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Meditation: the possible risks that scientists are studying

Over the last few decades, interest in meditation has experienced a real boom. From stress reduction to anxiety control to the possibility of training self-awareness, the benefits of meditative practices have been also the subject of several scientific studies which have demonstrated its effectiveness in terms of well-being.

If we hear more and more about the advantages of meditation, there is also a «downside of the medal” of which however there is still little knowledge: in recent years research has also begun to question the possible risks and side effects of meditation.

It was recently a item appeared in the psychotherapy magazine State of Mind to take stock of the scientific studies they examined the “dark side” is still little known of meditative practices. Although it is a line of research still in its infancythanks to the work of some researchers, the idea that the meditation can prove to be a beneficial practice for some people but potentially harmful to others. Especially for those who have a previous history of mental health problems or in any case psychiatric conditions that have not yet emerged.

Willoughby Britton’s research

A decisive contribution to this line of research was given by Willoughby Britton, director of the Clinical and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory at Brown University Medical School, which own to study the potential adverse effects of meditation and he has dedicated much of his career to contemplative practices.

What pushed the researcher to delve deeper into these aspects was a study she herself conducted on relationship between meditation and sleep quality. Based on the results of the research, Britton discovered that i subjects who meditated for more than 30 minutes a daynot only did they wake up more often during the night but they also had a less deep sleepdespite claiming to sleep better thanks to this practice.

Evidence that led the researcher and her team to see how, until that moment, the studies on meditative practices had focused almost exclusively on their benefits, neglecting an equally important aspect, that is the analysis of possible risks associated with them.

The study on possible risks

Based on these premises, in 2017, the researchers gave life to the project “Varieties of Contemplative Experience Project”an investigation aimed at improve understanding of the range of experiences associated with meditation practicedocumenting the testimonies of those who have experimented side effects following the practice. All through the involvement of meditation teachers and practitionerswith different levels of experience.

Specifically, the study involved 60 Western meditation practitioners belonging to the Zen, Tibetan or Theravada Buddhism traditions. Through a series of interviews, the researchers have obtained and mapped out challenging, unwanted or otherwise unexpected experiences experienced during meditation.

The data collected thus allowed us to shed light on possible adverse phenomena, among which there would be anxiety, panic, traumatic flashbacks but also visual and auditory hallucinations.

The support project

Such discoveries led Britton and her team to found the Cheetah House, project that intends to provide support to those who experience difficulties related to meditation, educate instructors to identify, understand and manage the adverse effects of meditation in a person-centered but also enable people to make informed decisions about the role of meditation in their lives. Since claims about meditation are often overstated – underline the project leaders – Cheetah House also aims to provide a balanced, realistic and informed perspective on the associated risks to meditation through the dissemination of research-based information. The sites are also collected on the site testimonies of those who have experienced the negative effects firsthand of meditation.

What about mindfulness?

However, it is impossible to talk about meditation without thinking about it mindfulnessan increasingly popular practice today, also used in the clinical field: numerous studies evidence-based they have in fact identified in practice a basis for effective therapeutic interventions for multiple mental disorders so much so that the use of mindfulness has become the cornerstone of the so-called third generation psychotherapy treatments. Nonetheless, even in the practice of mindfulness, there are those who have seen a possibility cause of psychological distress.

In particular, a New York Times article of 2016 in which the journalist and writer Ruth Whippman he stated not only that the supporters of mindfulness had created a discriminatory culture that makes those who don’t practice feel somehow “wrong” but also that the society we live in encourages the idea of ​​a healthy man as a machine that never feels emotions negative and for this reason it would promote mindfulness as a useful exercise to maintain the thinking focused not only and not so much on the present moment, but on an always positive vision of reality.

Criticisms which, however, have no real basis and which rather reflect an incorrect interpretation: mindfulness, in fact, does not have the objective of freeing oneself from negative thoughts but of feel and accept emotions, whether positive or negative, without denying them. Because it is It is precisely in acceptance that the possibility of promoting real change lies.

The importance of relying on professionals

Due to its complexity – however, the article that appeared on again underlines State of Mind – it is good pay attention to the distinction between the idea of ​​mindfulness as a kind of pervasive positivity aimed at suffocating any type of discomfort and the one to which today’s psychotherapy instead is referring. Reason why it is It is always advisable to undergo this practice only by relying on competent figures. «The supervision of a professional guarantees sharing of the purposes of mindfulness and allows the identification of a functional objective and founded – the authors conclude – decreasing the likelihood of having side effects”.

Source: Vanity Fair

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