In order to meditate safely, you need to understand the negative side effect of meditation. Dangers are real. Especially if you meditate too much. And it is important to balance the pros and cons of meditation.
Yes there are big benefits of meditation.
There’s also risks though. Many of which have not been fully uncovered until now.
Many people know about the common side effects of meditation, many of which are very minor, such as the fact that some techniques can make you cry a lot). But as science continues to examine the effects of this ancient old practice, we are uncovering some alarming potential dangers of meditating. And yes, the negative side effects of meditation are real.
Most media outlets have been entirely focused on the 100 benefits of meditation.
However, there is a flip-side, and in this article I would like to reveal some of the scientifically proven dangers of meditating. They include: headaches, seizures, anxiety , mental illness, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, weight loss, insomnia, psychosis and… hallucinations?
As a meditation teacher I’m alarmed by few people are aware of these potential side effects. That’s why I’m writing this article about the risks of the practice.
Be safe meditating: Balance the positive and negative side effects
If you want to know how to meditate safely, you need to know how much meditation is too much. And you need to know the warning signs.
Don’t get me wrong, if we compare the pros and cons of meditation it is clear that meditaiton is not bad. It is very good. However, the media has focused almost exclusively on the positive effects and ignored the negative. And that is a danger.
Yes, there are benefits of meditation. Meditation can help with depression, anxiety, stress, and other health issues. But it can also cause issues as well.
Mostly the media has ignored the health risks of meditation. Side effects are, nevertheless, very real. And it is important to be aware of both the pros and cons of meditation.
Below I will reveal the worst things about meditation. But first an important question: How much meditation is unsafe?
How Much Meditation Is Too Much?
If there are negative side effects of meditation, you might wonder: How much meditation is too much?
Research into precisely how long you should meditate for is limited. And I personally believe it is a personal thing. I myself have meditated for entire day before and not had any adverse side effects. However, that might not be the same for everybody. To practice meditation safely, I recommend you do not meditate too much to begin with. Twent minutes of meditation per day is adequate for the benefits and will minimise the risks involved. Always obsere how you are feeling. If you think you are meditating too much reduce it and find what is right for you.
Dangerous side effects of meditation
It probably sounds a bit strange for me to say that there are side effects of meditation, especially given that I am an online meditation instructor.
I love meditation. It’s my biggest passion in life. But I also respect people’s health, which is why I want to fill you in on the dangers of meditation.
TheDailyMeditation.com is a website all about health, and prevention is perhaps the most important part of health.
While we here at TheDailyMeditation most definitely do advocate meditation, it is worth being aware of the potential health risks. Your safety is our priority.
1. Can meditation cause anxiety?
You have probably heard that some techniques like mindfulness can cure anxiety.
That’s undeniably true. However, many people ask me: Can meditation cause anxiety. And ironically the answer is yes.
Research shows that some methods may in fact have an adverse affect on people with a history of anxiety and depression.
Such people may feel increased anxiety, fear, stress, panic and low moods when meditating. Research conducted by Brown University neuroscientist Dr. Willoughby Britton showed that feelings of fear and anxiety are common.
Sarah Bowen, a researcher at the University of Washington, suggests that people who have a history of depression or anxiety should only meditate under expert guidance in case stressful, painful or upsetting thoughts do arise.
Dr. Willoughby Britton, a neuroscientist at Brown University, is studying the negative effects of mindfulness.
Dr. Britton has stated that during a meditation retreat she felt “like I was having a nervous breakdown.” She later learned that intense practices can lead to symptoms severe enough to warrant a psychiatric diagnosis (1).
Neurobiologist Dr. Nancy Hayes, states that “Patients with emotional disorders may have adverse reactions to meditation.”
Neuroscientist Dr. Solomon Snyder adds that it raises the level of serotonin in the brain and this is one reason why meditation can cause anxiety. He has noted that many people with emotional disorders experience distress and panic attacks, and patients suffering from schizophrenia can experience psychosis as a direct result of meditation.
2. Does it cause seizures?
The practice is generally is known to produce mental calmness and changes in autonomic functioning (2).It can have be highly beneficial for blood pressure and heart rate, but one negative side effect of meditation: It can cause seizures.
