What you should consider when choosing a course.
Apps, Meditation online training, podcasts, websites, videos … – The number of digital offers for mindfulness training and meditation courses is increasing. But are they as good as an “analog” course with a real teacher? This article compares the effectiveness of digital and analogue channels for meditation on a scientific basis. We will show you what you should consider when choosing a course type.
Quality is more important than the channel
One study showed that a mindfulness-based intervention was just as effective when performed online or offline1. However, both groups received support from a coach – the online group only via the Internet. This is something that is often overlooked when comparing “online vs. offline”: The health-promoting effects do not depend on the channel (online/offline), but on the individual support2. One study found that stress management through mindfulness was significantly greater for guided than for non-guided (online) training3. Thus, it is less important whether the meditation course takes place online or face-to-face. What matters is the individual support of a teacher and good guidance through the exercises. It goes without saying that courses with a real trainer are more likely to meet this quality criterion than standardized apps.
Common problems when meditating
Typical difficulties that occur when meditating are: motivating oneself, finding time, thinking about “doing it right” or falling asleep4. More than half of the study participants have already experienced falling asleep during the mindfulness practice. This occurs especially during longer exercises or with beginners 5. Often people also have the thought of “wanting to do it right” 6. They want to reach a meditative state and have things different than they are now. But mindfulness is about an inner accepting attitude, which cannot be imitated like a fitness exercise. If these phenomena are not dealt with appropriately, frustration arises and the positive effects of meditation cannot take effect.
What’s a teacher for?
A digital program can give many general tips, but it cannot address these difficulties individually. Studies show that participants benefit from the support of a meditation teacher7. He can take personal problems into account, pass on successful strategies based on his expertise and practical experience, and adapt the exercises as needed (e.g. body scan while sitting instead of lying down or time adjustments).
The effect of the group
In one study, people participated in meditation in digital version and analogue in the group. More than half of the participants preferred the latter option. For most it was easier to meditate in a group than alone with an online program. They were less distracted and experienced the personal contact with the trainer as supportive. The group practice gave them a feeling of security, cohesion and unity. In the group, people felt responsible for each other. Even if they found it difficult to relax at the moment, they tried to join in, not to disturb the others and thus automatically became calmer. As a result, the calming environment of the community makes it much easier to engage in meditation8.
Healthy through the “Sense of Belonging”
Participation in a mindfulness group has other health-promoting effects that a digital program cannot offer. “Sense of Belonging” refers to the feeling of belonging to a group and being accepted in it. This emotion is related to well-being and is a protective factor against stress9. People who experience this sense of community have had significantly less psychological discomfort and a lower risk of burnout10. Participating in a mediation group alone can therefore do something good for your health.
It’s all about routine
The knowledge of the positive effects of mindfulness on health and well-being is a huge motivator for meditation practice11 and an occasion for many people to begin it. Therefore it makes sense to participate in digital or analogue workshops on scientific facts of mindfulness (by the way, you can read more about these scientific backgrounds of meditation here). But what good is the best meditation app if it is no longer used after initial enthusiasm? Mindfulness is like sports: the training effects depend on how often you practice. In order not to lose the health benefits from the beginning, regular meditation practice is important.
What helps to “stay tuned”?
For many people, building a meditation routine is the biggest difficulty. According to studies, the following can help: a regular, fixed appointment, contact with a teacher and support between the participants4. With regard to long-term effectiveness, in another study the analogue was superior to digital psychotherapeutic intervention. In personal contact with the coach, the participants showed more joy and better understanding of the exercises than in the digital intervention. In an analogue course, mistakes can thus be avoided more easily; the participants are more motivated to carry out the intervention consistently and can benefit health wise in the long term12.
The advantages of digital channels for meditation are clear: they offer great flexibility because information is available anywhere and anytime. But the use of digital media also poses health risks – if you want to learn more about this, we have an article on mindfulness and smart phones.
