Can Meditation Be Bad For You?

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Can Meditation Be Bad For You?

Post by tom » 19 Jul 2008

During my BK years I observed some old and new ones in Gyan badly affected from meditation. Many of them become depressed, put on weight, lost weight, had sleeping disorders, lost joy of life and - if they have not left - they became ill-conditioned.

This situation is interpreted by most Seniors as "not enough Yoga" or "karma". We were cautioned by some Seniors not to encourage newcomers with heavy depression or mental disorders to take the course or to conduct longer meditation. But I have seen in some centers teachers without any former education trying to cure such patients with Gyan and Raja Yoga! How many tragedies happened in Yagya, nobody knows. BKWSU teachers are well trained how to cover up their failures.

The following article, which was mentioned once in this forum- i could not find the original poster to give a link-written by Mary Garden based on her own experiences and researches,published in The HUMANIST is worth to be read again. (The bold emphasize is mine.)
Can Meditation Be Bad for You?
by Mary Garden
Published in the Humanist, September/October 2007

Back in 1979, when I was living in Pune, India, as a starry-eyed devotee of the infamous guru Bhagwan Rajneesh, something happened that has disturbed me to this day. A man who had just come down from Kathmandu after completing a thirty-day Tibetan Buddhist meditation course killed himself. I had met him the night before, and we'd had coffee together. I don't remember what we spoke about, but he was friendly and did not appear distressed. But the next day he climbed to the top of the multi-storied Blue Diamond Hotel and leapt off.

The Bhagwan, at his first lecture after the man's suicide, tried to reassure us by saying the man had already reincarnated as a more enlightened soul. But I was quite upset and remember thinking how strange it was that someone should kill himself after a meditation course. is not meditation something you do to get--at the very least--peace of mind? I wondered whether he might have had a mental illness and perhaps shouldn't have taken the course in the first place. Even if he had, shouldn't the meditation have helped? It did not occur to me that the meditation itself might have caused a mental imbalance that tipped him over the edge--that meditation could be dangerous for some people. Has such a notion ever appeared in the mainstream media, let alone the myriad New Age magazines?

Since the 1970s, meditation has become increasingly popular in the West and is promoted as a way to reduce stress, bring about relaxation, and even manage depression. It's now being used in classrooms, prisons, and hospitals. Here in Australia, meditation groups and teachers have popped up like mushrooms: hundreds head off to the free (donation only) ten-day Vipassana courses, or sit and meditate with groups such as the Brahma Kumaris or Sahaja Yoga. There is a general assumption and belief that meditation is a secular technique and is good for everyone.

The most common types of meditation taught include sitting still and concentrating on the breath, silently repeating a sound (mantra) or visualizing an image. What is often overlooked is that these Eastern meditation techniques were never meant to be methods to reduce stress and bring about relaxation. They are essentially spiritual tools, designed to apparently "cleanse" the mind of impurities and disturbances so as to attain so-called enlightenment--a concept as nebulous as God.

In the Hindu scripture The Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says to Arjuna:

"Sitting and concentrating the mind on a single object, controlling the thoughts and the activities of the senses, let the yogi practice meditation for self-purification . . . by always keeping the mind fixed on the Self, the yogi whose mind is subdued attains peace of the Supreme nirvana by uniting with Me."

And Sri Lankan-born K. Sri Dhammananda, who before his death in 2006 was the foremost Theravada Buddhist monk in Malaysia and Singapore, wrote: "No one can attain Nibbana [nirvana] or salvation without developing the mind through meditation. Meditation is a gentle way of conquering the defilements which pollute the mind."

What is interesting is that Buddhist and Hindu teachers, even the Dalai Lama, have occasionally pointed out the potential hazards of meditation. Dhammananda warned:

The practice of meditation has been abused by people. They want immediate and quick results, just as they expect quick returns for everything they do in daily life . . . the mind must be brought under control in slow degrees and one should not try to reach for the higher states without proper training. We have heard of over-enthusiastic young men and women literally going out of their minds because they adopted the wrong attitudes towards meditation.


Dr. Lorin Roche, a meditation teacher, says a major problem arises from the way meditators interpret Buddhist and Hindu teachings. He points out that meditation techniques that encourage detachment from the world were intended only for monks and nuns. He has spent thirty years doing interviews with people who meditate regularly and says many were depressed. He says they have tried to detach themselves from their desires, their loves, and their passion. "Depression is a natural result of loss, and if you internalize teachings that poison you against the world, then of course you will become depressed."

The Dalai Lama has said that Eastern forms of meditation have to be handled carefully: "Westerners who proceed too quickly to deep meditation should learn more about Eastern traditions and get better training than they usually do. Otherwise, certain physical or mental difficulties appear."

I don't remember any such warnings when I began meditating, and probably wouldn't have taken much notice if there were. Along with fellow seekers, I regarded any negative experiences as healing or just clearing out bad karma.

