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Fear, Bliss, and Breathing Changes during Meditation: A Case Study of a Transformative Experience

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Meditation is often investigated to uncover its potential health benefits. Some recent studies, however, indicate that certain challenging, negative or adverse effects may be connected to meditation practice. Breathing changes, such as irregularities and breath cessation, are examples of this. Other studies and traditional sources view breath cessation in a positive light, connecting it to deep absorption. The present study, which is a case study involving diary reports, micro-phenomenological self-inquiry and blood oxygen saturation measurements, describes a transformative experience: Breath irregularities and cessation events during meditation were initially experienced as challenging and fearful, but, after a period of around 15 years, became associated exclusively with positively valenced terms such as bliss. The challenging experiences consist of, e.g., unrest, panic, and a sense of suffocation, the latter of which possibly has a physiological cause as indicated by blood oxygen saturation. This highlights the importance of considering meditation effects in relation to larger developmental trajectories -- otherwise one runs the risk of identifying an effect as negative or adverse, which may turn out to be a challenging experience with a beneficial outcome.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Psychology and Psychotherapy University of Witten/Herdecke, Germany

Publication date: January 1, 2019

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