The health and wellbeing benefits of meditation and yoga have helped the practices rise in popularity.

However, latest evidence has revealed that altered states of consciousness associated with meditation practice is common among adults.

First author Dr Matthew D Sacchet said: “With more people engaging in mindfulness, meditation, and other contemplative and mind-body practices, we thought that altered states and their effects might be common among the general population.

“We conducted a series of international surveys to investigate and indeed found that such experiences were widespread.”

He added: “Altered states were most often followed by positive, and sometimes even transformational effects on wellbeing.

“With that said negative effects on wellbeing were also reported in some cases, with a small subset of individuals report substantial suffering.”

As part of the study, more than 3,100 individuals from the UK and US filled in the virtual questionnaire.

Nearly half of the respondents self-reported that they have experienced non-pharmacologically induced altered states of consciousness.

According to the study, this is higher than expected when only 5% of the US population and 15% of the UK population undertake meditation practice.

Those who have been affected by yoga and meditation-induced altered states of consciousness have experienced ecstatic thrills, unitive experiences (a sense of unity or “oneness”), bodily heat or electricity, out-of-body experiences, vivid perceptions, changes in perceived size and included derealisation (the feeling of being detached from your environment).

Among those who have experienced yoga and meditation-induced altered states of consciousness, roughly 13% reported moderate or greater suffering and 1.1% reported life-threatening suffering.

Dr Sacchet said: “Rather than being extremely unusual and rare, our study found that altered states of consciousness are a common variant of normal human experience. However, we’ve found that those who experience negative outcomes related to these altered states often do not seek help, and that clinicians are poorly prepared to recognise or support these kinds of experiences.

“This has contributed to what might be considered a public health issue as a certain proportion of people have difficulty integrating their experiences of altered states into their existing conceptions of self and reality.”

He concluded: “We should not dismiss meditation and other practices as inherently dangerous but rather we need to better understand and support meditators to fully realise the potential of these practices.

“Similar to psychotherapy, pharmacology, and other therapeutic tools it’s important that we learn to best implement and support people when engaging with these powerful practices.”

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