Meditation, which is widely believed to be a remedy to mental health issues, is found to be not always a pleasant experience for everyone.
According to scientists who advocate more research into such practices, over a one-fourth of people who on a regular basis meditate have had a 'particularly unpleasant' psychological experience related to the practice, including feelings of distorted emotions and fear.
The research, led by scientists from University College London (UCL) in the United Kingdom and published in the journal PLOS ONE, found those who had attended a meditation retreat, those who only practiced deconstructive types of meditation, such as Koan practice (used in Zen Buddhism), Vipassana (insight), and those with higher levels of repetitive negative thinking, were more probable to report a 'particularly unpleasant' meditation-related experience.
The study focused on an international online survey of 1,232 people who had about two months of experience in meditating. It found that female participants and those with a religious belief were less probable to have had a negative experience.
"These findings point to the importance of widening the public and scientific understanding of meditation beyond that of a health-promoting technique," said Marco Schlosser, a researcher at UCL.
"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," Schlosser said in a statement.
"When are unpleasant experiences important elements of meditative development, and when are they merely negative effects to be avoided?" he said.
The study, conducted with researchers at Witten/Herdecke University in Germany, and the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia, was triggered by a limited but increasing number of case studies and research reports, which indicate psychologically unpleasant experiences can happen during a meditative activity.
About 25.6 percent of participants among 1,232 indicated that they had previously encountered particularly unpleasant meditation-related experiences.
Approximately 28.5 percent of male participants experienced a particularly unpleasant experience, in comparison to 23 percent of female participants. Whereas, about 30.6 percent of those who did not have a religious belief had a particularly unpleasant experience, in comparison to 22 percent of those who had a religious belief.
More people, 29.2 percent, who practiced only deconstructive types of meditation reported a particularly unpleasant experience, compared to 20.3 percent who only engaged in other meditation types.
About 29 percent of those who had been on a meditation retreat (at any point in life) had a particularly unpleasant experience, compared with 19.6 percent, who had at no time been on a retreat.
"Most research on meditation has focused on its benefits, however, the range of meditative experiences studied by scientists needs to be expanded. It is important at this point not to draw premature conclusions about the potential negative effects of meditation," Schlosser said.
By Sowmya Sangam