Fad meditation is supported by scientific studies, but researchers have exaggerated its benefits and in some cases it appears to have unintended consequences.

A person meditates looking at the water.

Mindfulness meditation or mindfulness is in fashion. In any corner we can find illustrated posters with the figure of Buddha, a pile of pebbles piled up, levitating individuals, water, leaves, flowers, trees, word clouds or brains from which objects sprout to announce a course.

Focus attention in the era of distractions ”; “A comprehensive program designed to help you manage stress and other negative mental states ”; “The moment is now”; “Sign up!” Okay okay, but what is this about? Basically, it is a type of meditation that tries to focus attention on the present moment through exercises, for example, breathing.

Science has proven its benefits

Is there scientific evidence on its benefits? The short answer is yes. In the last ten years, studies on this subject have multiplied and some of them reveal various positive effects, such as reducing the symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress. There are even specific cases in which this practice seems to be beneficial for people with chronic diseases and cancer patients – breast cancer in particular – to better manage their mental situation.

The Canarian psychologist and scientific popularizer Eparquio Delgado, who often denounces pseudoscientific practices, has compiled these and other investigations to defend that the mindfulness has some empirical basis, but he is not particularly enthusiastic: “It is nothing to write home about,” he says in statements to EL ESPAÑOL.

Anxiety and stress also improve if we exercise, listen to music, or dance. Therefore, what need is there to resort to precisely this type of meditation? “It’s just in fashion. The same thing happened years ago with emotional intelligence, which with the passage of time has been put in its place and it is already known that it is not valid for everything “, he affirms.

Sorry … science has exaggerated its benefits

In fact, many doubts begin to appear after this boom initial studies on mindfulness And that leads us to clarify the answer about its benefits, especially when we learn of an extensive analysis carried out by McGill University in Montreal, which ensures that articles on this matter tend to inflate positive results.

The researchers analyzed 124 published papers, of which 108 offered conclusions in favor. However, by taking statistical considerations into account, they found that by conducting a rigorous analysis only 66 should have announced positive results. In some experiments, the small number of participants makes them non-significant.

Furthermore, the authors also looked to official databases to see how many trials had been registered and found that two and a half years after completion 62% of the studies had not yet been published. What’s going on? Quite simply, a bias that is very common in psychology studies, but also in medicine and other disciplines: scientific journals tend to publish more successful research because it attracts more attention. When it is not like that, many jobs do not even see the light of day.

On the other hand, sometimes a reduction in chronic pain is also attributed to this technique, but once again global analyzes warn of the poor quality of this research and cast doubt on its results.

It also has negative effects

However, an investigation has just come out from the University of Auckland (New Zealand) that reveals the opposite of the general trend: the mindfulness can have negative effects in patients undergoing chemotherapy. The 68 participants were divided into two groups, one of them performed mindfulness meditation and the other, different types of relaxation. Although in both cases the general stress decreased, those who had practiced mindfulness showed higher levels of distress, tended to avoid social contact more, and their quality of life worsened.

For Eparquio Delgado it is not a surprise, since “meditation in general has shown to have aspects of depersonalization that are not adequate in all circumstances”. Furthermore, “we should be aware that everything has side effects, it happens the same as with drugs, any therapy can generate unwanted situations “.

Applied psychology is slippery ground

Ultimately, the root of the problem is that “psychology is primarily a basic science from which applications are derived,” the expert highlights. However, when these types of fashions emerge, “professionals are looking for life, a demand is generated among the public and the psychologist offers what people are looking for”.

Actually, there is no psychological specialty in mindfulness and this practice “should not be considered a therapy, but a technique” that would have to be combined with others within a professional consultation, as Eparquio Delgado claims to do. “There are more than 400 different psychological therapies and not everything is equally scientific or effective,” he says, “there are even some contradictory to each other” and also “psychologists who practice pseudosciences” against their deontological code.

It is a brand that sells anything

That is why it is not surprising that when a new practice becomes fashionable, professionals and non-professionals take advantage of the power of this new “brand” to attribute all kinds of properties to it. In this case, “they try to transfer it to education, they say that it improves creativity and even appears mindful eating, eat with full consciousness, which is still a new name for the slow food or slow food, which advocates enjoying food calmly, something that is simply common sense ”, adds Delgado.

In more, originally the mindfulness not even look for the benefits over stress, anxiety and depression attributed by some studies. On the contrary, it does seem a specific objective of this technique to improve attention, but on this topic there are no meta-analyzes that found significant effects. Of course, years ago a curious study concluded that some brain areas related to attention were thicker in people who practiced it, but this does not mean that the reason was precisely meditation.

But wasn’t this some kind of Buddhist scroll?

Inside of the marketing That surrounds this practice, the connection with Buddhism is a key issue, something that automatically arouses misgivings among the most skeptical and unleashes the adherence of the most mystics.

Jon Kabat-Zinn is the molecular biologist and physician who made mindfulness fashionable in the Western world trying to unite Buddhism with science and some authors believe that the idea comes from vipassana meditation, which comes from India and advocates for “See things as they are.”

Despite this philosophical background, the more scientific approach only tries to see if it is useful and why and to spread the proven effects. What’s more, in most cases it is taught without appealing to that origin nor use any type of religious or oriental terminology.

The need to be critical

So, do I sign up for that meditation course that promises to solve my life? The psychologist and popularizer simply recommends “that people do whatever they want”, but “that don’t believe it all, that has a critical sense ”. For this reason, it does not hurt to “inquire about the qualifications of the person offering the course, see what the objectives are and find out about the proven benefits of each technique”.