Is meditation always good or you?
When is meditation not calming?
Everyone knows that meditation is always good for you, right?
Negative effects from meditation are not all that uncommon. In a 1992 study, Dean Shapiro, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and human behaviour at UCLA, Irvine, followed 27 people who attended a two-week meditation retreat. During meditation, 17 (62%) reported at least one adverse effect: fear, anxiety, confusion, depression or self-doubt.
Several other studies have shown similar findings, and in most it was the experienced meditators, not the beginners, who reported the most problems.
How could something that is supposed to minimize negative emotions cause them? Meditation experts point to several explanations.
First, some people have felt so stressed for so long that they are unfamiliar with deep relaxation and therefore feel threatened by it.
Second, meditators are taught to accept non-judgementally whatever thoughts come into their minds. But sometimes extremely upsetting thoughts well up, and meditators are unable to remain non-judgemental. This is more disturbing for them than for those who are not as “tuned in”.
Third, meditation helps propel personal growth and deepen insight. But sometimes growth can be a painful thing.
And finally, some people are temperamentally unsuited to meditation – they might not be able to sit still – and trying to do something that they are incapable of causes problems.
According to Patricia Carrington, Ph.D., a meditation researcher and author of Freedom in meditation, meditators are most likely to experience the downside of this relaxation technique during the first ten minutes of a meditation session, when they are unwinding into a state of deep relaxation. The unwinding process is not always smooth, she notes. Sometimes jarring thoughts or feelings pop up.
But occasional “side effects” of meditation are no reason to stop doing it, Dr. Carrington says. If you begin to feel that the negative effects from meditation outweigh the benefits for you, switch to another stress management activity, such as walking, tai chi or yoga. And then try meditation when you are generally more relaxed!
Margo Bastos is passionate about holistic healing and natural stress-free living. Her abiding interest, continuing personal research and every-day philosophy is in alternative mind, body and spiritual modalities.
She has a real estate business in South Africa and her formal qualifications include a MA in Jewish Studies from the University of Cape Town.
Together with Alan Mounter, a practising holistic therapist, she has a website dealing with natural remedies for managing the negative effects of stress. Visit at diy-stress-relief.com