“Side effects” of meditation can last decades

The practice of meditation is becoming increasingly popular in the West. Many use it to cope with daily stress, to relax and “calm your nerves”. At the same time, some doctors and psychologists recommend meditation to people suffering from anxiety, low mood and other symptoms of depression. Presumably, meditation by itself or in combination with psycho – or pharmacotherapy — may help to cope with depression, post-traumatic stress disorders and other such problems. It is considered that meditation is safer than the pill, because it does not cause side effects, addiction and dependence. However, according to new research, all is not so rosy.

The authors, the results of which were published in PLOS ONE, decided to focus on the negative consequences of meditation, because positive has been repeatedly described both in popular and scientific literature. Interestingly, in religious literature, in particular, in the records of Tibetan Buddhists and followers of Zen Buddhism, mention of the painful and unpleasant effects of meditation are quite common, for them, there are even special terms. Representatives of the Tibetan branch call such effects nyams, and Zen Buddhists — makyō.

“Many of the effects of meditation are well known. Some practitioners are beginning to pay attention to your thoughts and emotions, feeling calmer and in General improve their quality of life, says the study’s lead author Jared Lindahl (Lindahl Jared) from the Center for the Humanities Kogut (Cogut Center for the Humanities) brown University (Brown University). But the range of possible effects of meditation are much wider. Exactly how the practice will affect a particular person depends on a number of personal and interpersonal characteristics, as well as from the factors of environment”.

In the study, researchers interviewed approximately 100 people. Among the respondents were those who simply practised meditation, and teachers of this practice. In the work took part the representatives of the three main branches of Buddhism: Tibetan, Theravada and Zen Buddhism.

Researchers interviewed all the volunteers who coded the answers and processed using qualitative analysis methods. This work also used the criteria of causality used by the world health organization (who) and the Directorate for sanitary inspection behind quality of foodstuff and medicines (Food and Drug Administration, FDA).

All the volunteers said that repeatedly faced with the unintended consequences of meditation, for example, hypersensitivity to light or sound, sleep disturbance, emergence of involuntary movements, a growing sense of anxiety, fear or panic or loss of emotions. The duration of these adverse effects varies from several days to months and decades. With “side effects” of meditation 29% of respondents faced in the first year of practice and over 10 years of employment proportion of survivors of certain unwanted effects of meditation increased to 45%.

In the interview mentioned the situation when a feeling resulting from meditation have been desirable, but too much or prolonged, which ultimately led to the emergence of a sense of helplessness or confusion. And the results of the meditations conducted during the retreats, could degrade the performance after the retreat and return to normal life. “The experience as a positive and desirable in one situation can become a burden in another,” explains Lindahl.

The scientists noted that the same practice in different people can lead to completely different results. Apparently, what will be the effect of meditation is influenced by many factors — personal, interpersonal and external. The specific causes undesirable consequences to the authors of the new install failed. However, the researchers expressed hope that if in the future it will be done, there will be the opportunity to change approaches to the teaching of meditation so that to reduce the incidence of “side effects” and alleviate the condition of those who had to deal with them.