ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2022, Vol. 30 ›› Issue (11): 2570-2585.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2022.02570

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The safety of meditation

SUN Shasha1, LI Xiaobing2()   

  1. 1College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Zhongkai University of Agriculture and Engineering Guangzhou, Guangdong 510225, China
    2Department of Physical Education, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou 510275, China
  • Received:2022-02-14 Online:2022-11-15 Published:2022-11-09
  • Contact: LI Xiaobing


So far, the large and expanding body of research on meditation has mostly focused on the benefits of meditation on health and well-being. However, the rapid growth of research and applications of meditation has raised questions regarding its safety, since the potential for harm has not been comprehensively studied. Very little is known about the prevalence and potential causes of adverse events of meditation. In the context of millions of meditators worldwide, even low rates of adverse events become an important concern not only for the nascent field of contemplative science but for public health more generally. It is a serious ethical issue that must be paid more attention to. So far, the field of adverse effects of meditation conducted on easterners and Chinese is still blank. According to a systematic review by Farias et al. (2020), the overall prevalence of meditation adverse effects was 8.3%. Seven domains of meditation-related challenges (cognitive, perceptual, affective, somatic, conative, sense of self, and social) and four domains of influencing factors (practitioner-level factors, practice-level factors, relationships, and health behaviors) were yielded by a content-driven thematic analysis (Lindahl et al., 2017). The following research directions can be considered in the future: (1) Research on the local Chinese culture can be realized through two approaches: First, through dialogue with Western studies, establishing whether individuals in Oriental and /Western cultures have different presentations of adverse meditation effects, and identifying the different presentations and mechanisms of these adverse effects. Second, through deepening the relevant discourses on meditation in texts from Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism, exploring the philosophical basis of safe meditation practice, and focusing on the processes and mechanisms of adverse meditation effect and transformation. (2) In view of the important role of the instructor in ensuring meditation safety, examining the competency of the meditation instructor is also an important direction for future research, as well as the multi-level interactions between both individuals in the instructor-practitioner relationship on meditation outcomes, will help clarify the mechanism of the effects of the meditation instructor on the practitioner. (3) Regarding the study method, the person-centered approach was adopted to explain and respond to the adverse meditation effects in the context of the individual’s society, religion, and culture. A longitudinal study design was used to examine whether adverse meditation effects can be transformed, and under what particular conditions transformation can occur. According to the predictions of Monitor and Acceptance Theory (MAT, Lindsay & Creswell, 2017; Lindsay et al., 2019), attention monitoring increases the level of individual awareness and enhances emotional response, which is considered the reason for the occurrence of adverse mediation effects. With the development of acceptance in the individual, the intensity of emotional response decreases and adverse mediation effects are transformed, thereby achieving healing in the individual through this process. The dismantling design was used to identify the different components of attention monitoring and acceptance, and to explore in depth the role of these components in the process of adverse mediation effects and transformation.

Key words: meditation, mindfulness, safety, adverse effects, person-centered approach

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