Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Negative effects of meditation

Here's an extensive scientific study on some of the negative effects of mediation, including fear, involuntary body movements and panic. Of particular interest is that how we interpret both positive and negative effects depending on context.

"There are multiple, and sometimes conflicting, interpretative frameworks at play for Western Buddhist meditators. The values held by meditation practitioners are often heavily influenced by how the authorities of a Buddhist tradition—whether canonical texts, teachers, or members of a practice community—appraise a given meditation practice or experience."

This also and particularly applies to the so-called positive experiences.

"Certain nyams—in particular the triad of bliss, clarity or luminosity, and non-conceptuality are multivalent in that in some lineages of Tibetan Buddhism they are deliberately cultivated and framed as 'signs of progress,' and yet in other contexts can be dismissed as untrustworthy hindrances to genuine insight."

The abstract follows:

Buddhist-derived meditation practices are currently being employed as a popular form of health promotion. While meditation programs draw inspiration from Buddhist textual sources for the benefits of meditation, these sources also acknowledge a wide range of other effects beyond health-related outcomes. The Varieties of Contemplative Experience study investigates meditation-related experiences that are typically underreported, particularly experiences that are described as challenging, difficult, distressing, functionally impairing, and/or requiring additional support. A mixed-methods approach featured qualitative interviews with Western Buddhist meditation practitioners and experts in Theravāda, Zen, and Tibetan traditions. Interview questions probed meditation experiences and influencing factors, including interpretations and management strategies. A follow-up survey provided quantitative assessments of causality, impairment and other demographic and practice-related variables. The content-driven thematic analysis of interviews yielded a taxonomy of 59 meditation-related experiences across 7 domains: cognitive, perceptual, affective, somatic, conative, sense of self, and social. Even in cases where the phenomenology was similar across participants, interpretations of and responses to the experiences differed considerably. The associated valence ranged from very positive to very negative, and the associated level of distress and functional impairment ranged from minimal and transient to severe and enduring. In order to determine what factors may influence the valence, impact, and response to any given experience, the study also identified 26 categories of influencing factors across 4 domains: practitioner-level factors, practice-level factors, relationships, and health behaviors. By identifying a broader range of experiences associated with meditation, along with the factors that contribute to the presence and management of experiences reported as challenging, difficult, distressing or functionally impairing, this study aims to increase our understanding of the effects of contemplative practices and to provide resources for mediators, clinicians, meditation researchers, and meditation teachers.

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