Research into epileptics has used neuro-imaging to study the effect of practice. These studies have shown that entering a meditative state alters neuro-chemistry and neuro-physiology of the brain that can lead to epileptogenesis (3).
Epilepsy is caused by hypersynchrony of EEG activity and the rise in brain glutamate and serotonin (3).
Any one of these factors can change susceptibility to epilepsy.
Because meditation is known to lead to these changes, there is belief in the scientific world that some methods of meditation could cause seizures. Research into this is still taking place.
Neuroscientist Dr. Michael Persinger at Leurentian University of Canada conducted research into the relationship between seizures and meditation. In 1993 he studied 1,018 meditators. The results of his research shows that meditation can led to symptoms of partial epilepsy, including hearing voices, feeling vibrations and experiencing visual abnormalities. Epileptic patients suffer from auditory and visual hallucinations, with many believing that they have spiritual experiences, including speaking with God.
Persinger has subsequently conducted research into the experience of so called “spiritual events.” In his tests, Persinger had patients wear helmets through which were passed electrical signals that led to magnetically induced seizures. Four out of every five of his test subjects stated that they had experienced a spiritual event.
2. Can it cause Headaches?
We know that the practice can help to stop pain. However, meditation can also cause headaches.
There are several reasons for this.
Firstly, many practitioners struggle to focus the mind during practice. The effort to change mental state is met with mental resistance and the desire to keep things unchanged. This conflict causes mental and physical tension that can cause headaches.
Certain techniques—Third Eye Chakra Meditation , for instance—involve quite forcefully focusing your mind. So it is little surprise that headaches are a negative side effect of meditation.
For beginners, the practice of focusing the mind can be a challenge. If we are not accustomed to focusing the mind, the strain of doing so can cause discomfort and pain, leading to headaches.
Perhaps the most important factor to understand regarding meditation and headaches is the serious transformation that takes place in your brain.
The practice increases electrical activity in the brain (5). While this can have some benefits (such as increasing intelligence) it can cause pain and discomfort for beginners.
It can be quite jarring to go from a regular state to a meditative state and then back again. The sudden change in state is another cause of strain.
To avoid this, practice gentle techniques, and always finish by sitting and relaxing for a few minutes. This gives your brain time to adapt. Simple techniques like mindfulness and breath-based methods are usually the safest meditations.
4. Panic attacks
Here is another pro and con of meditation: It can both cause and cure panic attacks.
Just like it can cause anxiety, meditation can also cause panic attacks. This is especially true of techniques that seek to address emotional conflicts in the mind. These can result in heightened emotions that can cause panic attacks.
This is one of the most common negative side effects of meditation.
If you have a history of panic attacks, I strongly advise you to consult a doctor before practicing.
Zen teacher Geoffrey Dawson has stated that he has met more than twenty people who experienced “Panic attacks, depressive episodes and manic episodes” as a result of practice. (6)
5. The most shocking danger of meditation is… potential death?!
There is some evidence to show that a seriously negative side effect of meditation is, well, death.
While it is extremely unlikely that meditation will cause death, it is not completely impossible.
It is known that seizures can cause death. And meditation can cause seizures… so there is certainly the possibility of it causing death in people who are prone to seizures.
People who have a history of seizures, panic attacks or any psychological disorders must consult a doctor before beginning.
6. Hypersensitivity To Light And Sound
Are you hypersensitive to light and sound? We’ve got some bad news for you. This is one of the negative side effects of meditation.
Brown University researchers recently interviewed 100 meditators and teachers and asked them about the side effects that they had experienced. A significant portion of the interviewees stated that they have been experiencing hypersensitivity to light and sound, as well as insomnia, occasional involuntary movements, and feelings of fear, anxiety and panic. (7)
There are limits to the study though. The study did not consider where the interviewee learned to practice or the quality or length of their tuition. Part of meditating safely is getting proper instructions. And we do not know how well educated the test subjects were.
