Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Meditation is not a cure-all and may even be harmful

Meditation is one of those trending ideas whose time has seemingly come. It is often touted as a cure-all for pretty much everything, from sleeplessness to Parkinson's to heart attacks. At the very least, it is peddled as a what-do-you-have-to-lose solution, an it-can't-do-any-harm option.
Well, apparently meditation can indeed be harmful. Apparently, there is such a thing as "meditation anxiety" and even "meditation paranoia". Some people who are not completely well-adjusted mentally - i.e. the kinds of people who typically seek out meditation as a solution to their own mental issues - can even experience suicidal ideation after meditation, and more than one person has committed suicide as a specific result of a meditation course.
Many more people, who go into meditation and mindfulness courses expecting the moon and who don't experience nirvana on Week 4, blame themselves for their lack of success, leading to more feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. The truth is, it is not for everyone, and even those for whom it may be beneficial need to be careful to choose the right kind of course for themselves (yes, there are different types of meditation). There are also, of course, good teachers and bad teachers out there.
A study by Brown's University last year showed that meditators often experience - in addition to any positive effects - feelings of fear, anxiety, panic and paranoia, and meditation teachers admit that this is a common response and only to be expected. An older study concluded that almost two-thirds of meditation students experienced negative side-effects, including anxiety, confusion and disorientation.
This is not something you get told when you sign up for a course at your local community centre or gym, and meditation teachers are typically not trained health-care workers, and are not able either to spot or to deal with any mental issues that might occur. This is especially important given that the kind of people who are drawn to experimenting with meditation and mindfulness techniques are often already experiencing some mental challenges.
I suppose we should have more sense than to expect ANYTHING to be a cure-all, but it does seem like meditation maybe needs more of a health warning than most people think.

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