I meditated a lot in the 1970s and thought I was superior to those who did not. Thankfully I did not have a breakdown (though sometimes I was surely "out of my mind"). I had all sorts of bizarre and strange experiences and in the early days often felt bliss and ecstasy. There were a few occasions where I felt as though I was "one with the universe", and I once began hallucinating that the trees outside were vibrating with white light, convinced I could hear the sacred Om sound booming through the Himalayan night.

In addition to Hindu meditations--which involved mumbling mantras of various kinds (I even spent time with the Hare Krishnas in Vrindaban where I used a 108-beaded mala to chant "Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare ." throughout the day)--I also attended five ten-day Buddhist Vipassana retreats. The teacher was S. N. Goenka. His organization now leads retreats worldwide and they are by far the most popular meditation courses offered. They involve sitting for up to fourteen hours a day, watching the breath and sensations in the body and trying to become detached. The aim (apart from enlightenment) is equanimity. Blissful feelings have to be disregarded, along with feelings of physical discomfort--even excruciating agony--that may arise from prolonged sitting. Meditators are not allowed to talk, write, or read. There is no evening meal, just a cup of herbal tea.

When I finally gave up on seeking enlightenment in the late 1970s and returned to worldly life, I also gave up meditating--except for the occasional sitting still for a few minutes here and there, watching my breath in the Vipassana way. However, over the years I would beat myself up about my laziness: "You should meditate," my inner critic would harp. "Every day, for at least half an hour." But why? I now ask. Did it really do me any good? I manage my life perfectly well without it. If I want peace and relaxation, I have a massage, or soak in a hot bath or swim twenty laps at the local pool. Or I go for a long leisurely walk. Or I just sit in a chair and do nothing. Is meditation really as beneficial as its proponents claim?

Arthur Chappell, a former devotee of Guru Maharaj (also known as Prem Rawat), points out that meditation starves the mind of stimulus (sensory deprivation) and he wonders whether desensitizing the mind to stimuli may actually "affect one's ability to react properly with the level of fear, love, and other emotions required in any given social situation." Chappell says minds can atrophy--just like limbs do--if they aren't used for a wide range of purposes:

"Many meditation practitioners have complained of difficulty doing simple arithmetic and remembering names of close friends after prolonged meditation. The effect is rather like that of Newspeak's obliteration of the English language in George Orwell's 1984."

In recent years neuroscientists have been examining the effects of meditation on the brain. Professor Richard Davidson of Wisconsin, a long-term Buddhist meditator himself, claims that meditation can "change neural states in circuits that may be important for compassionate behavior and attentional and emotional regulation." However, other scientists argue that Davidson's claims are unsubstantiated and that his studies have serious flaws ranging from experimental design to conclusions. Dr. Nancy Hayes, a neurobiologist at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey, says that Davidson and his supporters promote research before it has been replicated. And what is really interesting, but never highlighted, is that Davidson himself points out that, for psychologists using meditation to treat their patients, "Meditation is not going to be good for all patients with emotional disorders and it may even be bad for certain types of patients."

Dr. Solomon Snyder, head of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University, warns that during meditation the brain releases serotonin. This may help those with mild depression but too much serotonin can cause, in some, a paradoxical relaxation-induced anxiety. Instead of relaxing during meditation, these people become distressed and may even have panic attacks. Snyder says that in some cases of schizophrenia, meditation can launch a person straight into psychosis.

And what about all those good feelings one can experience in meditation? Is there another explanation, for example, for that transcendental feeling of being one with the universe?

Dr. Andrew Newberg of the University of Pennsylvania scanned the brains of long-term practitioners of Buddhism while they were meditating and compared them with images taken when they were not. Newberg saw that blood flow to the posterior superior parietal lobe decreased during meditation. This area of the brain determines the boundaries of one's body in relation to the environment and allows us to navigate a complex three-dimensional world without bumping into things. "We know that the posterior superior parietal lobe plays that particular role because there are patients with damage in this same region who literally cannot move around without falling," Newberg reports. "They'll miss the chair they intended to sit on, and generally have a fuzzy understanding of where their body ends and the rest of the universe begins." He says that when people have spiritual experiences and feel they become one with the universe and lose their sense of self, it may be because of what is happening in that area of the brain. "If you block that area, you lose that boundary between the self and the rest of the world." Were the Buddhist meditators merely experiencing an odd side effect of submitting their brains to unusual conditions?

Dr. Michael Persinger, a professor of neuroscience at the Laurentian University in Canada, studied 1,018 meditators in 1993 and found that meditation can bring on symptoms of complex partial epilepsy such as visual abnormalities, hearing voices, feeling vibrations, or experiencing automatic behaviors such as narcolepsy. Note that epileptic patients who suffer from seizures in the temporal lobes have auditory or visual hallucinations, which they often interpret as mystical experiences. Some are convinced that they conversed with God.

In recent years Persinger set out to investigate so-called "mystical" experiences under controlled laboratory conditions. He got volunteers to wear a helmet fitted with a set of magnets through which he ran a weak electromagnetic signal. Persinger found that the magnetically induced seizures in the temporal lobes generate the same sort of hallucinations and mystical experiences reported by epileptic patients. Four in five people, he says, report a "mystical experience, the feeling that there is a sentient being or entity standing behind or near" them. Some weep, some feel God has touched them, others become frightened and talk of demons and evil spirits. "That's in the laboratory," Persinger notes, referring to subjects' knowledge of a controlled environment. "How much more intense might these experiences be if they happened late at night, or in a pew in a mosque or synagogue?"

