problems with meditation

Chatting with an Artificial Intelligence about meditation

A robot

Could a computer write a convincing and accurate article about meditation? Could it even teach meditation?

I decided to find out.

I keep hearing a lot about ChatGPT (the last part stands for “Generative Pre-trained Transformer “). Apparently some websites are using it to write articles, which is something most readers won’t notice, especially if the websites in question don’t tell you that the author was a computer, recombining information it’s found elsewhere on the internet.

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I thought it would be interesting to have a conversation with ChatGPT and see what it “knows” about meditation. It took me a while before I got anything but a message saying that the server was too busy to talk to me, but eventually the Artificial Intelligence and I sat down together for a nice chat.

Bodhipaksa: Hello. What are you called?

I am called OpenAI’s GPT-3, or simply ChatGPT for short. I am a state-of-the-art language model developed by OpenAI, designed to generate human-like text based on the input provided to me. I have been trained on a large corpus of text data and can respond to a wide range of questions and topics with informative and accurate answers.

Bodhipaksa: Where do you get your information?

I was trained on a massive corpus of text data from the internet and other sources, using machine learning algorithms developed by OpenAI. This training allows me to generate human-like responses to a wide range of questions and topics based on patterns in the data I was trained on. However, it’s important to note that while I have access to a vast amount of information, my responses are generated based on patterns in that data, and my knowledge is limited to the information available in my training data. My training data had a cutoff in 2021, so any information or events that have occurred since that time are not reflected in my responses.

Bodhipaksa: What are the benefits of Buddhist meditation?

Buddhist meditation practices offer various physical, mental and spiritual benefits, including:

  1. Reduced stress and anxiety
  2. Improved concentration and focus
  3. Increased self-awareness and mindfulness
  4. Better emotional regulation and reduced negative emotions
  5. Increased compassion and empathy
  6. Enhanced physical and mental well-being
  7. Greater sense of inner peace and calmness
  8. Deepened spiritual connection and understanding.

Note: These benefits may vary based on the individual and the specific meditation practice they are using.

Bodhipaksa: Are there different kinds of meditation in Buddhism?

Yes, there are various forms of meditation in Buddhism. Some of the most commonly practiced include:

  1. Mindfulness Meditation: The practice of bringing one’s attention to the present moment and becoming aware of one’s thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations.
  2. Loving-Kindness Meditation: A practice of generating feelings of kindness, compassion, and love towards oneself and others.
  3. Vipassana Meditation: A type of introspective meditation aimed at gaining insight into the nature of reality and the self.
  4. Zen Meditation: Also known as Zazen, this form of meditation involves focusing on the breath and maintaining a posture of stillness and alertness.
  5. Metta Meditation: A practice of cultivating loving-kindness and sending well wishes to all beings, including oneself and others.

These are just a few examples of the many forms of meditation found in Buddhism, each with its own unique focus, techniques, and benefits.

Bodhipaksa: What’s the difference between loving-kindness meditation and metta meditation?

Loving-kindness meditation and Metta meditation refer to the same practice in Buddhism. “Metta” is a Pali word that translates to “loving-kindness” in English.

In this meditation, one focuses on developing feelings of kindness, compassion, and love towards oneself and others. This can be done by repeating phrases such as “may I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be at peace” while focusing on oneself, and then extending those wishes to others, including friends, family, acquaintances, and eventually all beings.

The goal of Metta meditation is to cultivate positive emotions and reduce feelings of ill-will, anger, and hatred. Over time, practitioners aim to develop a more compassionate and loving outlook on life, and to extend these feelings of kindness towards all beings.

Bodhipaksa: I was a bit confused, because you listed those two forms of meditation separately.

I apologize for the confusion. You are correct, Loving-kindness Meditation and Metta Meditation are the same practice, and I should not have listed them separately. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

Bodhipaksa: Are there any downsides to practicing meditation?

While meditation offers many potential benefits, there are some potential downsides to keep in mind, including:

  1. Difficulty staying focused: For beginners, it can be difficult to maintain focus during meditation, especially if one is prone to distractions.
  2. Physical discomfort: Certain meditation postures, especially when maintained for long periods, can lead to physical discomfort, such as sore muscles or pain.
  3. Intense emotions: Meditation can sometimes bring up intense emotions, particularly past traumas or repressed feelings. This can be difficult to deal with and may require professional help.
  4. Unpleasant experiences: In rare cases, some individuals may have experiences during meditation that are frightening or unpleasant, such as vivid hallucinations or intense feelings of fear.
  5. Cultural appropriation: In some cases, the practice of meditation can be seen as cultural appropriation when individuals from outside the culture adopt it without understanding its cultural context and history.

