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3 Hidden Dangers of Meditation You Should Know

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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.

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

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David K. William

David is a publisher and entrepreneur who tries to help professionals grow their business and careers, and gives advice for entrepreneurs.

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Last Updated on January 27, 2022

5 Reasons Why Food is the Best Way to Understand a Culture

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5 Reasons Why Food is the Best Way to Understand a Culture

Food plays an integral role in our lives and rightfully so: the food we eat is intricately intertwined with our culture. You can learn a lot about a particular culture by exploring their food. In fact, it may be difficult to fully define a culture without a nod to their cuisine.

“Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are.” – Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1825).

Don’t believe me? Here’s why food is the best way to understand a culture:

Food is a universal necessity.

It doesn’t matter where in the world you’re from – you have to eat. And your societal culture most likely evolved from that very need, the need to eat. Once they ventured beyond hunting and gathering, many early civilizations organized themselves in ways that facilitated food distribution and production. That also meant that the animals, land and resources you were near dictated not only what you’d consume, but how you’d prepare and cook it. The establishment of the spice trade and the merchant silk road are two example of the great lengths many took to obtain desirable ingredients.

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Food preservation techniques are unique to climates and lifestyle.

Ever wonder why the process to preserve meat is so different around the world? It has to do with local resources, needs, and climates. In Morocco, Khlea is a dish composed of dried beef preserved in spices and then packed in animal fat. When preserved correctly, it’s still good for two years when stored at room temperature. That makes a lot of sense in Morocco, where the country historically has had a strong nomadic population, desert landscape, and extremely warm, dry temperatures.

Staples of a local cuisines illustrate historical eating patterns.

Some societies have cuisines that are entirely based on meat, and others are almost entirely plant-based. Some have seasonal variety and their cuisines change accordingly during different parts of the year. India’s cuisine is extremely varied from region to region, with meat and wheat heavy dishes in the far north, to spectacular fish delicacies in the east, to rice-based vegetarian diets in the south, and many more variations in between.

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The western part of India is home to a group of strict vegetarians: they not only avoid flesh and eggs, but even certain strong aromatics like garlic, or root vegetables like carrots and potatoes. Dishes like Papri Chat, featuring vegetable based chutneys mixed with yoghurt, herbs and spices are popular.

Components of popular dishes can reveal cultural secrets.

This is probably the most intriguing part of studying a specific cuisine. Certain regions of the world have certain ingredients easily available to them. Most people know that common foods such as corn, tomatoes, chili peppers, and chocolate are native to the Americas, or “New World”. Many of today’s chefs consider themselves to be extremely modern when fusing cuisines, but cultural lines blended long ago when it comes to purity of ingredients.

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Black pepper originated in Asia but became, and still remains, a critical part of European cuisine. The Belgians are some of the finest chocolatiers, despite it not being native to the old world. And perhaps one of the most interesting result from the blending of two cuisines is Chicken Tikka Masala; it resembles an Indian Mughali dish, but was actually invented by the British!

Food tourism – it’s a whole new way to travel.

Some people have taken the intergation of food and culture to a new level. No trip they take is complete with out a well-researched meal plan, that dictates not only the time of year for their visit, but also how they will experience a new culture.

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So, a food tourist won’t just focus on having a pint at Oktoberfest, but will be interested in learning the German beer making process, and possibly how they can make their own fresh brew. Food tourists visit many of the popular mainstays for traditional tourism, like New York City, San Francisco, London, or Paris, but many locations that they frequent, such as Armenia or Laos, may be off the beaten path for most travelers. And since their interest in food is more than meal deep, they have the chance to learn local preparation techniques that can shed insight into a whole other aspect of a particular region’s culture.

Featured photo credit: Young Shih via unsplash.com

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