Some types of meditation may prompt fear or anxiety
By Donna Lu
A quarter of regular meditators have experienced negative mental states as a result of meditation, including anxiety and fear.
Marco Schlosser at University College London and colleagues surveyed 1232 people who had meditated at least once a week for at least two months.
The volunteers were asked if they had ever felt any “particularly unpleasant experiences”, including anxiety, fear or disturbed emotions, that they attributed to their meditation practice. Just over 25 per cent reported that they had.
They were not asked about the severity of their experiences or whether they occurred specifically during a meditation session.
People who had previously attended a meditation retreat and those who had higher levels of repetitive negative thinking were more likely to report unpleasant meditation-associated experiences, while women and religious respondents were less likely.
The participants were also asked about the types of meditation they practised. The survey found that those who only engaged in deconstructive types of meditation, such as Vipassanā and Zen Buddhist meditation, were more likely to report negative metal states than those who only practised other types, such as mindfulness.
Deconstructive meditation involves contemplating the nature of conscious experience and emotional patterns.
The team did not study the triggers for these unpleasant experiences, but Schlosser says a possible explanation may be that deconstructive meditation practices encourage meditators to reflect on the impermanent nature of thoughts and feelings.
“If one notices this impermanence, one might have a sense of or get a fear of annihilation,” says Schlosser.
“We should ask when and whether these unpleasant meditation-related experiences can be an important aspect of meditative training that can result in a positive transformation, [or if] these meditation experiences are non-essential and can lead to unnecessary suffering,” he says.
Journal reference: PLoS One, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0216643
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