The researchers tell us that they are not trying to put people off of practicing but that it is important to know about these symptoms as being sensitive to light and sound can cause discomfort and unease. And unlike light sensitivity disorder, which is a serious condition, it is easy to stop meditating if we need to.
Jared Lindahl, visiting assistant professor at Brown’s Cogut Center for Humanities and co-author of the study spoke to TODAY. He said, “We’re not trying to scare people away from trying it. There is data that many people find tremendous benefits of these practices.” He states that it’s important to have a good idea of the pros and cons of meditating before beginning. (8)
The degree of the hypersensitivity to light and sound, and the extremity of insomnia, ranged between different people. Some people were much less sensitive to sounds and light than others. This this suggests that meditation may be bad for some and good for others.
If you have hypersensitivity to light and sound and you want to practice meditation safely, consult a doctor and consider either stopping practice or changing your technique.
I suggest moving off of any method that involves oneness (such as Dhyana). This type of technique puts your consciousness in closer contact with the focus-object. In turn, this trains the mind to focus more fully on what you’re looking at. This means that when you see bright lights you may inadvertently focus on them too full, which can cause complications.
7. Movement problems
One interesting study comes from the University of Pennsylvania and Dr. Andrew Newberg, who studied the brains of long-term meditators.
Newberg observed that blood-flow to the posterior superior parietal lobe decreased during meditation (10). This is the part of the brain involved with navigating our environment. “Patients with damaged posterior superior parietal lobes often cannot move without falling. He also states that oneness (the state in which we feel we are one with our surroundings) could have hidden negative side effects. By blocking blood-flow to the posterior superior parietal lobe, you “lose the boundary between yourself and the rest of the world.” This can lead to disorientation and to falls.
8. Mental atrophy
Another study into the negative side effects of meditation was conducted by Arthur Chappell, a former Maharaj devotee. He states that practice “Deprives the mind of stimulus” essentially leading to sensory deprivation.
Here, of course, many people will protest.
Many methods actually stimulate the mind and create awareness. When we are more aware of our surroundings we find more stimulation, not less.
This is certainly true for a great many techniques, but it depends on the specific technique.
Sitting for hours on end focusing on your breathing (as retreats do) is depriving your brain of stimulus.
When this is carried out for long periods, it can lead to sensory deprivation and even atrophy of the brain.
This is why many people who practice for long periods have complained of an inability to perform cognitive functions, like arithmetic and remembering names.
9. For gamers and movie buffs
If you want to practice meditation safely, make sure you do not go on a screen immediatey afterwards.
I personally made the mistake of meditating before playing video games. I did this years ago. And I had an event. I say “Event”. It was similar to a seizure. However, after being tested at the Hamilton General Hospital I was informed that this “event’ was in fact not a seizure. The doctors actually were unable to make a formal diagnosis.
10: Some people believe meditation hinders imagination and creativity
Some people believe that meditation hinders imagination and creativity. However, there is little evidene to support this. The argument is that because meditation is about seeing reality as it is, it prevents you from seeing reality otherwise, and this, they say, results in lack of imagination and creeativity. Howeve, this competely depends on the type of meditation you do. If you only do focused-attention meditations you will not improve your creativity. If you do open meditations (where your mind is open to the entirety of your surroundings) you will boost both your creativity and your imagination. The same is true of certain Chakra meditation techniques.
11: It Brings Up Painful Memories
When you meditate your mind relaxes more than usual. Many people who are new to meditation have never experiened such a deep level of inner stillness. Because of this calmness, you become more aware of your mind and your thoughts. And some of those thoughts are not pleasant. For instance, you may notice painful memories. And this might make you feel upset. However, although this can seem like a negative it is really an opportunity to change the way you think and feel.
For the same reason, many people say meditation makes them emotional.
Again, however, this exposure to emotions and thoughts is an opportunity to improve those things. It should be treated as an opportunity for personal growth.
How to meditate safely and avoid the negative side effects of meditation
Yes, there are health risks of meditation. There are negative side effects of meditation. Pros and cons. But you can stop them from ever happening. One of the best solutions is to simply learn how to meditate safely.