Does this indicate that so-called mystical experiences may be caused by seizures, by a temporary malfunction of the brain circuitry triggered by abnormal conditions such as sensory deprivation or decreased blood flow to the parietal lobe? Is that what happened to me?

In addition to the neuroscientists' findings, there is anecdotal evidence that shouldn't be overlooked. Clearly there are potential dangers with long meditation retreats, particularly for beginners.

Christopher Titmuss, a former Buddhist monk who now lives in England, holds yearly Vipassana meditation retreats in Bodh Gaya, India. He reports that occasionally people go through very traumatic experiences and require round the clock support, the use of strong drugs, or even hospitalization. "Others may experience a short-lived terror of the mind utterly out of control, a temporary fear of going mad," he notes. "Or an alienation from conventional reality that makes it difficult for consciousness to recover without active intervention." But Titmuss claims it is not the meditation that causes such behavior: "The function of meditation, as the Buddha points out, is to act as a mirror to what is."

On a Goenka Vipassana discussion board called tribe.net, a participant named Tristan writes:

" I wish I could say wonderful things about my experience but I cannot. I stayed the full ten days, many of them filled with incredible hallucinations, from being inside an egg, to being a bird-like animal with broken wings, to following tunnels through my brain, to feeling completely connected to the universe. No problem, I told myself, it's just sensation. I am perfectly safe. On the last day of the retreat, listening to the last lecture, I let out a huge scream and fell down."

Tristan says he became psychotic and ended up in a psychiatric hospital for several weeks.

With Goenka's courses there have been a number of failed suicide attempts in India, including one that resulted in a broken spine and another in which the survivor suffered a ruptured lung and a fractured skull. Researchers at Goenka's headquarters at Igatpuri looked at cases concerning nine persons who'd harmed themselves after a course, and they found all had either practiced other forms of meditation, used healing techniques, or used drugs prior to doing a course. They consequently attributed the serious mental disturbances following the retreat not as side effects of the meditation technique, but to the practice or use of these other things.

But a woman who recently contacted me said her son did a Vipassana course in January in New Zealand, found it to be a very positive experience that produced many good feelings of love and so forth, but that within a few days of his return he'd had a "psychotic episode." He was committed to a mental hospital where he responded well to medication and is now on antidepressants. Her son had no history of mental instability, nor was there any such history in the family. He had never tried meditation before nor had he taken drugs.

Geoffrey Dawson, a Sydney-based Zen meditation teacher and psychotherapist, has come across twenty people who had mentally distressing experiences as a result of attending courses at the Goenka Vipassana Retreat Center in Blackheath (located in the Blue Mountains of Australia). Dawson says these meditators became fragmented rather than integrated and their experiences included panic attacks, depressive episodes, or both that in most cases persisted months after the retreat ended. There were also some manic episodes, one of which later became diagnosed and treated as a bipolar disorder. Dawson was also contacted by a woman whose daughter had been to a retreat. Her friends and family noticed she became withdrawn and obsessive afterwards. Her psychological condition deteriorated and some months later she became psychotic. Within eighteen months she was hospitalized and committed suicide.

Dawson maintains it is of utmost importance to give people a gradual introduction to meditation retreats, something that is lacking in Goenka's [and others] approach. Dawson is highly selective about who can do his retreats. He starts people on regular daily meditation along with one group meditation per week, then introduces them to one or two day retreats and gradually introduces them to a longer retreat.

Dawson suggests that "if a gradual approach to meditation retreats is adopted, supportive processes are put in place during retreats, and follow-up care is provided," while it's not guaranteed participants won't have adverse experiences, "it can certainly help prevent and minimize the development of mental disorders."

Colorado-based clinical psychologist Dr. Lois Vanderkooi, who has written on meditation-related psychosis, points out that screening is important when intensive meditation is involved and suggests that it can be done easily with a questionnaire that asks about psychiatric history.

Questionnaires are now used for Goenka's retreats. He says retreats aren't recommended for people with serious psychiatric disorders as it is unrealistic to expect that Vipassana will cure or alleviate mental problems. Application forms have questions such as, "Do you have, or have you ever had, any mental health problems such as significant depression or anxiety, panic attacks, manic depression, schizophrenia?" There is also a question, "Have you had any previous experience with meditation techniques, therapies, or healing practices?" This particular question allows Goenka to screen out people who practice a spiritual therapy called Reiki. He says there were many cases around the world where mixing Reiki and Vipassana meditation harmed Reiki practitioners to the extent that some of them became mentally imbalanced. Goenka argues that such practices "attempt to alter reality by means of calling on some external force or autosuggestion (such as self-hypnosis). This prevents the practitioner from observing the truth as it is."

