my self-doubt had been keeping me from inquiring any further about something I wanted to enjoy. From then on, I stopped letting my ego rule my wellness practices. I redownloaded a meditation app, and I started to go to a meditation studio for some much-needed zen regularly.
While I began to enjoy my personal meditation practice now that I let go of my expectations, I still craved the experience of meditating in a group. I always returned to that first group meditation and how it felt to feel less alone. With group meditation, I felt a connection, and like our vibrations were bouncing off of each other. Everything is amplified.
Whenever I go to a group meditation class, I’m extra committed because it’s carved out on my calendar and I paid to be there. Plus, once I go in, I won’t be getting distracted by my cat or my phone buzzing (like I would in my personal practice). To me, group meditation is like truly giving yourself permission to be in the moment and be with yourself (it just so happens to be amongst other people as well).
I asked Lodro Rinzler, co-founder of MNDFL, how he’d describe group meditation vs. personal meditation.
“The difference between group meditation and meditating on your own is like the difference between running in a marathon or trying to run 26.2 miles on your own. There is a certain energetic momentum that happens when we meditate in a group, where we feel supported and uplifted simply by being shoulder-to-shoulder with people struggling right alongside us, same as with a long run.”
Similarly, meditation teacher and owner of Shanti Atlanta, Dee Doanes, express how “group meditation is a way to connect with others and share in high vibrational energy. Being around others with the same intention keeps you centered.”
Another benefit to group meditation came from Jessica Palmer, yoga studio owner, yoga instructor, and meditation teacher, “the advantage is simple, having an instructor to guide you through the meditative experience.”
“For some, meditation is daunting and difficult. Your mind can wander; you may begin to slouch and lose your posture or fidget. In group meditation practices, the instructor keeps a mindful eye to each student, queuing adjustments when necessary.”
Is there any ideal set-up for group meditation?
“Group meditation can be done anywhere, and I often lead group meditations outside where there may be more distractions as it can help my students learn to focus,” said Michele Lefler, holistic healer, life coach, and Reiki master.
Given the constant stream of distractions in New York City, I've always loved advice like Lefler suggests staying centered no matter where you are. I know that, for me, the effects of having this type of focus during my meditation practice (even while sirens are blaring and dogs are barking) positively trickles into other areas of my life and keep me calm.
As for meditation styles, Palmer offered that there are “several meditation practices that are great in group form including: Moving meditation (in which participants flow through postures mindfully and with breath), loving-kindness or meta meditation (where the individual visualizes well-wishes toward others), and Yoga Nidra (in which an instructor leads students through a series of relaxing, often scripted, visualizations to promote a state between sleep and wake).”
What’s the perfect mix of meditation?
As with most things, that’ll depend on you and your personal preferences. I’d assert that any meditation is good meditation, but that doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t benefit from a balance of group and private practice. Doanes advises that meditators avoid using the group or the teacher a crutch and went to say that “there is no shortcut for doing deep work on yourself. And this is done by meditating by yourself.”
As a good counter, Palmer recommends 15 minutes of seated meditation daily at the very least, followed by five to 10 minutes writing or journaling your experience. Palmer offered the following prompts, “What thoughts came to you? What was difficult to sit with? What emotion appeared?”
For the more spiritually-inclined, Rüdrani Devi, meditation teacher, holistic energy therapist, author, and Survivor of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, had a beautiful take on how to make your daily life a group meditation.
“When first rising in the morning, I recite two mantras: “All my life comes to me with ease, joy, and glory,” and “who or what am I today and glorious and grand adventure will I get into?” Then, I simply allow the Universe to show me without any expectations of what that should look like. In this way, my entire day becomes a walking-talking meditative experience, and my group meditation is the world around me. Everything else I choose, whether it’s a sitting or group meditation practice, is the icing on the proverbial cosmic cake.”
What’s something meditation teachers wish more people knew? I asked everyone I interviewed for this article that very question.
“It’s a really helpful way to start meditating in general. Watching a YouTube video or downloading guided meditation recordings on an app can only take you so far; you will need to meet with someone who has been professionally trained to teach meditation to learn more about the style that's best for you, and nothing can compare to a community that supports you to keep going when it gets tough or, frankly, boring.” - Rinzler
“Everyone should know that meditation takes many shapes and forms. Depending on the type of meditation, you may be moving, seated, on laying down. There are several myths toward meditation, including having to be devoid of thought. Many thoughts come up throughout an individual's meditation practice. In fact, meditation is the loss of attachment to thought, not becoming void.” - Palmer
“Not all meditation is the same, and it doesn’t always mean sitting in the lotus position chanting “Om.” For seasoned meditators, it can sometimes be a challenge to meditate in a group. Seasoned practitioners may find it easier to practice unguided, and group meditations are often guided or spoken meditations.” - Lefler
“I wish more people could get that there is no way to do it wrong. You don’t have to be a Brahman priest who has practiced for years to get group meditation right. Simply be willing to be, receive, and perceive the energies you be, and all those around you will seemingly become part of your expansive experience. Most importantly, be patient and kind with yourself; acknowledge your willingness to expand beyond this reality to create new energy, space, and consciousness.” - Devi
I myself am not a meditation teacher, but I frequently tack on some meditation techniques at the end of yoga classes I teach. The thing I wish more people knew? It’s okay to let go. It’s okay to not hold onto everything. It’s okay just to be, precisely as you are. Group meditation often gives me that sense of peace, and my hope is that (no matter how they find it) everyone gets a chance to find their center while here on this earth.