Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Meditation madness

Adam Grant does a NYTimes Op-Ed piece that mirrors some of my own sentiments about the current meditation craze. There would seem to be almost nothing that practicing meditation doesn't enhance (ingrown toenails?) I'm fascinated by what studies on meditation have told us about how the mind works, and MindBlog has done many posts on the topic (click the meditation link under 'selected blog categories' in the right column.) I and many others personally find it very useful in maintaining a calm and focused mind.  But.... it is not a universal panacea, and many of its effects can be accomplished, as Grant points out, by other means. (By the way, a Wisconsin colleague of mine who has assisted in a number of the meditation studies conducted by Richard Davidson and collaborators at the University of Wisconsin feels that people who engage meditation regimes display more depressive behaviors after a period of time.) Some clips from Grant's screed:
...Every benefit of the practice can be gained through other activities...This is the conclusion from an analysis of 47 trials of meditation programs, published last year in JAMA Internal Medicine: “We found no evidence that meditation programs were better than any active treatment (i.e., drugs, exercise and other behavioral therapies).”
O.K., so meditation is just one of many ways to fight stress. But there’s another major benefit of meditating: It makes you mindful. After meditating, people are more likely to focus their attention in the present. But as the neuroscientist Richard Davidson and the psychologist Alfred Kaszniak recently lamented, “There are still very few methodologically rigorous studies that demonstrate the efficacy of mindfulness-based interventions in either the treatment of specific diseases or in the promotion of well-being.”
And guess what? You don’t need to meditate to achieve mindfulness either...you can become more mindful by thinking in conditionals instead of absolutes...Change “is” to “could be,” and you become more mindful. The same is true when you look for an answer rather than the answer.
(I would also point out that 'mindfulness' can frequently be generated by switching in your thoughts from a first to a third person perspective.) Finally:
...in some situations, meditation may be harmful: Willoughby Britton, a Brown University Medical School professor, has discovered numerous cases of traumatic meditation experiences that intensify anxiety, reduce focus and drive, and leave people feeling incapacitated.


  1. Interesting about depressive behaviors. It has been said Buddhist practice with it's acceptance of death will, over time, cause the practitioner to increasingly resemble a dead person.

  2. "Meditation is not a panacea.." true. Meditated 45 years What happens after a bit of time is the rising of all the bunk, gunk and junk within...called Purification. At this point you likely need a Therapist to help balance things. See Jack Kornfield's extensive writings or David Brazier's for more on this. Good article!

  3. Anonymous12:02 PM

    Where are the rigorous studies showing the increase in depression in meditators? Please reference.

  4. I made it clear in my text that I was reporting an opinion of an observer, not a rigorous study.