The Side Effects of Meditation

Side effects like anxiety can accompany a deepening meditation practice.
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If you're experiencing side effects from meditation, you're not doing it correctly, advises physician and spiritual advisor Deepak Chopra, author of "Spiritual Solutions." In meditation, you let go of physical, emotional and mental activity and experience a deep, natural state of restfulness. As you relax, you release subtle layers of tension that you may have been holding for your whole life. You may feel the effects of that release in your everyday life.

1 Description of Meditation

Meditation is central to Hindu and Buddhist practice. The word "dhyana" -- root of the word "zen" -- refers to the state of meditation and is one of the limbs of yoga, a system for liberation involving physical and spiritual exercises. In Buddhist thought, the ultimate goal of meditation is nirvana, which means the extinguishing of all thought and freedom from the cycle of death and rebirth. All authentic meditation practices lead to silence, which practitioners might equate with peace, transcendence, samadhi or no-mind, depending on the tradition in which they are practicing.

2 Meditation Modalities

Webster's Dictionary equates meditation with spiritual contemplation. It involves relaxation, concentration, suspension of logical thought and self-observation. In mindfulness meditation, the practitioner sits quietly, focuses on the breath and ceases all other activity while adopting an attitude of detachment to thoughts. Some active meditations are similar, except that the practitioner maintains the barest minimum of simple movements, which may be walking, swaying or humming. Some meditative practices use physical methods to awaken energy, but only to produce subsequent periods of rest and quiet. The emphasis in all meditation practices is to maintain alertness.

3 Side Effects

Meditation can have an impact on the psychological, physical and emotional life of the practitioner. It isn't unusual to experience anxiety, depression, confusion and even addiction to meditation, as well as physical effects such as headaches and loss of sleep. Psychiatrist D. H. Shapiro reports that 62 percent of meditators monitored in a study experienced negative side effects. He found that the probability of experiencing those effects was independent of the amount of time a person had been practicing, suggesting that long-term practice does not make one immune.

4 Dealing with Side Effects

Psychologist Patricia Carrington recommends specific techniques for dealing with negative effects that may arise -- often as part of a healing process. For example, sitting without moving can cause aches and pains to develop, but they may go away if you focus on them as part of your practice. Moreover, you can often neutralize anxiety with deep breathing. Taking a break from meditation may allow negative symptoms to subside.

Chris Deziel has a bachelor's degree in physics and a master's degree in humanities. Besides having an abiding interest in popular science, Deziel has been active in the building and home design trades since 1975. As a landscape builder, he helped establish two gardening companies.