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Meditation helps us deal with unexpected worries, hallucinations, poor concentration, and memory issues. It can also free our minds and give a fresh perspective on things. Meditation is a way of achieving better self-awareness, soothing our body, and overcoming physical and emotional pain. Today, meditation is used for treating different disorders, such as depression, drug addiction, and alcohol abuse. By meditating a bit, you can organise your thoughts and not buy an essay but write it yourself perfectly.
Doesn’t meditation have its side effects too?
Monks and ascetics who have been practising meditation for thousands of years have identified some of its negative effects. Unfortunately, they are still poorly understood in the West due to lack of interest from the scientific community. This article is based on a new study by Brown University, whose purpose was to identify side effects and unusual experiences commonly faced by meditation masters and Western enthusiasts.
In the Buddhist tradition, the presence of side effects during meditation is expected and even documented. According to the authors of the study, practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism (otherwise known as niyama), which relies heavily on self-concentration, can experience different kinds of emotional and physiological effects, ranging from euphoria to physical pain.
In Zen Buddhism, there is a makyō phenomenon which is used to denote perceptive disorders resulting from meditative practices. Depending on the approach, it can also be called Zen Sickness or meditation sickness.
In fact, there’s nothing new here. However, those who follow a spiritual path can perceive those difficulties as challenges they need to overcome in order to advance further on their journey. These aspects can have different relevance in a Western secular culture where meditation is considered a therapeutic practice. At least, that is an opinion which led researchers to investigate the nature of the side effects experienced by Western meditation practitioners.
Here, we aren’t talking about serious disorders, such as psychoses, convulsions, and various psychiatric problems related to meditation. Despite being quite rare, they are more or less known and studied. Usually, there are underlying issues which are brought to light by meditation and which might probably emerge on their own, sooner or later.
Meditation masters are aware of the root cause of the problem and ways of dealing with it. They recommend supplementing daily meditation with psychotherapy and screening practitioners for possible psychiatric vulnerabilities.
Less known, at least according to American researchers, are the problems of minor importance. Defined as challenging meditation experiences, they frequently go unreported due to being considered irrelevant. To understand the issue better, scientists contacted 60 Western meditation practitioners from the Zen and Tibetan Buddhist tradition (Theravada). After conducting a series of interviews, they came up with a list of challenging, unwanted, or unexpected experiences caused by meditation.
It’s worth noting that the study only involved people who had faced side effects. The idea behind was not to identify their frequency but only to examine the most common types of negative experiences.
The researchers identified 59 experiences and put them into seven main categories:
- Affective (mood)
- Conative (motivation)
- Sense of self
Poor concentration, memory problems, hypersensitivity to light, euphoria, depression, sleep issues, hallucinations – all those phenomena can be experienced by meditation practitioners without any serious impact on their health.
According to neuroscientists, meditation, if practised properly, can lead to the re-organisation of the brain networks, thus making them more capable of functioning adaptively. It can also help its practitioners achieve better emotional resilience and cognitive flexibility. However, during this process, one goes through a phase of brain network instability, which can partly explain the symptoms the study refers to.
It will take further research to identify more meditation-related problems, single out individuals from the risk group, and provide meditation masters with a list of the symptoms they need to be aware of.
Meditation effects analysed by different studies can hardly emerge during targeted meditation programmes, such as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. However, the already available data on the nature of meditation side effects and their frequency can provide us with a number of important clues. By knowing more about them, we can prevent any unpleasant experiences, manage them better, and gain profound insights into the genesis and nature of psychopathologies.
Peter Wallace has been an advocate for mental health awareness for years. He holds a master’s degree in counselling from the University of Edinburgh.