Is Meditation Safe? The Benefits And Risks According To The Science And Research
If you are curious about meditation, but worried about its potential risks, you are not alone. Many other people wonder the same exact thing every single day, including numerous concerned meditation teachers who want to ensure that our students gain true benefit from their practice, and are not harmed by our instructions or by their own personal endeavors.
Having looked deeply into the matter, however, I can conclusively state that you should certainly fear not!
Meditation is a safe and powerful practice that can transform your life in a number of different ways. So, in this article, we will explore the topic of meditation’s safety together so that you will have all of the information that you need to get started on your inner journey with, and to, greater peace of mind (in a state of less fear).
Meditation, which has been around for thousands of years, is a practice that has been gaining popularity in recent times due to its many benefits for mental and physical health. Though it is difficult to fully quantify, because the practice is often very personal and varied depending on who you speak to, based on recent studies, it is estimated that 14.2% of adults in the United States practiced meditation in 2017 (according to the Centers For Disease Control), with this number most likely growing each year. And, the number of people who practice regular meditation is even far greater in parts of the world like Asia (which includes India, Nepal, Tibet, and China) where many religious/spiritual activities inherently include meditative practices.
Safety Concerns And Conclusions:
While some studies have suggested that intensive or advanced meditation techniques can trigger or exacerbate underlying mental health issues, raising concerns about potential risks associated with meditation (particularly for those who practice advanced or intensive techniques without proper guidance and/or with pre-existing mental health conditions), such risks are relatively rare and can be avoided by approaching meditation with caution and seeking guidance from an experienced teacher. In fact, many mental health professionals incorporate meditation into their treatment plans as a safe and effective way to help their patients manage anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns.
Research has consistently shown that regular meditation practice can reduce stress and anxiety, improve focus and concentration, enhance overall wellbeing, and even lower blood pressure and improve symptoms of certain conditions like irritable bowel syndrome and insomnia. Additionally, meditation can help practitioners connect with their inner, and higher, wisdom and cultivate greater self/Self-awareness.
What Caused/Causes Concern?
One study published in Frontiers in Psychology in 2013 highlighted the potential risks of meditation in an article titled “The Dark Side of Meditation and Mindfulness: Treatment Dangers, Research Challenges,” suggesting that some individuals who practice intensive meditation may experience adverse effects such as dissociation, depression, and anxiety. The authors, however, noted that the lack of standardized definitions and research methods makes it difficult to assess the prevalence and severity of such effects.
Another study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry in 2014 surveyed 69 individuals who had been practicing meditation for an average of 20 years and found that 63% reported at least one negative effect, such as anxiety, depression, or confusion. While a 2017 study published in PLOS ONE surveyed 1,232 individuals who had been practicing meditation for an average of 9 years and found that 25% reported having experienced “challenging or difficult” experiences related to their practice, such as feelings of fear or non-ordinary states of consciousness.
The Majority Of Evidence Shows Meditation To Be Safe And Effective
Despite these concerns (and because of the limited sample sizes and/or the unreliability of the uncontrolled studies depending on experiential reporting listed above) concerns about the safety of meditation practice can only truly be taken with a grain of salt.
As stated before, the majority of research on meditation has found the practice to be safe and beneficial for most people. For example, a review of 47 randomized controlled trials published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2014 found that meditation programs had small to moderate effects on reducing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and pain. Another review of 18 randomized controlled trials published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2017 found that mindfulness meditation had significant effects on reducing anxiety and depression.
In addition to mental health benefits, research has also found that meditation can have positive effects on physical health. A meta-analysis of 20 randomized controlled trials published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2016 found that mindfulness meditation had small to moderate effects on reducing blood pressure, as well as on reducing symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and insomnia.
Research Conclusions Reiterated, And Getting Started…Safely
As you are now aware, though some studies have suggested that intensive or advanced meditation techniques can trigger or exacerbate underlying mental health issues such as anxiety or depression, these risks are relatively rare and can be avoided by approaching meditation with caution and seeking guidance from an experienced teacher.
Starting a meditation practice can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. There are many different types of meditation, and it is important to find the technique that works best for you and your needs. Beginners should start their meditation journey with shorter and simpler practices to avoid any potential negative effects, and then gradually work their way up to more advanced techniques over time. And, if you choose to pursue meditation as a regular practice, it is important to remember that meditation is a personal journey, so be patient with yourself and enjoy the process, since it is easy to see that the research has overwhelmingly found that, for most people, meditation is a safe and beneficial practice.
The practice can be easily incorporated into your daily routine. And, even just a few minutes per day can have a significant impact on your mental and physical health. Additionally, meditation practice is an easy and free way to get started on improving your mental health and overall wellbeing, allowing you to do it almost anywhere–at home, at work, or even on the go (try paying attention to your breathing the next time that you are standing in a long line–maybe at the airport–for example, to reap the benefits of meditation).
As you can hopefully now see, while there have been potential risks associated with meditation, the benefits far outweigh the concerns.
With the right guidance and approach, meditation can be a safe and transformative practice that can improve your mental and physical health in a number of different ways.
So, now that you are aware of the science, please do not let safety concerns hold you back! Give meditation a try, or simply continue with your practice with greater clarity, and see the positive impact that the practice can have on your life when you fully surrender to its benefits with less fear for your safety. Again, just remember to approach your practice with caution, to find the technique(s) that works best for you, and to seek guidance from an experienced teacher if needed, and things will most likely work out for your benefit and in your favor.
I wish you all the best, and much growth, on your meditation journey.
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