But are questionnaires enough? They can hardly screen those people who have undiagnosed psychiatric disorders. They also rely on people telling the truth. People may feel reluctant to fill them out honestly in case they are barred from participating in a retreat. The Icarus Project, a web community supporting those with mental illnesses, regards questionnaires as "arbitrary, intrusive, and discriminatory" and claims that retreat applicants "simply hide their psychiatric history on the application to avoid stigmatization." They also write that people with schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, or bipolar disorder have not only completed meditation retreats, but discovered that meditation is a valuable recovery tool.

Richard, a former meditator who gave only his first name, offers the following observations:

"Those who play the "mental illness" defense card seem to have a vested interest in Eastern philosophy. Meditation appears to create mental imbalance by messing with the brain's chemistry. For all we know, the mentally ill might be better equipped to deal with such alterations since they're used to them. In other words, the mental illness defense doesn't appear to be based on fact, but as a knee-jerk excuse for why we see negative occurrences related to meditation--"he or she was crazy to begin with, it wasn't the meditation, it was their problem."

If one is not after enlightenment or spiritual experiences, then I cannot help thinking that exercise may be better for physical and mental well being than meditation. I just love my morning swims in the local pool.

After my Indian odyssey and my return to worldly life in 1979, I've found being back in the world not such a bad thing after all. I no longer regard the world as a place from which to escape or detach myself. My mind is no longer something to conquer or to cleanse of impurities. In fact, my life is immeasurably richer without meditation, as was that of India's great poet Rabindranath Tagore, exemplified in his poem "Against Meditative Knowledge":

Those who wish to sit, shut their eyes,
and meditate to know if the world's true or lies,
may do so. It's their choice. But I meanwhile
with hungry eyes that cannot be satisfied
shall take a look at the world in broad daylight. (1896)


Mary Garden is a writer who lives in Queensland, Australia. She is the author of The Serpent Rising-a journey of spiritual seduction (2003, Sid Harta, Melbourne) and is currently working on a biography of her Father, Oscar Garden, a pioneering aviator. For information go to: http://www.users.bigpond.com/marygarden/index.htm.
.
© 2007, the American Humanist Association

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Re: Can Meditation Be Bad For You?

Post by tom » 30 Jul 2008

Here is a response to Mary Garden's article from Blog of JENN REESE, who describes himself as writer, martial artist and geek. Following Matthew's comment from 2007-09-21, which I found very interesting.
Meditation, Good or Evil ?

August 30th, 2007

I’ve never really practiced meditation. Sure, we spend a few minutes meditating or doing breathing exercises in martial arts, but I haven’t meditated for a full 10 minutes, let alone for an hour or several hours a day like some people. It’s something I’ve always meant to look into, but never have.

I’ve always assumed meditation was wholly good; what could be wrong with centering oneself? But today I read the first anti-meditation article I’ve come across, and it really has me thinking."Can Meditation Be Bad for You?" by Mary Garden.

Mary Garden was a die-hard practitioner in the 70s, which makes me suspect less bias in her revelations about the potential harmful nature of meditation now. I’m used to Westerners disdaining Eastern philosophy and practices. But there’s some science here, and some first-hand experience. It’s hard to ignore.

At the end, Garden quotes a poem that really hit home with me. This sentiment is perhaps the reason why I have avoided Buddhism and meditation over the years, despite my fascination with Eastern philosophy. (If it my avoidance were born from mere laziness, I doubt I would have stuck with martial arts for so long.)
  • “Against Meditative Knowledge” by Rabindranath Tagore:

    Those who wish to sit, shut their eyes,
    and meditate to know if the world’s true or lies,
    may do so. It’s their choice. But I meanwhile
    with hungry eyes that can’t be satisfied
    shall take a look at the world in broad daylight. (1896)
Have any of you had experience with meditation? I’m curious about your reaction to Garden’s article.

Matthew 2007-09-21 06:48:35

Hello Jenn. I just found your site linking from Jed’s. I have been meditating on and off for years, starting in college 20 years ago. Right now I have been in an extended “off” period since the birth of my second child 2+ years ago. I am looking forward to getting back to meditating in the next year once he is a little more independent and my wife can spare me the time to attend our local sitting group.

There’s a lot I want to respond to, but I’ll try to keep it brief and you can contact me if you want to pursue the conversation further. Let me be clear that I am talking about insight mediation as it is practiced in most forms of Buddhism. There are other practices called meditation (e.g. transcendental meditation) that do not resemble it at all. And forgive me if much of this is familiar to you - I do not mean to be pedantic.

As you can tell, I am in the pro-meditation group, but with reservations. I don’t think meditation is for everyone, but I think most people could benefit from it. The analogy that I am fond is physical exercise. Exercise, in moderation and under the direction of a competent physician or trainer, is beneficial in numerous ways: it gives strength, endurance, and flexibility, it gives a person more energy and a more positive outlook on life, and it can extend one’s life span. But exercise, if done with the wrong intention or without the guidance of a knowledgeable and experienced trainer, can be harmful. You can damage your body, sometimes permanently. And no matter how carefully you exercise, you will sooner or later come across limitations that are inherent and unique to your own body and you will have to be very careful if you want to get beyond these hurdles.