It is important to approach meditation with caution and to seek guidance from a qualified teacher, especially if you have any concerns about your mental or physical health.

Bodhipaksa: How does one find a qualified teacher?

Finding a qualified teacher for meditation can be done in several ways:

  1. Look for local meditation centers or groups: Many cities have meditation centers or community groups that offer classes and workshops. You can search online for groups near you or check for listings in local directories or community centers.
  2. Find an online teacher: There are many online courses, websites, and videos that offer guidance for practicing meditation. You can also find online teachers who offer one-on-one instruction and support.
  3. Ask for recommendations: Reach out to friends, family, or colleagues who practice meditation and ask for recommendations for a qualified teacher.
  4. Check credentials and background: When looking for a teacher, be sure to check their credentials, experience, and background. Ask about their training and how long they have been teaching. Look for a teacher who is transparent about their qualifications and experience.

It is also important to feel comfortable with your teacher and to trust that they have your best interests in mind. You can try attending a few classes or workshops before committing to a particular teacher to ensure that their approach and style align with your needs and goals.

Bodhipaksa: Can you give me some simple meditation instructions?

Sure, here are some simple instructions for mindfulness meditation:

  1. Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit: You can sit on a chair, cushion, or mat. Make sure your back is straight and your feet are flat on the floor.
  2. Close your eyes: This can help reduce distractions and allow you to focus inward.
  3. Take a few deep breaths: Inhale deeply and exhale slowly, allowing yourself to relax and release any tension.
  4. Focus on your breath: Pay attention to the sensation of breathing, feeling the air as it moves in and out of your nose or mouth. If your mind starts to wander, simply notice the thought and gently redirect your attention back to your breath.
  5. Allow thoughts to come and go: Try not to judge or become attached to your thoughts. Simply acknowledge them and return your focus to your breath.
  6. Continue for 5-10 minutes: Start with a short meditation, perhaps 5-10 minutes, and gradually increase the length of your practice as you become more comfortable.
  7. End with a few deep breaths: Take a few deep breaths, open your eyes, and take a moment to reorient yourself before standing up and returning to your day.

Remember, mindfulness meditation is a practice and it can take time and patience to develop the skills necessary to maintain focus and mindfulness. With regular practice, however, it can be a valuable tool for reducing stress and improving overall well-being.

Bodhipaksa: Sometimes when I meditate, I see swirling colored lights. What does that mean?

Seeing swirling colored lights during meditation is not uncommon and can be a result of various factors, including:

  1. Relaxation: As you relax your body and mind during meditation, it can cause changes in brain activity and blood flow, which may result in visual experiences such as swirling lights.
  2. Visual cortex stimulation: Meditation can increase activity in the visual cortex, which is the part of the brain responsible for processing visual information. This increased activity can result in visual experiences such as patterns or lights.
  3. Mental imagery: Sometimes, during meditation, the mind can create mental images or visualizations, which may include swirling lights or colors.
  4. Eye pressure: If you are applying pressure to your eyes during meditation, such as by rubbing them or pressing them closed, it can cause changes in vision, including the perception of swirling lights.

It is important to remember that these experiences are normal and are not cause for concern. However, if you experience persistent changes in vision or other symptoms, it is recommended that you speak with a healthcare professional.

Bodhipaksa: Have you ever meditated?

As an AI language model, I do not have a physical body, emotions, or experiences. I was trained to respond to text-based inputs and to generate text-based outputs based on patterns in the data I was trained on. I cannot meditate in the traditional sense, as I do not have a physical body or consciousness.

Bodhipaksa: If you were able to meditate, which type of practice do you think you would choose?

As an AI language model, I do not have personal preferences, opinions, or the ability to experience emotions or physical sensations. I was designed to respond to text-based inputs and to generate text-based outputs based on patterns in the data I was trained on. However, different forms of meditation can be useful for different individuals and can depend on their personal goals and experiences. For example, someone looking to cultivate compassion and kindness may find that a loving-kindness or metta meditation practice is beneficial, while someone looking to reduce stress and improve focus may find that mindfulness meditation is a good fit.

Bodhipaksa: What can you tell me about the meditation teacher, Bodhipaksa?

