In a recently launched investigative podcast series “Untold: The Retreat,” Madison Marriage reports on a popular meditation technique called Vipassana and, more specifically, on meditation retreats held by the Goenka network, per NPR.

While numerous attendees say that Goenka retreats have positively transformed their lives, “The Retreat” focuses on the experiences of individuals whose mental well-being declined following a 10-day retreat — or in some cases, after attending multiple 10-day retreats, according to NPR.

Marriage told NPR, “(The problem is) the extremity of this particular practice. ... And it’s that which I think is driving people to quite extreme outcomes.”

What are the benefits of meditation?

Meditation can offer multiple health benefits, depending on how you incorporate it into your life.

Here are some typical benefits that the average person can find:

1. Stress relief

Though stress is a natural and normal response to help you reduce procrastination or stay away from danger, sometimes stress occurs when it doesn’t need to. Being in a prolonged state of unneeded stress can cause damage to you and your body, per Verywell Mind.

Meditating allows the body to be in a calm state, promoting relaxation and repair. Participating in a mindfulness meditation program can also help one learn how to refocus their thoughts in times of stress, according to Verywell Mind.

According to a study published by ScienceDirect, mindfulness meditation programs are effective at reducing stress.

A review published by ScienceDirect found that individuals who participated in mindfulness meditation programs reacted with positive and uplifting thoughts in times of stress, instead of the opposite.

2. A healthy body

Mayo Clinic found meditation can help individuals manage medical conditions, especially those where stress increases the problems. Research suggests meditation can reduce symptoms of:

  • Anxiety.
  • Asthma.
  • Cancer.
  • Chronic pain.
  • Depression.
  • Heart disease.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Tension headaches.

These conditions include both physical and mental problems.

In a review published by The New York Academy of Sciences, meditation was found to boost the immune system, which would help individuals recover quicker from colds.

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When can meditation be dangerous?

According to Marriage’s discussion with NPR, practicing meditation for hours on end is dangerous and can lead to mental or physical distress, even if the meditator has no previous history of such problems.

A review published by Wiley Online Library found that about 8% of individuals who meditate have an increase in anxiety, depression, stress or even psychosis with pain and hallucinations.

Miguel Faris, a co-author of the review, spoke about the review in BBC Science Focus. He said the practice of meditation may be harmful if practices are not carried out properly causing the mind to “become unstable, restless or confused.”

Faris suggested that intense meditation practices, especially long retreats or ones that ask individuals to reflect on negative events, may cause these negative effects, per BBC Science Focus.

So, if I want to meditate, how do I know if I will be safe?

According to Headspace, an app that specializes in providing mindfulness tools such as meditation, “If (meditation) feels like too much time, it probably is. It’s best to approach meditation much like anything else in life: start small ... For some people, this sweet spot is 10 minutes and for others, it’s 60 minutes.”

Overall, every person will have a different form or length of meditation that works best for them. If you want to try meditating, look for reputable sources such as videos or teachers and stop if you are feeling unwell.

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