So maybe we should disconnect from the technology during the meditation practice and connect to ourselves and the other participants on a personal level.
Recommendations in short
In conclusion, we can make the following recommendations from a scientific perspective:
. The first choice for successful and long-term meditation practice is regular participation in a “real” course with a trained teacher.
. The participation in a meditation group has additional positive health effects.
. A combination with (analogue or digital) workshops on the scientific background of mindfulness is highly recommended to promote motivation and understanding.
. However, if it is to be a digital meditation course, it is important to have regular and individual support from a teacher who can guide the exercises and respond to difficulties.
Are you interested?
If you would like to follow our recommendations, please visit our regular meditation courses and workshops in Frankfurt am Main. You can participate in group courses or benefit from individual support in our private classes. You can find more information about our offers for private individuals here.
1 Compen, F., Bisseling, E., Schellekens, M., Donders, R., Carlson, L., van der Lee, M. & Speckens, A. (2018). Face-to-Face and Internet-Based Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy Compared With Treatment as Usual in Reducing Psychological Distress in Patients With Cancer: A Multicenter Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 36(23), 2413-2421. https://doi.org/10.1200/JCO.2017.76.5669
2 Spek, V., Cuijpers, P., Nyklícek, I., Riper, H., Keyzer, J. & Pop, V. (2007). Internet-based cognitive behaviour therapy for symptoms of depression and anxiety: A meta-analysis. Psychological Medicine, 37, 319–328. doi: 10.1017/S0033291706008944
3 Spijkerman, M.P.J., Pots, W.T.M. & Bohlmeijer, E.T. (2016). Effectiveness of online mindfulness-based interventions in improving mental health: A review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Clinical Psychology Review, 45, 102-114. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2016.03.009
4 Birtwell, K., Williams, K., van Marwijk, H., Armitage, C. J. & Sheffield, D. (2019). An Exploration of Formal and Informal Mindfulness Practice and Associations with Wellbeing. Mindfulness, 10(1), 89-99. doi:10.1007/s12671-018-0951-y
5 Segal, Z. V., Williams, J. M. G. & Teasdale, J. D. (2013). Mindfulness based cognitive therapy for depression (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.
6 Allen, M., Bromley, A., Kuyken, W. & Sonnenberg, S. J. (2009). Participants’ experiences of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy: Bit changed me in just about every way possible. Behavioral and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 37, 413–430.
7 Birtwell, K., Williams, K., van Marwijk, H., Armitage, C. J. & Sheffield, D. (2019). An Exploration of Formal and Informal Mindfulness Practice and Associations with Wellbeing. Mindfulness, 10(1), 89-99. doi:10.1007/s12671-018-0951-y
8 Lauricella, S. (2014). Mindfulness Meditation with Undergraduates in Face-to-Face and Digital Practice: a Formative Analysis. Mindfulness, 5, 682. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-013-0222-x
9 Van Gundy, K.T., Stracuzzi, N.F., Rebellon, C.J., Tucker, C.J. & Cohn, E.S. (2011). Perceived Community Cohesion and the Stress Process in Youth. Rural sociology, 76 (3), 293-318. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1549-0831.2011.00050.x
10 McCarthy, M. E., Pretty, G. M., & Catano, V. (1990). Psychological sense of community and student burnout. Journal of College Student Development, 31(3), 211-216.
11 Moore, K. M. & Martin, M. E. (2015). Using MBCT in a chronic pain setting: a qualitative analysis of participants’ experiences. Mindfulness, 6(5), 1129–1136. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-014-0363-6
12 Kiropoulos, L. A., Klein, B., Austin, D. W., Gilson, K., Pier, C., Mitchell, J. & Ciechomski, L. (2008). Is internet-based CBT for panic disorder and agoraphobia as effective as face-to-face CBT? Journal of anxiety disorders, 22(8), 1273-1284. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.janxdis.2008.01.008