Much of the same can be said for meditation. The benefits of insight meditation, and I refer to benefits that persist throughout the entire day, include better focus and attention, calmness, compassion, equanimity, understanding, self-acceptance, and acceptance of others. But meditation, if practiced with the wrong intention and without the guidance of a knowledgeable and experienced teacher, can be harmful. One can become depressed, passive, detached from the world. Among other things, meditation means becoming aware of ALL the random thoughts that come through your head, and often these thoughts are not pretty. They will occasionally (or perhaps often, depending on your personal history) include negative emotions -anger, victimization, violence, sexual fantasy, self-judgment - which are difficult to deal with. There is an opportunity here, but also a danger.

When a person decides to become a Buddhist, they are traditionally asked to seek refuge in the three treasures: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha which mean the (1) the inherent enlightened nature in all of us (2) the teachings of Buddhism which includes the practice of meditation and (3) the community of practitioners. I want to point out two things about this.

The first is that, in Buddhism, meditation is only one part of a more complete practice. Just as you would not advise someone to exercise without also considering their diet and sleep habits, likewise you would not tell someone to meditate without looking at their ethical behavior and relationships. Buddhism is not about retreating from the world but seeing the world, and one’s self, directly as it is. Because we don’t know how to do this in the melee of our daily life, we start practice meditation in a quiet space, but the goal is to hold that awareness and seeing throughout the entire day.

The second thing I would point out is the importance of Sangha, the community. You are supposed to meditate in a community of meditators who support you. They encourage you when you are depressed and protect you when you are manic. These are safeguards that one should consider if one decides to become serious about meditating.

But of course, you do not need to become serious about meditating to benefit from it. Almost anyone can benefit from a 20 minute walk in their day without resorting to doctors or trainers or other walkers for help. There is little chance of hurting oneself doing this. If by chance you do notice some discomfort or pain from it - a bunyon or shin splint - you can stop or else see a doctor before the problem blows up. I believe the same can be said about insight meditation. Ten minutes a day, first thing in the morning, isn’t likely to hurt you at all and you might notice benefits within a day or two. If you decide you like it and want to get more serious, that’s when you seek out a community or a teacher.

The article you reference that is critical of meditation raises some good points, but I feel it is misleading in the way most popular articles are misleading. The author gives a scattering of anecdotal evidence along with an arbitrary selection of research articles. There are millions of meditators in the world - the vast majority do not go crazy, get depressed, or commit suicide. Most of her examples of “meditators gone bad” are not people who were mentally unstable, but rather people who committed themselves to grueling sessions of long meditation. I would hazard that these people were like unconditioned marathon runners training on their own or with a poor coach. As for the scientific research, check out a book called “Zen and the Brain.” It is a tome, but it gives a much broader view of the subject.

Two more quick words: books and enlightenment.

There are lots of books out about Buddhism and meditation, but you are not likely to learn how to meditate from a book any more than you will learn a golf stroke from a book. You learn by doing it with input from a qualified instructor. A book can motivate you and correct you when you get off course and you can get follow the instructions but you have no way of knowing if you are doing it right. It is extremely easy to do it wrong which usually means a great deal of self-judgment.

You might notice that I have not mentioned enlightenment. People who seek enlightenment through meditation are like athletes competing for a prize. You do not need to be an athlete to benefit from exercise, and you do not need to seek enlightenment to benefit from meditation. Conversely, if you want to seriously compete in athletics, you get a trainer, and if you want to seek enlightenment, you get a teacher. In both cases, there are good trainers/teachers and there are bad ones. Buyer beware.
First hand experiences from our posters would be more interesting.

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Re: Can Meditation Be Bad For You?

Post by pilatus » 30 Jul 2008

Hello tom and thanks very much for this. There's lots of good food for thought here and quite a few points I'd like to pick up on later. I am sure we've come at this topic before elsewhere on the forum, probably with a focus on BK Raj Yoga rather than other forms of meditation. I'll do some research before responding in detail. However, the second article makes the point I am probably most keen on exploring/sharing.
First hand experiences from our posters would be more interesting.

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Re: Can Meditation Be Bad For You?

Post by tom » 01 Aug 2008

We all must have during long years of BK life witnessed newcomers with slightly depression or a tendency to mental disorders became worse after some time. In this forum there are some tragic records of suicides. But i have not heard from leadership any remarks on this subject except one Senior Brother's warning that meditation can be harmful for depressed ones. Here is an article based on some scientific researches:

From STATS. Stats is a non-profit, non-partisan organization
Why Meditation Might be Bad for You
February 18, 2003
Maia Szalavitz

Before you extinguish your ego, consider the scientific evidence on the risks of meditation.

If your only source of information is the mainstream American media, you may very well think that meditation is a time-tested, scientifically proven stress-reducer and anxiety-buster.

This week, Newsweek regurgitates that line, with a story sub-titled, "Science shows that meditation, massage, Yoga-even laughter-can change bad habits in the brain." This follows hard on pro-meditation articles in The New York Times and The Washington Post citing a brain-imaging study of stressed workers, which found that they shifted their thinking patterns from the negative-focused right per frontal brain areas to the happier left side through meditation.