Bodhipaksa is a Buddhist teacher and author who has been teaching meditation for over 30 years. He is the founder of the Buddhist meditation website, Wildmind, and has written several books on mindfulness and meditation. Bodhipaksa has been influenced by both traditional Buddhist teachings and contemporary mindfulness practices and is known for his approachable and accessible style of teaching. He offers teachings, workshops, and retreats on mindfulness and meditation, and his work has been widely recognized and respected in the Buddhist community. He is also the creator of several guided meditation CDs and podcasts. Bodhipaksa’s teachings emphasize the importance of developing a personal meditation practice and incorporating mindfulness into daily life to cultivate well-being, compassion, and wisdom.

Bodhipaksa: Thank you. This has been an interesting conversation.

You’re welcome! I’m glad I could assist with your questions. If you have any other questions or topics you’d like to know more about, feel free to ask. I’m here to help.

Verdict

Overall, the AI did a good job of scraping together information from various sources and combining it into a coherent and meaningful series of statements. What it had to say about meditation must have been drawn from reliable sources, since it all makes sense and is the kind of thing I would tend to write. It slipped up in listing loving-kindness meditation and metta meditation as being various forms of practice. My interaction with it might have taught it not to make that mistake again.

The first two responses to “How does one find a qualified teacher?” aren’t actually helpful. They explained how to find a teacher, but not how to find if a teacher is qualified. The last two suggestions were helpful, though.

I don’t really experience colored lights when I meditate, but lots of people do and have questions about it. The answer ChatGPT gave to that question was actually rich and informative. It did better than I would have!

So yes, I think this AI could certainly write a decent article on meditation. Of course it will be very superficial lack any personal anecdotes, but the information above is pretty solid. (Of course it’s just recycled information from elsewhere.)

I was pleased to see its very kind description of me, and how my work is “widely recognized and respected in the Buddhist community.” Nice!

Could an AI lead a meditation? It gave some instructions above, but there’s a big difference between giving written instructions and actually leading someone though a meditation.

I suppose it’s only a matter of time before someone feeds it (or one of it’s AI buddies) a bunch of guided meditation recordings, and it learns to mix and match them into some kind of guidance. I have doubts about whether it would be able to learn to do that well. Anything’s possible, though.

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Mindfulness and meditation need more rigorous study to identify impacts

wildmind meditation news

Dependable scientific evidence has lagged worrisomely behind the rapid and widespread adoption of mindfulness and meditation for pursuing an array of mental and physical wellness goals, wrote a group of 15 experts in a new article in Perspectives on Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The article offers a “critical evaluation and prescriptive agenda” to help the burgeoning mindfulness industry replace ambiguous hype with rigor in its research and clinical implementations.

Recent years have seen a huge surge not only in media and scientific articles about mindfulness and meditation, the authors wrote, but also in the implementation of medical interventions for everything from depression to addiction, pain and stress. The widespread adoption of therapies has put the field at a critical crossroads, the authors argued, where appropriate checks and balances must be implemented.

“Misinformation and poor methodology associated with past studies of mindfulness may lead public consumers to be harmed, misled and disappointed,” they wrote.

Co-author Willoughby Britton, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavior at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University said: “We are sometimes overselling the benefits of mindfulness to pretty much any person who has any condition, without much caution, nuance or condition-specific modifications, instructor training criteria, and basic science around mechanism of action. The possibility of unsafe or adverse effects has been largely ignored. This situation is not unique to mindfulness, but because of mindfulness’s widespread use in mental health, schools and apps, it is not ideal from a public health perspective.”

Lead author Nicholas Van Dam, a clinical psychologist and research fellow in psychological sciences at the University of Melbourne in Australia, said that the point of the article is not to disparage mindfulness and meditation practice or research, but to ensure that their applications for enhancing mental and physical health become more reflective of scientific evidence. So far, such applications have largely been unsupported, according to major reviews of available evidence in 2007 and again in 2014.

“The authors think there can be something beneficial about mindfulness and meditation,” Van Dam said. “We think these practices might help people. But the rigor that should go along with developing and applying them just isn’t there yet. Results from the few large-scale studies that have been conducted so far have proven equivocal at best.”

Added co-author David E. Meyer, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, “Sometimes, truly promising fields of endeavor get outstripped by efforts to harvest them before they’re really ripe; then workers there must step back, pause to take stock, and get a better plan before moving onward.”

