Experts warn that there are some downsides to meditation

While the benefits of meditating have been tirelessly proven in recent research, few talk, or even know, about the downsides of the practice.

Meditation has been proven to reduce inflammation and your risk of heart disease while boosting your immune system.

However, researchers at Brown University are now speaking out about the negative affects that meditation sessions can have on people who have experienced trauma in the past, among others.

They are emphasizing the fact that meditation instructors need to be aware of the fact that their methods could cause certain people distress – achieving the exact opposite of the desired effect.

Researchers at Brown University have revealed the negative effects of meditation, saying that the practices can cause some individuals to experience panic or anxiety (file photo)

Willoughby Britton, the director of the Clinical and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory at Brown University, said that she became interested in studying the harmful affects of meditation when she realized that most current research presents it as risk-free.

‘There’s been a lot of attention to the benefits,’ she explained.

Britton, who mentioned that she practices meditation herself, said that her team at Brown interviewed meditators and instructors to look at meditation consequences that are not frequently discussed.


Meditation can be traced back to as early as 5000 BC.

It is associated with some philosophies and religions but is practiced as a secular, stress-relieving activity more and more.

A new study published today has revealed that meditation can reduce one’s risk of heart disease by decreasing risk factors that can lead to the illness.

Specifically, it found that the practices can lower one’s blood pressure and their anxiety and depression levels.

It can also help people quit smoking, which can lead to a fatal heart attack.

Experts are warning that healthy lifestyle changes such as being more physically active are still the surest way to ward off the disease, but adding that meditation can also decrease one’s chances.

They found that some meditators experience anxiety and panic during meditation sessions, as it brings traumatic memories to the forefront of their minds.

‘One of the main takeaways [of the interviews] was how they responded to it,’ Britton said.

She added that there are many factors that influence how a person will respond to meditation, including how strong their support system is.

Britton said that those who come from dysfunctional or abusive families are at risk for responding negatively to meditation. 

But she cautioned that having a history with trauma or psychiatric problems are not the only risk factors, saying that other people who had never experienced such issues also responded badly to meditation practices.

Her team decided how poorly or well a person responded to meditation by figuring out how much or little the practices affected their ability to complete the tasks in their day to day lives.

‘We ask people what percentage of their normal functioning is impaired,’ Britton said, explaining that some people had trouble with basic duties as a result of the stress meditation caused them.

She said that her study proves that ‘this is an issue that needs to be addressed’ and said that many in the field are working to pinpoint how meditation instructors can make the experience safer for at-risk individuals.

Safety training for these instructors consists of an overview of the present research that details the negative responses some people have to meditation, Britton said, since they first and foremost need to be educated about the problem.

This training also includes lessons on how to screen meditators. ‘You need to know if someone has a traumatic history,’ Britton explained, adding that one of the main problems right now is that nobody asks meditators questions about their history.

‘They haven’t been adequately monitored,’ she said. 

And it is crucial to conduct this screening in a private setting, not during a meditation session, which could include 100 other people and thus leave the previously traumatized person feeling stigmatized, Britton said.