But in a rare departure from this trend, John Horgan, in a Slate essay explaining why he abandoned Buddhism mentions that meditation has not been definitively shown to be helpful and can even have harmful effects.

While positive studies have been adding up, few have proper control groups and other measures to avoid biasing the research in favor of the expected results, and most are conducted by unabashed advocates of meditation. In a review published Psychosomatic Medicine in 2002 (Bishop SR, What do we really know about mindfulness-based stress reduction? Psychosom Med 2002 Jan-Feb 64:71-83), the author writes:

"There has been a paucity of research and what has been published has been rife with methodological problems. At present, we know very little about the effectiveness of this approach. However, there is some evidence that suggests that it may hold some promise."

Even more alarming is that there has long been evidence that meditation can have an unambiguously negative effect on some of those who take it up - something that rarely, if ever, gets mentioned in popular press articles on the subject. In one study (Shapiro, DH, Adverse effects of meditation: a preliminary investigation of long-term meditators. Int J Psychosom 1992 39:62-7), two thirds of the subjects experienced some kind of adverse effect, ranging from increased anxiety to depression and a sense of disconnection from reality. Seven percent reported profoundly disturbing and lasting side effects.

Furthermore, many experts who have worked with former cult members have long described numerous meditation-related problems, including a symptom called "floating" in which people become unable to concentrate and feel a loss of their sense of themselves.

Ironically, amid all the positive media vibes, The Washington Post ran an article on people who suffer from depersonalization, which is reported by many as an unpleasant meditation-related side effect. Extreme depersonalization can occur after severe stress, such as child abuse or other trauma-but it is also common in meditators, since some deliberately seek disconnection from reality (which is often viewed as "illusion") and a reduced ego.

Clearly, more research is needed to determine whether meditation has unique benefits - and when and for whom it may be harmful. The media does its audience no favors by claiming that meditation is backed by science as a stress cure when the data is not in yet. Just because a technique seems harmless because it relies on behavioral changes, not drugs, doesn't mean that it is. Just like drug companies, promoters of meditation have agendas-and their "products" are not all magic bullets.
Our posters observations from Raja Yoga meditation classes can be very helpful for newcomers to understand their situation if they experience any side effects.

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Re: Can Meditation Be Bad For You?

Post by paulkershaw » 01 Aug 2008

I'd just add here that perhaps there could be cases where its the meditation teacher that's bad for the meditator, offloading their 'stuff' onto their student in often a subconscious and/or unconscious manner.

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Re: Can Meditation Be Bad For You?

Post by fluffy bunny » 01 Aug 2008

I was thinking of the real Sufi teachers (and bear in mind that Sindhi culture was deeply influenced by Sufis), they would teach one method to one people and another to a different community.

Desert nomads people would be given different exercises than mountain people, from each according to their ability, to each according their his need ... in order to do 'the work'.

There is a lot of talk of in a negative manner about ex-cult members losing themselves in "floating" ... spacing out. Spacing out might be what some need ... but not others. Especially the already spaced out. In Brahma Kumarism, there is basically no diagnosis, no personal attention, no monitoring, little cultural adoption (although this is accelerating in the West through dilution). It is one cure for all and if it is not working ... then do more of it!

Folks might be falling to pieces but what the hell as long as they keep coming to class in white and donate to the bandhara. And what if it does not work for them? They are cast out, called failures, lower than the lowest of the low ... there can be no criticism of the Knowledge and Path of Gyan. No mere human being can doubt it ... that is the greatest Maya even more than lust.

More and more I am being left with the impression that Brahma Kumarism is an analogue of the real spiritual path. That is to say, a fake. An analogue, something that fits so closely to the real spiritual path that it seems to be it; something fits the majority of presumed requirements and is flexible enough to be bent around superficial obstructions or doubts, but is not. And watching the leadership deal with very real and obvious ethical problems such as historical revision, commercialisation, legal issues, abuse etc ... individuals meant to be at the pinnacle of human spiritual achievement and power ... well, what can you say?

Divine? No ... just their self-hypnosis is obviously working so very well that they believe in their own supreme divinity too.

So, yes, Brahma Kumarism could be a drug or a poison, that is it could apply a cure for some time ... but does kill. And I mean kill.

What it needed is some proper scientific testing, more proper academic rigor, more external review before anyone expresses an opinion. It may come up good ... as long as the guinea pigs are allowed back home at night rather than fed into the center system as serfs!

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Re: Can Meditation Be Bad For You?

Post by fluffy bunny » 10 Aug 2008

Harmful effects of meditation.

The BKWSU (UK) was registered as a charity on the basis that it would use its donated fund to publish its research into Yoga experiences. By "research" did it mean PR and advertising? Has the BKWS University ever funded or published any serious research of its adherents and ex-adherents, or investigated similar work already done in the field? Or is whatever happens good because Baba says it is good ...

