Top 5 Mistakes People Make Guiding Meditation

BL00 - Top 5 Mistakes People Make Guiding Meditation 2.png

By Mo Edjlali, Mindful Leader Chief Community Organizer

Through our work, I’ve had the privilege to get to know a great many meditation teachers and facilitators. This includes from my own personal practice and mindfulness training, those who have spoken at our events, our adjunct MBSR certified instructors, and the 120+ Workplace Mindfulness Facilitators that we have certified. Of this group of teachers and facilitators, there are those who are world renown with deep practice and experience and some that are just starting out. I’ve experienced the complete range of quality when it comes to guided meditations, from finding myself expertly guided to wanting to make the meditation stop because it was so unpleasant. 

Recently, someone asked for some advice on how to make a good guided meditation. For the sake of discussion, I thought I would highlight five common mistakes I’ve noticed with guided meditations. 

  1. Not setting up the meditation 

The experience for the participant starts with how the meditation is set up. Basics here include describing what the meditation is, how long it will be, what the intention of the practice is, helping folks understand what posture to be in, and including trama informed safety measures. If there is going to be some lecturing or educating, best to do it here and not in the middle of the meditation. Also, it’s important to let people know when the meditation has started and how they will know that it’s ended. 

  1. Trying to do too much 

You might be thinking, I’ve only got ten minutes, so let me get in as much as possible. Let's do a body scan, a concentration practice, and a lovingkindness meditation because people need the benefits of each. The problem is that often these practices each require a certain amount of time to be done properly and engage the mind in different ways. Unless you are a seasoned expert it’s very difficult to skillfully combine multiple practices into a session and very difficult for short sits.

  1. Lecturing in the middle of the meditation

I see this all the time and am surprised by some of the more well-known teachers who do this. Meditation is a mental training exercise. If you want to offer a lesson do it at the start, after the meditation ends, or just don’t do it at all. Once the guided practice begins, be careful not to engage participants' minds in a way that would be counterproductive to the meditation you are leading them in. 

  1. Using a contrived meditation voice 

It's important to speak clearly, enunciate, and notice the pace and tone of your voice. Too often I’ve seen people try to imitate their favorite meditation teacher or go over the top trying to be soothing. It’s distracting. Not everyone is going to resonate with your voice, and not everyone will resonate with your contrived voice. I've found the best meditation teachers hone their natural voice and their voice has an authentic quality to it.

  1. Not transitioning at the end of the meditation 

As the session comes to an end, it's important to recognize the participant's body and mind will need to adjust. A good transition starts with making it clear to participants that the meditation has ended. Typically, this is followed by allowing time to gently stretch and move the body and allowing a slow and gentle return for the mind. Reflecting on the intention that was stated at the start, acknowledging and being grateful for the effort, and reminding them of the benefit of meditation will help participants transition back as well as help them develop a consistent practice. 

What has your experience been? Would you agree these are the top five mistakes? Please share your thoughts. This article is meant to spur conversation and not be definitive. 

Click here to sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date, get special offers, curated articles, free videos & more.

20 comments

Steve Kaplan Jul 21, 2020 01:04pm

I'd add talking too much especially throughout the meditation. Some instructions are, of course, really useful. But one needs the time and space to become acquainted with one's own mind. So let people have some time and space. 

Read more
Read less

Good suggestion Steve.

Read more
Read less
  Cancel
Evan Harrel Jul 21, 2020 01:22pm

Thank you, Mo, for this article. Your points are each valuable, and you have done us all a service for publishing this.

Read more
Read less

Your welcome Evan.

Read more
Read less
  Cancel
Dori Kelner Jul 21, 2020 01:25pm

Rather than choosing a single focus for the meditation, such as self-awareness, compassion, or empathy, I see people trying to align the meditation with work issues, like meetings or conflict. The time to do this is in the setup, not trying to weave a learning message through the guidance once the practice begins. Additionally, I agree with Steve. Even for those new to meditation, some periods of silence are essential for the participants to learn to be with self.

Read more
Read less

Thanks Dori,  there are also some ethical lines that we need to be careful of when aligning to work issues.  

Read more
Read less
  Cancel

Good points, thanks Mo. I have been of all of these over the years.

Read more
Read less

Thanks Gus.

Read more
Read less
  Cancel
Neil OBrien Jul 21, 2020 03:53pm

Thanks, Mo, good post!

Read more
Read less

Thanks Neil.

Read more
Read less
  Cancel

I recently participated in an online meditation for the first time and realized that I have a particular problem.  I have hearing aids, and if someone speaks in a soft, low tone, I can’t hear them.  Certainly a loud voice would not be appropriate, so I don’t know if there is a solution that will reasonably let me participate in this way.

Read more
Read less
Marie Wilken Jul 29, 2020 07:05am

Thank you for raising this question. What would work for you? And if you were to lead the meditation for hard hearing people, how would you do that?  I am curious. I was leading MBSI sessions  x 8 weeks with mute & deaf person which brought up so much in our awareness. So different and so rich. 

Read more
Read less
  Cancel
Divya Kohli Jul 21, 2020 08:26pm

-Performing rather than engaging. 

-Not being plugged into the energy and feelings in the room (even if online this is still possible). 

-Being able to hold space, with both compassion and structure 

Read more
Read less

Thanks for your comments Divya. There can be too much focus on the performance aspect and that the way the instructor shows up is important. 

Read more
Read less
  Cancel

Anymore, I speak very little during our meditations. I use the idea of two intentions: notice & allow.  Using the breath as an anchor, notice what the senses things like what the senses are bringing in, the mental stories that try to drag us off into the future or past, and simply allow it all to be. By allowing what is, stillness arises.

Read more
Read less
  Cancel

Yes, finally, addressing "guided" meditations that don't include space for quiet. To guide is to lead or model. No one wants to be talked at. Thank you

Read more
Read less
  Cancel
Carles Guillamon Jul 27, 2020 06:59am

I find it very annoying when the instructor uses a tone of voice that seems to order rather than suggest or guide.
Personally, I tend to "encourage" participants to "keep breathing" in order to help them stay present with small phrases like "very well ..." or "keep breathing ..."

Read more
Read less
  Cancel
Rosemary Reshetar Jul 28, 2020 11:59am

Thanks Mo. I like the simplicity of 5 tips,combined with the comprehensiveness. All good stuff.

Read more
Read less
  Cancel

I found these tips very helpful and used them as a checklist for how I present a guided meditation. I also think if you are guiding beginners and experienced meditators (which usually happens) at the same time, if possible invite them to check in a little early to help them with any pre-instructions and questions to put them more at ease. Thanks for sparking a conversation. Warmly, Jana

Read more
Read less
  Cancel
Anita Barbero Jul 31, 2020 12:29pm

Thank you Mo for these great tips and essential reminders. It is so important to do these self inquiries as a facilitator. I am taking note and will continue using them as a good guide. The comments from our Mindful Facilitators is extremely helpful here as well. 

Read more
Read less
  Cancel

Leave a comment