Can meditation be bad for you? While some anecdotal reports of meditation have shown negative experiences, the National Institutes of Health has declared meditation safe for healthy people.
Meditation has been shown to be an exceptionally low-risk activity with a wide range of benefits.
While there have been some anecdotal reports of negative experiences with meditation, one large study that looked at thousands of people was unable to find any cases where meditators had greater negative effects than non-meditators.
While there are exceptions, such as for people with physical health issues or existing mental health issues, meditation is generally a safe activity that provides numerous physical and emotional health benefits.
Is meditation safe?
Yes. The National Institutes of Health found that meditation is “generally considered to be safe for healthy people.”
As with any activity, there are issues to be aware of especially if you have a physical health condition or if you have existing mental health issues.
Apart from those considerations, mindfulness meditation has been extensively researched and has been shown to have a wide range of health benefits, including less stress, reduced anxiety, greater cognitive function, improved heart health, improved blood pressure, improved sleep, and more.
Studies of meditation show no negative effects
Researchers at the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin–Madison examined this further.
They found that “people who took part in the most common and widely available secular mindfulness program did not experience psychological harm at a rate higher than people in control groups who did not take part in the program.”
The researchers reviewed psychological profile data from more than 2,150 adults who took part in a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course. They weren’t able to find a single instance in which participants undergoing the MBSR course experienced greater negative effects than the control group.
Disadvantages of meditation
While it’s possible to have negative experiences while meditating, research indicates these experiences happen at the same rate as they would have anyway, rather than being brought on by meditation.
Although meditation has been shown to be exceptionally healthy, there have been anecdotal reports of meditation not helping with depression or anxiety, or even making those issues worse.
Anecdotal negative side effects
A group of researchers at Brown University examined the experiences of 60 meditators.
They found that some experienced negative side effects such as low motivation, reliving negative memories and emotions, and trouble integrating back into society after experiences like a meditation retreat.
Physical side effects of meditation
According to the Brown University study mentioned above, some of the 60 meditation practitioners they interviewed experienced side effects like pain, pressure, involuntary movements, headaches, fatigue, weakness, gastrointestinal problems, and dizziness.
Additionally, it’s important to drink plenty of water before and after meditation, as dehydration can also be a side effect of meditation.
When should you not do meditation?
There are a few situations in which you may not want to do meditation.
- First, in situations that require your full attention, like driving a car, you should certainly not attempt to meditate.
- Second, when you’re feeling physical pain or exhaustion, it may be best to skip your meditation session.
- Finally, if you’re experiencing acute mental health issues, you should discuss any plans for meditation with a counselor.
Is there such a thing as too much meditation?
Yes. Just as with anything else, there is such a thing as too much meditation.
Some meditators sit for hours on end. While there isn’t an inherent risk in this, it’s important to be aware of your body and any physical pain that may come from sitting still for such a long time.
However, it’s common for people worldwide to safely participate in meditation retreats that are 3 days, 10 days, or even longer.
Apart from physical health limitations, it’s important to keep in mind that if you have existing mental health issues, it’s important to discuss your meditation practice with a counselor to ensure it fits into your overall treatment plan.
Weighing the pros and cons of meditation
When looking at reports of negative experiences some people have had with meditation, it’s important to be aware of the pros and cons.
What positive benefits might you be missing out on by skipping meditation?
Meditation has been shown to help with improved focus, decreased stress levels, better sleep, improved cognitive ability, and a sense of peace and calm. Apart from a few exceptions, meditation is an exceptionally low-risk activity with many benefits.
So unless you have a physical or mental health condition that might prevent you from trying it, you should feel safe in attempting this low-risk activity that can have a positive impact on your physical and emotional health.
Frequently asked questions
Is meditation bad for you?
Some people think meditation can have negative consequences from a mental, physical and spiritual standpoint.
From a physical perspective, meditation involves sitting still for long periods of time and should be done in moderation.
From a mental health perspective, most people have positive experiences with meditation and for the minority that don’t, it may be helpful to consult with a counselor to understand if meditation should be a part of your wellness plan.
On a spiritual level, some people think you can get lost in your thoughts and go on a spiritual journey that you may not be prepared for.
However, mindfulness meditation is actually about having more control over your mind, not less. If your goal is to spend more time in the present and bring back your thoughts when they wander away, then meditation is a good thing.
Can meditation have negative effects?
While meditation is generally a very safe practice, there are a few potential negative effects that you should be aware of that come from sitting still for long periods of time.
These negative effects can include things like headaches, dizziness, or fatigue. If you’re experiencing any negative discomfort while meditating, it’s important to take a break, and if problems persist, you should seek qualified medical advice.
Additionally, for people experiencing physical or mental health issues, it’s important to consult with a qualified physician or counselor before starting meditation.
Is it bad to meditate too much?
Just as with anything else, there is such a thing as too much meditation. It’s important to be aware of your physical and emotional limits and to respect them.
If you’re feeling exhausted or sick, it’s probably not the best time to meditate. And if you’re struggling with acute mental health issues, you may want to consult with a counselor before starting a meditation practice to ensure that it fits into your overall treatment plan.
Is there a spiritual danger to meditation?
Some religions teach that there may be spiritual dangers to meditation, in the sense that meditation is a form of inward reflection that falls outside the bounds of religion, and may lead them away from their religion.
In fact, mindfulness meditation is simply a mental health tool, much like gratitude journaling. There’s no reason someone can’t pursue a mindfulness meditation practice while also participating in a religion.
My mindfulness practice kicked off in 2016 with a ten-day silent retreat. Since then, I’ve read dozens of books about mindfulness and completed hundreds of hours of meditation. Thinking about what makes humans happy, calm, and peaceful is endlessly fascinating to me.