A young, undefined field

Among the biggest problems facing the field is that mindfulness is poorly and inconsistently defined both in popular media and the scientific literature. According to the authors, there “is neither one universally accepted technical definition of ‘mindfulness’ nor any broad agreement about detailed aspects of the underlying concept to which it refers.” As a result, research papers have varied widely in what they actually examine, and often, their focus can be hard to discern.

“Any study that uses the term ‘mindfulness’ must be scrutinized carefully, ascertaining exactly what type of ‘mindfulness’ was involved, what sorts of explicit instruction were actually given to participants for directing practice,” the authors wrote. “When formal meditation was used in a study, one ought to consider whether a specifically defined type of mindfulness or other meditation was the target practice.”

“Without specific, well-defined terms to describe not only practices but also their effects, studies of interventions such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) cannot provide valid and comparable measurements to produce reliable evidence.” As part of its proposed remedy, the new article offers a “non-exhaustive list of defining features for characterizing contemplative and medication practices.”

Greater rigor

Along with specific, precise and standardized definitions, similar improvements in research methodology must also come, the authors wrote.

“Many intervention studies lack or have inactive control groups,” Van Dam said.

The field also has struggled to achieve consistency in what it is being measured and how to measure those things perceived to be of greatest importance to mindfulness.

Van Dam said the situation is akin to earlier psychological research on intelligence. This concept proved to be too broad and too vague to measure directly. Ultimately, however, psychologists have made progress by studying the “particular cognitive capacities that, in combination, may make people functionally more or less intelligent,” he and his co-authors wrote.

Thus, the authors wrote, “We recommend that future research on mindfulness aim to produce a body of work for describing and explaining what biological, emotional, cognitive, behavioral and social, as well as other such mental and physical functions, change with mindfulness training.”

Clinical care

A wide variety of contemplative practices have been studied for an even larger variety of purposes, yet in both basic and clinical studies of mindfulness and meditation, researchers have rarely advanced to the stage where they can confidently conclude whether particular effects or specific benefits resulted directly from the practice. Measured by the National Institutes of Health’s stage model for clinical research, only 30 percent of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) have moved past the first stage, and only 9 percent have tested efficacy in a research clinic against an active control.

“Given the absence of scientific rigor in much clinical mindfulness research, evidence for use of MBIs in clinical contexts should be considered preliminary.,” the authors wrote.

The proposed agenda for future research is rigorous and extensive, Van Dam said.

“Replication of earlier studies with appropriately randomized designs and proper active control groups will be absolutely critical,” the authors continued. “In conducting this work, we recommend that researchers provide explicit detail of mindfulness measures, primary outcome measures, mindfulness/meditation practices and intervention protocol.”

Researchers and care providers involved with delivering MBIs have begun to become more vigilant about possible adverse effects, the authors wrote, but more needs to be done. As of 2015, fewer than 25 percent of meditation trials actively monitored for negative or challenging experiences.

Contemplating contemplative neuroscience

Van Dam said recent efforts to assess the neural correlates of mindfulness and meditation with technologies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and magnetoencephalography, may perhaps have the potential to bring new rigor to the field. Nonetheless, he and his co-authors also express concern in the article that these technologies so far have not fulfilled this potential.

The authors note that technologies such as MRI depend on subjects remaining physically still while being tested, and image quality can be affected by subjects’ rate of breathing. Experienced meditators may be better suited to maintaining ideal physiological states for MRI studies than are inexperienced individuals or non-meditators. Due to such problematic factors, between-group differences in brain scans might have little to do with the mental state researchers are attempting to measure and much to do with head motion and/or breathing differences.

“Contemplative neuroscience has often led to overly simplistic interpretations of nuanced neurocognitive and affective phenomena,” the authors wrote. “As a result of such oversimplifications, meditative benefits may be exaggerated and undue societal urgency to undertake mindfulness practices may be encouraged.”

Ultimately that’s the authors’ shared concern: Insufficient research may mislead people to think that the vague brands of “mindfulness” and “meditation” are broad-based panaceas when in fact refined interventions may only be helpful for particular people in specific circumstances. More, and much better, scientific studies are needed to clarify these matters. Otherwise people may waste time and money, or worse, suffer needless adverse effects.

“This paper is a coordinated effort among concerned mindfulness researchers and meditation scholars to rectify this gap to maximize benefit and minimize harm from MBIs,” Britton said.

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On becoming disconnected from oneself in meditation

I often receive questions by email. Although I’ll sometimes reply directly to them, it strikes me that the best use of my time is to share my responses publicly, so that others might benefit.

