“Mind the Hype” - The biggest open secret is that mindfulness and meditation cause side effects

Updated: Apr 11

Did you know that mindfulness and meditation can cause sickness and side effects for some people?

You may be shocked to read and learn about this. As the current advertising suggests nothing can go wrong practicing mindfulness and meditation and everything gets better. Listen to episode #84 of the Thriving Minds podcast with Associate Professor Nicholas Van Dam Nicholas is the inaugural Director of the Contemplative Studies Centre at the University of Melbourne and is the lead author of the paper called “Mind the Hype”,

Read the "Mind the Hype" paper.

Here is the link to the paper -download the paper here.

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Listen here to episode #84 Thriving Minds podcast. "Mind the Hype" with Associate Professor Nicholas Van Dam.

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Associate Professor Nicholas Van Dam vision for the Contemplative Studies Centre reflects a desire for inclusivity, authenticity, integrity, and excellence, embedded within a rigorous ethical framework to ensure retention of the ethos of contemplative practices while simultaneously promoting their empirical study.

Nicholas completed a Bachelor of Science in Neurobiology and Psychology at the University of Wisconsin - Madison (USA), followed by an MA and a PhD in Clinical Psychology at the University at Albany, SUNY (USA). Upon completing his PhD, Nicholas undertook post-doctoral fellowships in Psychiatry, Clinical Neuroscience and Psychiatric Neuroimaging.

Nicholas's research program includes exploration of the ways that meditation and mindfulness practices can support wellbeing, as well as improved understanding and treatment of high-prevalence psychiatric disorders (i.e., anxiety, depression, substance use), and is ultimately aimed at better understanding the human condition. He focuses on finding ways to mitigate maladaptive functioning and increase adaptive functioning. He has expertise in decision-making processes in psychiatric disorders, introspection and insight of self-concept via meditation research, and combines his extensive academic expertise in contemplative practice with an interest and understanding of the complex ethical, social and systemic issues associated with the 'hype, hope and reality' of meditation and mindfulness research and practice.


Buddhism's Biggest Open Secret: Meditation sickness

We discuss how since the early 2000s, mindfulness saw an exponential growth trajectory that continues to this day with ~32,000 media pieces mentioning the terms “mindfulness” or “meditation”. For example, the articles start with headings like: “the top mind-blowing meditation statistics for 2021”, stating that 200-500 million people meditate worldwide, 52% of employers provided mindfulness classes or training to employees in 2018, school suspensions were reduced by 45% thanks to meditation. Missing from the list is Buddhism’s biggest open secret with old texts that refer to “retreat rlung,” or “meditator’s disease” that can lead to agitation, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, headaches, chest or back pain, and other physical reactions such as diarrhea or indigestion. If left untreated, meditator’s disease can even lead to a practitioner’s becoming “severely mentally disturbed”.

The scientific studies are trying to understand how meditation, especially when carried out too much or without assistance from a trained professional, has the potential to cause more harm than good, particularly among those who have experienced trauma. There have large initiatives to bring mindfulness to the general public, such as Google, available as standard psychotherapy at the National Health Service in the U.K, and recently as part of the standard education for school children in London. A scientific review conducted by Odgers and colleagues at Macquarie University in Sydney examined 20 studies of random controlled trials and showed there was lack of evidence to support investment in school-based MBIs to address adolescent anxiety and a small effect in children.

As we are seeking ways to promote well-being, at the minimum we want to do no harm and in the best case to improve outcomes for people’s well-being. The simple ingredients of exercise, healthy food, sleep, love and playing outside may be as beneficial in some cases.

How to overcome meditation sickness with Dr Willoughby Britton Ph.D:

Dr Britton is also Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behaviour at Mindfulness Centre at Brown University in the U.S. Founder of Cheetah House.

They help meditators suffering from adverse effects.

Link to the website and resources.


Listen to episode #84 of the Thriving Minds podcast with Associate Professor Nicholas Van Dam Nicholas is the inaugural Director of the Contemplative Studies Centre at the University of Melbourne and is the lead author of the paper called “Mind the Hype”,