Transforming Teaching and Learning Through Reflective Practice

Can mindfulness meditation have negative side effects?

We have two copies of Dr. Miguel Farias' "The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You?" book to give away. For a chance to win one, please email us <>, with your full mailing address and put the word "Buddha" in the title. We'll select two entries at random.

Adherents of meditation say it clears the mind and equips people to handle stress. A recent UBC study of grade four and five students in Coquitlam, B.C. says kids were calmer, more optimistic, and their math skills improved after being instructed in mindfulness. In 2010, a study from Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health concluded that mindfulness is just as effective as medication in preventing a relapse into major depression. But Dr. Miguel Farias of Coventry University argues that meditation can be connected to serious negative effects in some people and that the scientific research into the practice has been overwhelmingly uncritical. Farias is the co-author of the new book, The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You?

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.    

Your interest in the negative effects of meditation began with a student of yours, Louise. What happened to her?

She had been in a meditation retreat over the weekend and she was a yoga teacher. So she was used to meditating but this time things didn't go quite how she had planned. She started feeling very detached from her body. And to start with she felt, "Oh, perhaps this is a good sign that I'm moving spiritually somewhere," but she started getting more and more anxious as she felt that she couldn't get back to herself. She went back home and it kept deteriorating, so that she had to go to a psychiatric hospital and she was in treatment for most of ten years.

You said that she thought this might be a good thing. What did she think was happening to her?
I've heard this from other people who have gone through similar experiences....