Here’s the question, which came from someone who I’ll call Josh.

For a while now, I have been meditating and my body has remained tense – as I am usually quite tense – but my mind relaxes, but in a negative way; it is as if I begin to mentally and emotionally feel numbed out and lost. I would like to be able to meditate on the tension, on emotions, on really anything that’s going on within me, but I end up frustrated and confused because I feel that sense of numbed out and unable to reconnect. I wanted to ask if this is as at all common and if you had any suggestions on how to reconnect and deepen the practice regarding this issue.

Decades ago, when I was first starting to practice meditation, I’d occasionally hear warnings from my teachers about how certain approaches to practice could result in emotional “alienation.” The founder of the tradition in which I practice had come back to the UK from India, and came across (or heard about) a few individuals who had become disconnected from their own experience to the extent that they were “robotic.” One of the things they’d been doing, apparently, was “noting,” which means adding a silent mental note, describing what’s going on in one’s experience.

Noting in this way can be a valuable practice, helping us to be more mindful and clear. But in the case of these people, the mental experience of noting became a replacement for the actual physical experience that was being described. While saying “arm lifting, arm lifting” and “sipping tea, sipping tea,” the thoughts, rather than the actual physical experiences, had become the focus of attention. And having become disconnected from the body, emotional disconnection would follow. Apparently some people became hospitalized as a result of this emotional disconnection, which we now call “depersonalization.”

Despite having heard warnings about the danger of this, I never actually came across anyone who seemed to have suffered in this way. But in recent years (probably because on the internet you can find anything) I’ve heard several people say that this, or something very similar to it, has happened to them. The Brown University psychiatry researcher, Willoughby Britton, has started a project to document and study this and other troubling phenomena that may arise in meditation.

I don’t know if this depersonalization is exactly what’s happened with Josh. Most people who write to me about their meditation practice forget to mention what kind of meditation practice they’re actually doing, but probably he’s doing some form of mindfulness practice. He may not be doing “noting,” however.

But, mindfulness practice isn’t enough. The warnings I’ve referred to were in the context of emphasizing how important lovingkindness (metta), compassion, and other more emotion-based forms of meditation are. The Buddha himself taught a wide range or practices, and encouraged an all-round path of moral and emotional development.

The Triratna tradition in which I practice stresses the importance of balancing mindfulness practice with metta practice. I suggest to my students (as it was suggested to me) that practice consist of alternating metta meditation with mindfulness practice. One suggestion is to do these practices on alternate days, making sure that you don’t skip one of them because you find it more challenging. It may, however, be acceptable to focus on one practice more intensively if it’s genuinely needed. For example when you’re exceptionally distracted, you might focus more on mindfulness for a few days, or if you’re in a chronic bad mood or tend to be very critical you might want to do much more metta practice for a while—perhaps even for weeks or months.

There are other practices that are useful as well. Kalyana mitrata (spiritual friendship) is a valuable way to connect with others on an emotional as well as an intellectual level. Devotional practice can also awaken the heart. Physical exercise and the enjoyment of the arts are also ways that we can stay in touch with our emotions.

One thing to beware of is long periods of intensive practice that involve only mindfulness. Some people do fine with that, but if there’s a tendency to lose touch with the emotions, then it would be best not to be too “gung-ho” about practice, and to be gentle with oneself.

My advice to Josh would be to stop whatever practice he’s currently doing and to take up lovingkindness and compassion practice. I’d suggest focusing exclusively on those for at least six months. If possible he should connect with a sangha (a flesh and bones one rather than an online one) on a regular basis. A sangha that encourages discussion and friendship would be more valuable than one in which people merely sit together but don’t socialize or even communicate much. And the other things I’ve suggested—physical exercise and enjoyment of the arts—are something I’d also strongly encourage. Retreats focusing on lovingkindness and compassion might also be helpful.

Fortunately what Josh describes isn’t common. And I’m fairly sure that the approach I’ve described will be helpful. I’ve taught thousands of people to meditate and so far I’ve never heard of this kind of depersonalization happening to anyone I’ve known.

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The dark knight of the soul

wildmind meditation news

Tomas Rocha, The Atlantic: For some, meditation has become more curse than cure. Willoughby Britton wants to know why.

