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Quarter of meditators have 'unpleasant experiences'

Friday May 10th, 2019

A psychiatrist has called for more research into meditation after more than a quarter of people who regularly practise have ‘particularly unpleasant’ psychological experiences related to the practice.

The UCL-led study, published in PLOS ONE, also found that people who had attended a meditation retreat, who only practised deconstructive types of meditation, such as Vipassana and Koan practice, or who have higher levels of repetitive negative thinking, were more likely to report a “particularly unpleasant” meditation-related experience.

The study, led by Marco Schlosser, of the UCL Division of Psychiatry, comprised an international online survey of 1,232 people who had at least two months’ meditation experience.

Participants were asked: “Have you ever had any particularly unpleasant experiences (e.g. anxiety, fear, distorted emotions or thoughts, altered sense of self or the world), which you think may have been caused by your meditation practice?”

Of the 1,232 respondents, 25.6% reported they had experienced “particularly unpleasant meditation-related experiences”, with 28.5% of males and 23% of females reporting it.

The survey found that 30.6% of those who did not have a religious belief had a particularly unpleasant experience, compared to 22% of those who had a religious belief, while 29.2%, who practised only deconstructive types of meditation reported the psychological experience, compared to 20.3% who practised other types of meditation.

29% of respondents who had been on a meditation retreat reported they had experienced a particularly unpleasant experience, compared with 19.6% who had never been on a retreat.

Lead author, researcher Marco Schlosser, (UCL Division of Psychiatry), said: “These findings point to the importance of widening the public and scientific understanding of meditation beyond that of a health-promoting technique.

“Very little is known about why, when, and how such meditation-related difficulties can occur: more research is now needed to understand the nature of these experiences.

“When are unpleasant experiences important elements of meditative development, and when are they merely negative effects to be avoided?”

He said most research on meditation had focused on its benefits, but the range of meditative experiences studied should be expanded.

Schlosser M, Sparby T, Vörös S et al. Unpleasant meditation-related experiences in regular meditators: Prevalence, predictors, and conceptual considerations. PLOS ONE 9 May 2019; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0216643.

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0216643

Tags: Alternative Therapy | Mental Health | UK News

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