From M. Murphy and S. Donovan. The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation (1997). Ch. 4: “Subjective Reports - Negative Experiences”:
Murphy and Donovan wrote: Otis (1984) described a study done at Stanford Research Institute in 1971 to determine the negative effects of Transcendental Meditation. SRI mailed a survey to every twentieth person on the Students International Meditation Society (TM's parent organization) mailing list of 40,000 individuals. Approximately 47% of the 1,900 people surveyed responded. The survey included a self-concept word list (the Descriptive Personality List) and a checklist of physical and behavioral symptoms (the Physical and Behavioral Inventory). It was found that dropouts reported fewer complaints than experienced meditators, to a statistically significant degree. Furthermore, adverse effects were positively correlated with the length of time in meditation. Long-term meditators reported the following percentages of adverse effects:
  • antisocial behavior, 13.5%;
    anxiety, 9.0%;
    confusion, 7.2%;
    depression, 8.1%;
    emotional stability, 4.5%;
    frustration, 9.0%;
    physical and mental tension, 8.1%;
    procrastination, 7.2%;
    restlessness, 9.0%;
    suspiciousness, 6.3%;
    tolerance of others, 4.5%; and
    withdrawal, 7.2%.
The author concluded that the longer a person stays in TM and the more committed a person becomes to TM as a way of life, the greater is the likelihood that he or she will experience adverse effects. This contrasts sharply with the promotional statements of the various TM organizations.

Ellis (1984) stated that meditation's greatest danger was its common connection with spirituality and antiscience. He said that it might encourage some individuals to become even more obsessive-compulsive than they had been and to dwell in a ruminative manner on trivia or nonessentials. He also noted that some of his clients had gone into ‘dissociative semi-trance states and upset themselves considerably by meditating.’ Ellis views meditation and other therapy procedures as often diverting people from doing that which overcomes their disturbance to focusing on the highly palliative technique itself. Therefore, although individuals might feel better, their chances of acquiring a basically healthy, non-masturbatory outlook are sabotaged.

Walsh (1979) reported a number of disturbing experiences during meditation, such as anxiety, tension, and anger. Walsh and Rauche (1979) stated that meditation may precipitate a psychotic episode in individuals with a history of schizophrenia. Kornfield (1979 and 1983) reported that body pain is a frequent occurrence during meditation, and that meditators develop new ways to relate to their pain as a result of meditation. Hassett (1978) reported that meditation can be harmful. Carrington (1977) observed that extensive meditation may induce symptoms that range in severity from insomnia to psychotic manifestations with hallucinatory behavior. Lazarus (1976) reported that psychiatric problems such as severe depression and schizophrenic breakdown may be precipitated by TM.

French et al. (1975) reported that anxiety, tension, anger, and other disturbing experiences sometimes occur during TM. Carrington and Ephron (1975c) reported a number of complaints from TM meditators who felt themselves overwhelmed by negative and unpleasant thoughts during meditation. Glueck and Stroebel (1975) reported that two experimental subjects made independent suicide attempts in the first two days after beginning the TM program. Kannellakos and Lukas (1974) reported complaints from TM meditators. Otis (1974) reported that five patients suffered a reoccurrence of serious psychosomatic symptoms after commencing meditation.

Maupin (1969) stated that the deepest objection to meditation has been its tendency to produce withdrawn, serene people who are not accessible to what is actually going on in their lives. He said that with meditation it is easy to overvalue the internal at the expense of the external

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Re: Can Meditation Be Bad For You?

Post by fluffy bunny » 10 Aug 2008

See also Is meditation good for you?: It may not make you happier, and if you're depressed it could even make you worse. But some forms of meditation may offer insights into the nature of human identity by Dr Susan Blackmore. New Scientist 6 July 1991.
Dr Susan Blackmore wrote:Early research seemed to show that meditation did indeed reduce physiological arousal as measured by heart rate, sweating palms, breathing rate and blood pressure. Then in 1983, David Holmes, a psychologist at the University of Kansas, pointed out that most of the experiments had simply measured stress before and after meditation and found it lowered. There were no control groups.

In his own experiments, he asked one group of experienced TM teachers to meditate for 20 minutes and another simply to rest. In both groups, levels of arousal fell to the same extent. In other words, meditation reduced stress but only as much as rest did. And who would recommend resting twice a day as a cure for asthma or drug abuse?

Holmes's review raised a storm of protest from meditators and teachers of meditation, but subsequent research has confirmed his conclusion. The standard of experiments has also improved, with more sophisticated control conditions to provide a comparison for the meditators. For example, one method uses 'anti-meditation', where the control subjects have to walk up and down, thinking about problems.

Michael Delmonte, a clinical psychologist in Dublin, found that discontinuing meditation was related to an 'unhealthy psychological profile'. People who dropped out were more introverted, had low expectations of medi-tation, high arousal during rest and a more external locus of control - that is, they tend to attribute things to external rather than internal causes.

Other studies have found that those who respond well to meditation tend to be high on 'absorption' - a measure of how easily a person can become totally absorbed in something like a book, film or fantasy world. Delmonte says that those with a history of psychosis and depression respond very negatively to meditation, and it may even trigger suicidal and psychotic behaviour
.
Ah ... I expect now the BKWSU will claim that what they are doing is not meditation.