Set back on quiet College Hill in Providence, Rhode Island, sits a dignified, four story, 19th-century house that belongs to Dr. Willoughby Britton. Inside, it is warm, spacious, and organized. The shelves are stocked with organic foods. A solid wood dining room table seats up to 12. Plants are ubiquitous. Comfortable pillows are never far from reach. The basement—with its own bed, living space, and private bathroom—often hosts a rotating cast of yogis and meditation teachers. Britton’s own living space and office are on the …

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Meditation study links history to science

wildmind meditation news

Ashna Mukhi, Brown Daily Herald: Meditation study links history to science; Light experiences during meditation similar to visualizations caused by sensory deprivation.

Practitioners of Buddhist meditation have reported seeing globes, jewels and little stars during meditation-induced light experiences. The neurobiological explanation for these visions was the subject of a recent study led by Willoughby Britton, assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior, and Jared Lindahl, professor of religious studies at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina.

The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology Jan. 3, connects first-hand accounts of these light experiences and reports of them from Buddhist texts to scientific literature

Read the original article »

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The dark side of meditation

Here’s an interesting conversation between Brown University neuroscientist (and meditation teacher) Willoughby Britton and yoga and Buddhism teacher Michael Stone. Britton, as a good scientist, is interested in cataloguing the confusing, unpleasant, and sometimes harmful effects that meditators may experience, including cognitive and sensory aberrations, emotional difficulties or challenges, changes sense of self, and disturbing physiological manifestations.

My experience is that adverse effects to meditation are rare. Some manifestations in fact may not be at all harmful and may be signs of progress in meditation (e.g. changes in the perceived relative size of different parts of the body) but might be mistaken for “going crazy.” Other manifestations — such as some people who have contacted me to discuss a complete loss of emotional affect — are clearly very destructive and need to be investigated.

Britton makes the point that some approaches to meditation have ripped mindfulness from its traditional context, where it’s embedded in a framework of practice that includes intellectual understanding, ethical observance, devotion, and practices such as the brahmaviharas, and present it as a stand-alone practice. This may work for many people, but it may also lead to problems.

The fact that meditation is not enough something I’ve written about. I’ve also written about how some people, though an unbalanced approach to practice, can become disconnected from themselves.

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Relaxing is stressful for some

Tia Ghose, LiveScience: Deep breaths, yoga, a lazy day at the beach: While some may find those activities soothing, their mere mention can set other people’s nerves on edge.

Now, a new method may help therapists measure just how much relaxing stresses people out. The new tool, which will be presented Saturday (Nov. 16) at the annual convention of the Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, should help therapists know when to say “breathe in…” and when to steer clear of relaxation techniques.

“For a lot of different anxiety disorders, we use relaxation as a treatment,” said Christina Lumberto, a psychology doctoral candidate at the University of Cincinnati. “But for the people who don’t like that, it’s not a helpful treatment.”

In the 1980s, psychologists first noticed that some people doing relaxation exercises would actually get quite anxious.

“At first, you do see decreased heart rate, decreased breathing, things that indicate relaxation,” Lumberto told LiveScience. “After they have achieved a relaxed state, all of a sudden everything just spikes back up.”

Because so many modern anxiety treatments use mind-body relaxation techniques such as meditation, Lumberto and her colleagues wanted to identify patients for whom these techniques might backfire. [7 Reasons You Should Meditate]

They created a 21-point questionnaire and tested it on 300 undergraduate students. The survey asks people to rate, on a scale of 0 to 5, how much they agree with statements like, “It scares me when my breathing becomes deeper;” and, “I hate getting massages because of the feeling it creates when my muscles relax.”

The questionnaire captures the myriad reasons why people might have trouble winding down, from feeling lazy to an intense fear of being out of control.

“Some people don’t like to relax because of the physical changes, the sensations of their muscles relaxing,” she said. “Other people will say they don’t like relaxing because they’re actually worried about whether or not they’re relaxing correctly.”

People who fear calming techniques may be more sensitive to changes in their normal physical state, such as changes in heart rate or blood pressure, regardless of whether they’re due to relaxation or to anxiety, Lumberto said.

The relaxation-phobic tend to be more anxious in general, she said. (Oddly, those who fear relaxation are also more prone to asthma, Lumberto’s past research has found.)

Instead of diving into meditation, the relaxation-averse may need to dip their toes in first, using a technique called exposure therapy, which is more commonly used to conquer fears of wide-open spaces or spider phobia, she said.

Of course, just because you dislike yoga or lounging on the beach doesn’t mean you have a problem.

“The point where it becomes problematic is if it really gets in the way of living your life,” Lumberto said.

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