Meditation is dangerous?

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.
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Re: Meditation is dangerous?

Postby TimM » Sat Dec 26, 2009 11:21 pm

This doesn't affect most of us, but there is some evidence that in some people with epilepsy, meditation can trigger seizures. My understanding is that meditation tends to produce hypersynchronous brain waves, which precede seizures in some people. This is a matter of current controversy among epileptologists, but I have seen references to NIH funding of studies to explore this connection. So here's one case where meditation is possibly physically dangerous for some people.

I'm grateful never to have experienced this effect myself. It would be pretty disheartening to find oneself medically precluded from practicing meditation.

Tim M.

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Re: Meditation is dangerous?

Postby Ben » Sat Dec 26, 2009 11:26 pm

Hello Tim
I find your suggestion curious given that on the recent 10-day vipassana retreat I attended, the young gentleman to my left was an epileptic. And I should mention he was a veteran of many 10-day vipassana retreats.
kind regards

“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

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Cafael Dust
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Re: Meditation is dangerous?

Postby Cafael Dust » Sun Dec 27, 2009 1:33 pm

Is it as dangerous as not meditating? Because I hear that can be pretty dicey too.
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Re: Meditation is dangerous?

Postby catmoon » Sun Dec 27, 2009 1:38 pm

Depends who you are. But my belief is that for a person randomly selected off the street, meditation is about as dangerous as shopping for groceries. But even so, you will find some people for whom grocery shopping is a high risk behaviour. One might have a nut allergy, and someone might have left a small smear of peanut butter from the bulk bins on the handle of your shopping cart.

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Re: Meditation is dangerous?

Postby Monkey Mind » Sun Dec 27, 2009 5:59 pm

Some of the combat vets I work with say that grocery stores are the worst for them, because they have reoccuring fantasies of having to fight their way out of the store and murdering everyone in the process. So where does that leave them regarding ability to attend a meditation retreat?
"As I am, so are others;
as others are, so am I."
Having thus identified self and others,
harm no one nor have them harmed.

Sutta Nipāta 3.710

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Re: Meditation is dangerous?

Postby TimM » Sun Dec 27, 2009 7:50 pm

Obviously whatever effect meditation has on seizures isn't universal among people with epilepsy, or there wouldn't be controversy about whether or not it's real. It's also true that stress is a seizure trigger for a whole lot of people, and that insofar as meditation reduces stress, it might be expected to reduce seizures. Here's a link to a clinical trial exploring this hypothesis. As far as I can tell, whether either effect exists and which is larger is not currently known. It's entirely possible that for those of us with epilepsy, not meditating is indeed more dangerous than meditating.

I'm hardly an expert on this stuff, but for anyone interested in looking at what's known, here is a link to what feels to me like a pretty balanced discussion, and here's an abstract in pubmed from a paper arguing that meditation might predispose to seizures. All this is pretty preliminary, and there certainly hasn't been enough work done to discriminate among different types of meditation.

As I say, I think the jury is still out on this, but as a beginning meditator and who also has seizures (but for whom there is no connection between the two), I was surprised and interested to find both experts who think that meditation might help seizure control and experts who think meditation may be harmful to some people with epilepsy.

Again, I'm sure the effect can't be very large. We discussed this a year or so ago on the Epilepsy Foundation of America's web board, and as I recall, nobody there felt that meditation had had either positive or negative effects on their seizures.

Tim M.

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