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Re: Can Meditation Be Bad For You?

Post by fluffy bunny » 01 Oct 2008

BKs go under the electrodes. More data needed. Individual testing BK with IBVA soft and hardware to check brainwaves.

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Re: Can Meditation Be Bad For You?

Post by paulkershaw » 01 Oct 2008

It would be most interesting if some ex-BKs also went under the electrodes too to see if they too could spike (careful now ... Mr Green ...) the curve graph ... and then the results published on the 'net accordingly. " ... and the most stable mind in the world is Mr. Joe Black, ex-BKWSU follower and now football hooligan".

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Re: Can Meditation Be Bad For You?

Post by fluffy bunny » 02 Oct 2008

You are right. Its one of those things that could be so simple to do and I am left wondering why it has not been done?

I suspect that the results produced by such technology may not be "empirical" and the detractors from the BKWSU camp might argue that "soul or Baba-consciousness" cannot be measured by physical instruments" depending on reasons of faith ... BUT ... they might provide us with some interesting signposts as to where to investigate further. The possibility of 900,000 subjects do offer a sufficiently large resource to come up with some good science?

What is the BKWSU SPARC upto in this area?

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Re: Can Meditation Be Bad For You?

Post by tom » 02 Oct 2008

ex-l wrote:BKs go under the electrodes. More data needed. Individual testing BK with IBVA soft and hardware to check brainwaves.
So what if somebody achieves this brainwaves or that brainwaves? This is only a matter of practice. The BKs make themselves funny to be proud of that. Simple fakirs can levitate, stop their breath for long, live on air, can even stop their hearth beat for some time.

Such performances are not signs of an elevated stage or a happy, balanced and nonviolent life.

In all BK centers, even in Madhuban HQ they hate each other, fabricate lies, gossip and do nothing to eliminate poverty and violence from the earth.

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Re: Can Meditation Be Bad For You?

Post by fluffy bunny » 02 Oct 2008

tom wrote:So what if somebody achieves this brainwaves or that brainwaves?
You are, of course, correct and I am humbled. There would not seem to be any devices that can measure human kindness, common sense or, probably, even honesty.

I often thought this of Janki Kripalani when the BKs touted her "most stable mind in the world" claim. (They have, of course, had to withdraw it because it was not true). I used to think ... so what? So what if one is the most stable mind in the world (which she is not) ... all it means is that one is able to cheat, lie and mislead and be stupid WHILST remaining stable and detached. It was not guarantee of integrity or insight and more about social control. I see now the veils are being removed from my eyes just how much was being kept from us as followers whilst a facade of peacefulness and detachment was being upheld in public.

One comment one individual DID make was that the BK meditation did not actually make THAT much of a difference from normal and it was THIS that I expected wide-scale checking to show ... that basically nothing was happening despite all the millions of dollars spent and years and years of experimentation.

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Re: Can Meditation Be Bad For You?

Post by paulkershaw » 02 Oct 2008

There would not seem to be any devices that can measure human kindness, common sense or, probably, even honesty.
There is most certainly such a device and it is situated inside the human body. Its called The Heart. When one is so focused on keeping only the mind stable, one soon forgets the role of the heart in human evolution.

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Re: Can Meditation Be Bad For You?

Post by john morgan » 02 Oct 2008

To have the feeling that one is a moral being is not a bad thing. To be honest and straightforward is good. To live in the world of causes and experience their effects is better than merely responding or reacting to effects or events in the world. In the bible (which I haven't read) it starts with "In the beginning was the word." Language is a tool in many meditations and we can create beginnings and sustain them.

To create simple vibrant thought is not possible for many. This may be because that they are so caught up in the outside world that clear internal awareness has yet to be accessed. Meditation is different for everyone, we are unique beings with a unique mixture of qualities. Patience gentleness and regularity are key components of constructive meditation. The "hard" effort suggested in some Murlis is for the more accomplished meditator. Despite that (definitely probably possibly or definitely not ... make your choice) being the word of God; this type of advice has probably led to many experiencing great difficulty.

We know that a wonder drug is poison for a healthy person. So we experiment and gradually find what is best for us. I like very much the notion that we have access to a timeless library and can access and "read" the book of our choice. I recall the efforts at understanding that I first made when a child on entering a mobile library and learning to access its contents. We have learn to monitor ourselves, take personal responsibility and create a firm footing before attempting deeper meditation. A worthy motive is a must.

If the motive is to prove that one is a better meditator than anyone else my advice is to take up table tennis or tiddlywinks. If one is after fame or power over others then to become a butler or maid may remedy ones condition. Intelligence and a worthy motive are awakened in meditation on the right lines. Humility can well contain the mighty strengths that are for service.

Of course, meditation can be bad for you, though it can also be remarkably beneficial for everyone concerned. If you are thinking of learning to meditate ... Go Slow and learn the grounding thoroughly. Just this may take many years but do it well and instead of storming the citadel you will just walk in through the front door :D .

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