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Study: Mindfulness Meditation Techniques Have a Down Side

meditationResearchers say that as many as 60 percent of people who employ eastern style meditation techniques such as Mindfulness Meditation suffer at least one negative side-effect, including panic, depression and confusion.

The Daily Mail is reporting on the study which was conducted by researchers in both the U.S. and the UK and found a large percentage of people suffering sometimes serious side effects from the techniques which call for inducing altered states of consciousness. This altered state is achieved through a variety of methods such as mind-blanking, focusing on breathing or on the present moment.

Considered trendy, most media coverage of these practices tends to be positive, but researchers say the shortage of studies on the negative effects of these practices is nothing short of scandalous.

For example, the new study found that one in 14 people who practiced these methods suffered “profoundly adverse effects” that include mania, hallucinations and psychosis – all of which are known side effects of deliberately altered mental states.

“The assumption of the majority of both TM [transcendental meditation] and mindfulness researchers is that meditation can only do one good,” said, Dr. Miquel Farias, head of the brain, belief and behavior research group at Coventry University.

“This shows a rather narrow-minded view. How can a technique that allows you to look within and change your perception or reality of yourself be without potential adverse effects? The answer is that it can’t, and all meditation studies should assess not only positive but negative effects.”

Catherine Wikholm, a researcher in clinical psychology at the University of Surrey who also participated in the study, added: “It is hard to have a balanced view when the media is full of articles attesting to the benefits of meditation and mindfulness. We need to be aware that reports of benefits are often inflated ... whereas studies that do not discover significant benefits rarely pick up media interest, and negative effects are seldom talked about.”

The British study measured the effect of yoga and meditation on prisoners, and its findings were published yesterday in the psychologists’ book, The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You?

The Mail reports that the study involved inmates at seven prisons in the British Midlands who took 90-minute classes once a week and completed tests to measure their higher cognitive functions in a ten week randomized control trial. “The prisoners’ moods improved, and their stress and psychological distress reduced - but they were found to be just as aggressive before the mindfulness techniques.”

Researchers have long been aware of serious side effects associated with practices that are designed to induce an altered state of consciousness, which occurs when there is a temporary change in one’s normal mental state. This can happen as a result of high fevers, drugs, coma, sleep or oxygen deprivation or eastern meditation practices which call for the deliberate blanking of the mind through some kind of concentration exercise either by focusing on a mantra or breathing. These practices include transcendental meditation, yoga, mindfulness meditation, centering prayer, hypnosis, and other similar techniques. Typical side effects range from psychotic-like delusional thinking and panic attacks to insomnia and outright personality changes. Antisocial acting out, loss of concentration, confusion, impaired coping skills, and depression can all occur in the wake of an induced altered state.

It’s important to note that eastern meditation techniques are far different from Christian meditation techniques which are prayerful and focus on achieving dialogue with God. Rather than being associated with prayer, eastern practices are mental exercises designed to help one connect with their “inner divinity” and/or achieve enlightenment.