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Unveiling Side Effects of Meditation: Insights and Precautions

When not to meditate
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The post refers to meditations that are based on awareness of thought and emotions and not other forms of meditations


For as long as I remember, almost everyone I spoke to about meditation has told me that it is the way to a blissful and peaceful living. Some have gone to an extent of saying that it is the solution to whatever problem one has and everyone should practise it as there are no side effects of meditation.

And I kept wondering whether this is true?

Because for me common sense and experience both say “either a process has an effect or it does not have an effect. If there is an effect then there would generally be a positive as well as negative depending upon how, when and where the process is applied.”

And the same should be true for Meditation too.

My Journey with Meditation

Side effects of meditation

As the time passed I started doing some meditations.

By meditation I mean, Whenever I would feel sad or worried I would sit with my eyes closed and observe my thoughts and emotions. Meditation was difficult for me at least during the initial days. I did start becoming more and more comfortable over a period of time.

Different feelings during and after Meditation

Over a period of time, I also observed that I felt good and relieved after doing meditation exercises. At the same time, I did not feel any improvement in my ability to deal with my worries or sadness in my day-to-day life once the meditation got over.

In fact, I observed that I became more irritable in my day-to-day life i.e. I felt good during and after my meditation exercise but then the irritation, sadness, and worry would return and each time it returned with slightly greater intensity.

This created confusion for me as I couldn’t understand why this was happening. At the same time, I felt calm after meditation, so I assumed meditation was helping me and continued with my mediation exercises especially when I was in a negative state of mind.

Change in my understanding of meditation

This continued for some more time till one day I came to know that one of my acquaintances (who had been meditating for many years and every day used to meditate for hours at times) committed suicide.

This made me wonder because I had been told that meditation helps in improving our physical, emotional and mental well-being but then there was this person who meditated for hours and yet committed suicide.

Now as I wondered, I started looking for more information on how meditation affects us and our minds and can there be any side effects of meditation. What really happens to our thoughts and emotions as we go into a meditative state?

This is when I came across a model of mind that attempts to explain what is the Mind and how it works. It also explained how self-hypnosis and meditation affect our minds?

Understanding Meditation through the Model of Mind

According to this model, we have a

  1. Conscious mind:
    Where along with other conscious processes we experience thoughts and emotions,
  2. Subconscious mind:
    Which is the storehouse of experiences and is approximately 6000 times more powerful than the conscious mind and
  3. Critical filter:
    Contains our beliefs, and values that act as a gatekeeper between the conscious and subconscious and are the basis of what experiences (including thoughts and emotions) are allowed to go into the subconscious.

The model also explained how self-hypnosis and meditation can help a person bypass the critical filter so as to allow some information and suggestion that are framed consciously (ideally positive ones) into the subconscious, which could have been discarded by the critical filter, so as to change the existing limiting beliefs.

And then I realised how meditation could actually be very dangerous for people who are in a very negative state of mind at the time of starting the process of meditation.

I realised that when one is having negative thoughts and emotions, the critical filter prevents them from going into the subconscious (remember which is 6000 times stronger).

But when one meditates, he or she is able to bypass the critical filter which allows these negative thoughts and emotions to seep into the subconscious making them 6000 times more powerful.

As a result, one feels calmer and relaxed during and just after the meditation process but later it is due to the power of the subconscious that these thoughts and emotions become even more intense and powerful.

Ironically this makes the person meditating feel that it is only during meditation that he or she is calm and relaxed which drives them towards meditation even more.

One of the side effects of meditation is that meditation can become an escape route for people i.e. whenever they come across uncomfortable situations, instead of facing them they resort to meditation hoping the situation will sort out by itself, which rarely happens.

Therapy with clients who have been practising meditation

The various points made in this post have both been validated and helpful when I have worked with clients during one-to-one therapy sessions. It is for this reason that we have incorporated a more elaborate understanding of the different types of meditations and their effects in our Cognitive Hypnotic Psychotherapy® Program.

If you are a mental health professional, you must read more about this course and how it effectively integrates different approaches to psychotherapy (cognitive, behavioural, psycho-dynamic and humanistic) with techniques from Clinical Hypnosis, NLP, Mindfulness and Metaphor therapy.

Things to remember about meditation and self-hypnosis:

  • These are precautionary processes, not curative ones.
  • Both have the ability to magnify the effect of thoughts and emotions (both positive and negative) that one experiences at the time when one begins these processes.
  • Do not use these processes at a time when you have thoughts and emotions that you would not like to run your life (including when you are feeling sad, angry, guilty, afraid and so on…)

Related Articles on Side Effects of Meditation

P.S: The purpose of this post on side effects of meditation, is not to stop people from meditation but to spread the awareness that meditation is simply a tool and not a magic pill to resolve your problems. How and when you use this tool will determine whether it improves your life or makes it worse.

Photo Credits: Afonso Coutinho