unguided meditation

Guided vs Unguided Meditation: Pros, Cons, and Which Is Better?

Rachel Sharpe

When comparing guided vs unguided meditation, you might not know which is best for you depending on your stage of meditation. If you’re currently healing from a traumatic event, is it better to work solo or follow a guide? Maybe you’ve just started meditating to help you improve your focus, would a guided or unguided meditation work best? Or perhaps you’ve been meditating for years, and you finally need a bigger challenge; what’s in the cards for you? In this article, we’ll examine both the pros and cons of guided meditation vs unguided meditation to help you find the best fit for your current situation and experience level. 

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Guided Meditation Pros

1. Easy to Follow Along To

Guided meditation is easier to follow along to. When you’re first starting out and need help knowing where to guide your thoughts, a guide can show you the way. A guide will provide prompts that’ll help your thought process direct in a healthy way. For example, in  loving-kindness meditation, you’ll be asked to show compassion for yourself, a stranger, and someone who may have hurt you. Unguided, most people wouldn’t dare to show compassion for someone who has caused emotional pain. However, with a guide, that prompt helps you go beyond yourself to be kind to them too. It’s an important but difficult step. The guide will also help ease tension during difficult moments with a soothing voice or by saying a kind thought to make the moment easier. 

2. Easier to Keep Attention 

Beginners often turn to guided meditations because it’s easier to keep attention. Usually, our mind begins to wander during meditation practice after a few moments. We forget that we’re meditating. Some people’s breathing relaxes them to sleep, even. However, with a voice popping up every few moments just before the mind wanders, you refocus your attention to the meditation practice. Without a guide or just music, it’s easy to go down rabbit holes that dig deeper into depression or anxious states, disrupting our peace of mind. A guided meditation will help you focus with ease, without you needing to worry about disruptions. 

guided vs unguided meditation

3. Voices Can Help You Relax

If you’re having a panic attack or going through a stressful situation, hearing a calming voice can help ease your anxiety. Music alone can often feel cheesy or distracting. But when you hear the soothing voice of a guide, your nerves start to ease up. Feeling pent up, we often rely on others socially to calm us down. Hearing someone’s voice guide us through our thoughts can help us ease our worries. Otherwise, left unguided, we may turn to our own negative thoughts, which loudly scream. Our inner critic has never been kind to us. So, tuning in to a voice can help us relax easier. 

4. Music Can Be Distracting

When comparing guided vs unguided meditation, music is often said to be distracting for a meditation practice. Some songs sound mystical and woo-woo. Finding a meditation app with music that relaxes you without distraction is extremely hard to find. Most brands play the same type of meditation music, and it’s often not enjoyed by people. Listening to a guide without any music can sometimes become a more enlightening experience. The sound of silence can allow you to focus on your breath with a sense of inner peace and serenity. 

5. Good for Beginners

Guided meditation is typically the preferred choice for beginners. Those starting a meditation practice for the first time often want to know they’re doing it right. Knowing whether or not to scratch the itch or notice it, how to approach thoughts, and where to guide your mind all get highlighted in guided meditations. Those looking to dabble in meditation for the first time are typically at a crossroads. You may have been recommended meditation by a therapist or a friend due to a difficult situation you’ve encountered. If you’re new to meditation, having someone guide you through the process will help you reap the benefits of meditation

6. Can Provide Reflection

When looking at guided meditation vs unguided meditation, guided meditation can guide you through states of reflection. In loving-kindness meditation, you’ll notice more prompts to guide your thinking and heart in a specific direction. You’ll be able to reflect on situations that may be difficult for you. However, with a guide, you’ll be able to reflect on things with some emotional support. You won’t be left alone with your mind and stray in the wrong direction. A guide helps move you along the river of thoughts to get to your destination safely.

unguided meditation

7. Better for difficult situations

When comparing guided vs unguided meditation, guided meditations are better for difficult situations. For example, a person with PTSD likely wouldn’t enjoy being alone with their thoughts. Often, after a traumatic event, our brain replays memories, thoughts, and activities on repeat, trying to scan for new patterns to determine if there’s an exit. Then, with a guide, you’ll have prompts helping you navigate those challenging thoughts, so you don’t feel stuck in your head. Those feeling anxious can use guided meditation to relax them and ease the tension in their body. They can do body scan meditations to find the source of tension in their bodies to help eliminate it. 

8. There are plenty to choose from

You can find various guided meditations online. For example, you can listen to guided meditations on the Declutter The Mind app. You’ll find meditations for different emotions such as anger, activities such as mindful eating and mindful walking, and popular types of meditation such as mindfulness meditation.

