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3 Hidden Dangers of Meditation You Should Know

3 Hidden Dangers of Meditation You Should Know

Mindfulness meditation (the practice of sitting still, focusing on your breath, noticing when your attention is drifting and bringing it back to your breath) is all the great rage at the moment—and for good reason too. There are some pretty amazing benefits of meditation that science agrees can work to everyone’s benefit. An Oxford University study, for instance, has found that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) courses can reduce relapses into depression by 44%. In other words, mindfulness meditation is as effective as taking antidepressants, say the researchers.

However, like most things in life, there are potential dangers associated with meditation you may not know about. Without attempting to be alarming, psychiatrists are now increasingly sounding a warning that mindfulness meditation can have troubling side-effects that are intimately connected with the benefits. Keep in mind that the following concerns about meditation and its hidden dangers come not from critics of mindfulness but from supporters.

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1. It can bring feelings of ennui, emptiness and even fear.

Dr Florian Ruths, consultant psychiatrist at the Maudsley hospital in south London, has conducted a number of investigations into adverse reactions to MBCT and uncovered some troubling news. She has reported rare cases of “depersonalization” where some meditators feel like they are watching themselves in a film. For some people this “depersonalization” can whip up some difficult emotions that can include feelings of ennui and emptiness, disconnection and even fear, says Ruths.

This potential side-effect or danger of meditation is important to know beforehand because if you’re diagnosed with a mental illness like depression and anxiety in many western countries, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is something you’re likely to be offered as a treatment.

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2. It can bring changes in your sense of self, and cause impairment in social relationships.

This particular concern about meditation follows the “dark night” project at Brown University in the US, which has catalogued how some Buddhist meditators have been assailed by traumatic memories. Professor Willoughby Britton, lead researcher and psychiatrist in the project, has recorded surprising problems among some of the Buddhist meditators that include: “cognitive, perceptual and sensory aberrations,” impairment in social relationships and changes in their sense of self.

One Buddhist monk, Shinzen Young, has described the “dark night” phenomenon as an “irreversible insight into emptiness” and “enlightenment’s evil twin.” Another man who felt he’d been harmed by meditation described going through “psychological hell” as a result of his practice, while yet another man worried he was “permanently ruined.”

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Mindfulness experts, however, say such extreme adverse reactions are rare and only likely to occur after prolonged periods of meditation, such as weeks on a silent retreat. Nonetheless, this information opens up a new angle to think about meditation amid the avalanche of hype.

3. It can be disempowering and keep you passive, contained and compliant.

In the mainstream arena, mindfulness meditation is merely a tool or way for calming and focusing oneself. But, mindfulness meditation in its original Buddhist tradition is more about gaining insight into the human condition, reducing stress and suffering in our own hearts and minds, and also in the world of which we are a part. It certainly has calming benefits in situations where we cannot do much to change things and it’s necessary to calm down and de-stress. However, there are times when we should be angry, distressed and determined to change things.

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The single-minded enthusiasm in which meditation is now being deployed in schools, hospitals and even offices of companies like Google to paper over the cracks in situations where oppression, inequality, discrimination and other difficulties face us is concerning. This kind of deployment is tantamount to using repressive psychopharmacology to restrain people, or an injunction to ‘stop thinking about it,’ which is quite disempowering. It is an effective way to keep you isolated, passive and compliant.

The way to address these and other hidden dangers of meditation is to view it as part of a repertoire of techniques for living. Many times meditation is helpful, but it can also have troubling side effects. As Britton cautions, meditation is not all calm and peace. It opens up a space for you to see what’s going on in your mind. Psychological material (old resentments, wounds, trauma etc.) can surface that require additional support or even therapy.

Featured photo credit: Luis Alvarez/Vetta via gettyimages.com

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David K. William

David is a publisher and entrepreneur. He is also the founding editor of Web Writer Spotlight.

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Last Updated on September 20, 2018

How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

Being in a hurry all the time drains your energy. Your work and routine life make you feel overwhelmed. Getting caught up in things beyond your control stresses you out…

If you’d like to stay calm and cool in stressful situations, put the following 8 steps into practice:

1. Breathe

The next time you’re faced with a stressful situation that makes you want to hurry, stop what you’re doing for one minute and perform the following steps:

  • Take five deep breaths in and out (your belly should come forward with each inhale).
  • Imagine all that stress leaving your body with each exhale.
  • Smile. Fake it if you have to. It’s pretty hard to stay grumpy with a goofy grin on your face.

Feel free to repeat the above steps every few hours at work or home if you need to.

2. Loosen up

After your breathing session, perform a quick body scan to identify any areas that are tight or tense. Clenched jaw? Rounded shoulders? Anything else that isn’t at ease?

Gently touch or massage any of your body parts that are under tension to encourage total relaxation. It might help to imagine you’re in a place that calms you: a beach, hot tub, or nature trail, for example.

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3. Chew slowly

Slow down at the dinner table if you want to learn to be patient and lose weight. Shoveling your food down as fast as you can is a surefire way to eat more than you need to (and find yourself with a bellyache).

Be a mindful eater who pays attention to the taste, texture, and aroma of every dish. Chew slowly while you try to guess all of the ingredients that were used to prepare your dish.

Chewing slowly will also reduce those dreadful late-night cravings that sneak up on you after work.

4. Let go

Cliche as it sounds, it’s very effective.

The thing that seems like the end of the world right now?

It’s not. Promise.

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Stressing and worrying about the situation you’re in won’t do any good because you’re already in it, so just let it go.

Letting go isn’t easy, so here’s a guide to help you:

21 Things To Do When You Find It Hard To Let Go

5. Enjoy the journey

Focusing on the end result can quickly become exhausting. Chasing a bold, audacious goal that’s going to require a lot of time and patience? Split it into several mini-goals so you’ll have several causes for celebration.

Stop focusing on the negative thoughts. Giving yourself consistent positive feedback will help you grow patience, stay encouraged, and find more joy in the process of achieving your goals.

6. Look at the big picture

The next time you find your stress level skyrocketing, take a deep breath, and ask yourself:

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Will this matter to me…

  • Next week?
  • Next month?
  • Next year?
  • In 10 years?

Hint: No, it won’t.

I bet most of the stuff that stresses you wouldn’t matter the next week, maybe not even the next day.

Stop agonizing over things you can’t control because you’re only hurting yourself.

7. Stop demanding perfection of yourself

You’re not perfect and that’s okay. Show me a person who claims to be perfect and I’ll show you a dirty liar.

Demanding perfection of yourself (or anybody else) will only stress you out because it just isn’t possible.

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8. Practice patience every day

Below are a few easy ways you can practice patience every day, increasing your ability to remain calm and cool in times of stress:

  • The next time you go to the grocery store, get in the longest line.
  • Instead of going through the drive-thru at your bank, go inside.
  • Take a long walk through a secluded park or trail.

Final thoughts

Staying calm in stressful situations is possible, all you need is some daily practice.

Taking deep breaths and eat mindfully are some simple ways to train your brain to be more patient. But changing the way you think of a situation and staying positive are most important in keeping cool whenever you feel overwhelmed and stressful.

Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

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