Many people, and especially in the West, start meditating without proper instruction. They see it as a quick fix, lie popping a pill.
This is a part of our society. We expect quick results. But meditation doesn’t come from the West. It comes from the East. It must be understood by its own culture. It is not a quick solution. It was never intended to be one. It requires dedication. Trying to force yourself into a meditative state when you begin practicing is only going to lead to problems.
If you want to know how to meditate safey, get proper instruction.
When you adopt a better attitude, you massively reduce any health risks of meditation.
Dr. Lorin Roche formerly stated that the problem many people face is that they misinterpret Buddhist and Hindu teachings.
He states that many techniques involve detachments and were created for monks and nuns, not for you and me.
Throughout his years as a teacher he has interviewed may people who were formerly depressed and who came to practice for a solution. Sadly, he states, “internalising teachings that detach you from the world is one way meditation can cause depression.”
The Dalai Lama himself has also warned against too casual an approach to practice.
You have probably never heard that warning before. Nor had I when I started meditating. This isn’t surprising. It’s part of our culture.
Hop on the average website and you’ll be told that X technique can make you happy and healthy. You’re less likely to read about the side effects of mindfulness and meditation.
The simple fact of the matter is that this is an uneducated approach (and often designed only to garner website hits). We need to look at both the pros and cons of meditating, instead.
The media oversimplifies the methods, and this has led to severe health problems for many people who leap into it and find that suddenly they are experiencing some sort of medical condition.
The opposite of the casual approach is the intense approach, which has dire consequences. This is when people meditate too much, or go to deep in meditation.
Many people begin practicing and sign themselves up for a retreat. Retreats involve practicing for the entire day, for up to fourteen hours. The aim is to create equanimity and enlightenment.
Such retreats are suitable for advanced practitioners only. For the uninitiated they are potential death traps. The sheer number of hours these retreats practice for is simply too much meditation for the average person. The result can range from seizures to psychosis and even to death.
Methods must be learnt properly. Only then can it be performed safely. Only then can we avoid the negative side effects of meditation and stop the health risks of meditation from happening.
By understanding the negative side effects of meditation you’ll take control of your practice, and you will actually learn to use techniques for good rather than suffering from one of the negative side effects of meditation.
So, if you want to know how to meditate safely: Go slow, limit your time, and stop if anything feels wrong.
First Hand Accounts On The Side Effects Of Meditation
One of the most interesting stories regarding the negative side effects of meditation comes from former Buddhist Monk and resident of England, Christopher Titmuss, who conducts retreats once a year.
He has stated that some of his clients experience trauma and require medical support and even the administering of strong drugs. Some have even been hospitalised. Other clients, he states, have experienced “Alienation from reality and short lived terrors.”
A similar story comes from Zen meditation teacher Geoffrey Dawson, who has met more than twenty people who have experiences states of mental distress, many of whom simply did too much meditation.
Dawson states that these people had “Panic attacks, depressive episodes and manic episodes.”
Dawson suggests that a more sensible approach is needed. “If a gradual approach to is adopted it will help prevent mental disorders.”
Weighing up the pros and cons of meditation
To reitterate, my intention here is not to downtalk the practice. I am deeply passionate about meditation and I believe it is an incredibly helpful practice. Scientific research makes it beyond obbious that there are more pros than cons of meditation.
But the health risks are nevertheless real. And it is important to learn how to meditate safely and never to do too much meditation.
Meditative practices and techniques are powerful and have the potential to do tremendous good for us, but there are some potential dangers and they should be acknowledged.
The biggest problem is the way people learn to practice. Jumping in head first without guidance and without understanding could lead to significant health problems.
Sadly, this is precisely what millions of people are doing.
The media is feeding a meditation craze and millions of people are starting to practice. Sadly, while you’ll hear “X technique can cure XY and Z” repeatedly online, you’re less likely to hear about the negative effects of meditation. This is a direct result of our culture and our lack of understanding and lack of respect.
My aim with this article is to shed some light on the negative effects of meditation, for safety reasons.
Please share this article on social media. This way we can prevent anyone from experience a dangerous side-effect of meditation.
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