9. They tend to be short and sweet

The key difference between guided vs unguided meditations tends to be the length of time. A guided meditation is typically less than an hour. You’ll find meditations as short as five minutes up to 10 minutes, then 20, 30, and then an hour long. However, unguided meditations can be much longer, sometimes even lasting days. If you’re looking to fit meditation into your morning routine, a quick ten-minute meditation can be all you need to start your day off right. Or, if you need help to fall asleep faster, a short sleep meditation can help you doze off quickly.

guided meditation

10. Easier to stick to

Guided meditations are easier to stick to because of how short they are, how easy they are to follow, and how accessible they are for beginners. Sitting alone with your thoughts unguided can be a challenge for people. Some people may experience an aversion to unguided meditations because their thoughts wander too much. However, with a guide, you can calm the mind to help you manage ruminating thoughts. You’ll be more likely to stick to something when you see that it works for you and helps you manage your thoughts better. 

Guided Meditation Cons

1. Listening to only one gets boring

A guided meditation con is that if you listen to the same one every day, you’ll likely eventually get bored of it. Mixing up your guided meditations will help keep your meditation practice fresh. You can find a new daily meditation on the Declutter The Mind app to help you experience meditation from a new lens every day. 

2. Can take time to find the right voice

Finding a soothing and relaxing voice can be a challenge. Often, meditation apps have too many voices making it even harder to find the one that helps you the most. Some guides try too hard to sound meditative that it distracts you. Others enunciate words in a way that shifts your focus. Sometimes people speak too loudly suddenly and you get startled in the middle of practice. Finding the right person to ease your anxiety, increase your compassion, and help you focus is no easy feat. So you’ll likely want to test multiple guides before picking one to stick to. 

3. Voice cues may not sync with your breathing

When comparing guided vs unguided meditation, an unguided meditation is done at your own pace with your own breathing. Sometimes, the voice cues don’t line up with the your breathing rate. Novice meditators are more likely to breathe deeply, whereas more experienced meditators use shallow breathing. Ultimately, finding a guide whose cues align with your breathing pattern is helpful. 

mindfulness meditation

Unguided Meditation Pros

1. Allows you to deepen your practice

The deepest meditation practice you can have is an unguided one. Often, people will attend meditation retreats for a weekend or sometimes as long as a week. During this time, you’re left alone with your thoughts, unguided. This is one of the most difficult types of meditation. It challenges you to deepen your practice. Often people will have a moment of clarity or epiphany during this practice. However, they’re unable to write about it or talk about the experience. Thus, making it even more difficult. Yet, an unguided meditation pro is that you’ll likely enjoy the ecstasy of finding your epiphany. 

2. You can take as much time as you need

When comparing guided vs unguided meditation, unguided meditations have no time caps. You can use a timer to help prompt you to keep your attention if you lose it. Or you can meditate for as long as you feel the need to. You might naturally know when it’s time to end your meditation practice and do so accordingly. Following someone else’s timeline might not be the best fit for your current situation, making an unguided meditation a good fit for you. 

3. You steer the direction

Experienced meditators know how to guide their thoughts. They have a deep understanding that you are not your thoughts. They don’t become attached to their thinking. Thus, having control in the direction of their meditation practice allows them to reap the scientific benefits of meditation

meditation practice

Unguided Meditation Cons

1. You might fall asleep to music

An unguided meditation that uses music or only silence may cause you to fall asleep. When a person is practicing breathing meditation their body naturally relaxes. Without a guide snapping their attention or even a beep alerting them to refocus, they may calm themselves to sleep. Often, people who meditate lying down will fall asleep during their practice. The combination of breathing and lying down makes you more susceptible to falling asleep. If your goal is to help you fall asleep at night, this may be helpful. However, if the goal is to calm the mind and focus, it may not be what you need. 

2. You might take longer to snap to awareness

When your thoughts begin to wander, as they naturally do, you may take longer to come back to the present moment. It’s easy to get lost in your thoughts when meditating unguided. When comparing guided vs unguided meditation, those who find it difficult to manage their thoughts and control their emotions may have a harder time with unguided meditations. Ultimately, having the self-control to bring your awareness to the present moment will be critical when practicing unguided meditation. 

3. Weak feedback loop

A guide can offer feedback to you quite easily. Being able to talk to a meditation teacher after class, ask a question on a meditation video, or use a guide’s prompts as a source of feedback can all be helpful when following a guided meditation. When you’re unguided, it’s more challenging for someone to tell you, “hey, your mind is wandering, come back to the present,” or “if you feel an itch, it’s okay to scratch it.” Getting feedback, particularly as a beginner, can help set you up to enjoy meditation down the road. 

guided meditation vs unguided meditation

Guided vs Unguided Meditation: Which is Better for You?

When comparing guided vs unguided meditation, the best practice will vary depending on your situation. A beginner, therapy patient, or someone who struggles with mental health may prefer guided meditations to prompt them, help them focus, and ease their anxiety. An experienced, long-time meditator may prefer unguided meditations, silent retreats, and other challenges to deepen their meditation practice. If you’re interested in trying both guided and unguided meditations, you can check out the Declutter The Mind app

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