The Immediate and Long-Term Effects of an Intensive Meditation Retreat
Proliferation of mindfulness retreat centers has paralleled the growing interest in mindfulness practice, but the research into the effects of retreats on psychological outcomes has received relatively little empirical attention. This study (1) investigated the effects of Vipassana retreats on psychosocial outcomes, (2) evaluated the durability of outcomes at follow-up, and (3) examined baseline predictors of outcome. One hundred ninety-five participants underwent a 1-week meditation retreat at a leading meditation retreat center. Participants completed measures of mindfulness, anxiety, depression, dysfunctional attitudes, emotion regulation, set shifting, and attention before and after a pre-retreat control period, immediately following the retreat, and 4 weeks following the end of the retreat. Structural equation models indicated that there were significant improvements in mindfulness, anxiety, depression, and dysfunctional attitudes and that these gains were maintained at follow-up. Older age was associated with better functioning pre-retreat but comparatively less improvement overall. These results highlight the strong effects of meditation retreats on a variety of psychosocial outcomes and also identified baseline predictors of outcome.
KeywordsMindfulness Meditation Meditation retreat Vipassana
Portions of this paper were presented at the annual meeting of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, April 2016. Jonathan P. Stange was supported by National Research Service Award F31MH099761 and grant 5T32MH067631-12 from NIMH.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
All procedures involving human participants were performed in accordance with the ethical standards of the appropriate institutional research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
Conflict of Interest
The first three authors have all participated in retreats at Insight Meditation Society. None of these individuals were participants in this study. The authors have no other conflicts of interest to report.
- Armey, M. F., Fresco, D. M., Moore, M. T., Mennin, D. S., Turk, C. L., Heimberg, R. G., et al. (2009). Brooding and pondering: isolating the active ingredients of depressive rumination with exploratory factor analysis and structural equation modeling. Assessment, 16, 315–327. doi: 10.1177/1073191109340388.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
- Beck, A. T., Steer, R. A., & Brown, G. K. (1996). Beck depression Inventory-II. San Antonio, TX: Harcourt Brace.Google Scholar
- Beevers, C. G., Strong, D. R., Meyer, B., Pilkonis, P. A., & Miller, I. W. (2007). Efficiently assessing negative cognition in depression: an item response theory analysis of the dysfunctional attitude scale. Psychological Assessment, 19, 199–209. doi: 10.1037/1040-3518.104.22.168.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Benjamini, Y., & Hochberg, Y. (1995). Controlling the false discovery rate: a practical and powerful approach to multiple testing. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. Series B (Methodological), 57, 289–300.Google Scholar
- Craske, M. G., Niles, A. N., Burklund, L. J., Wolitzky-Taylor, K. B., Vilardaga, J. P., Arch, J. J., et al. (2014). Randomized controlled trial of cognitive behavioral therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy for social phobia: outcomes and moderators. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 82, 1034–1048. doi: 10.1037/a0037212.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
- Davies, C. D., Niles, A. N., Pittig, A., Arch, J. J., & Craske, M. G. (2015). Physiological and behavioral indices of emotion dysregulation as predictors of outcome from cognitive behavioral therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy for anxiety. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 4635–4643. doi: 10.1016/j.jbtep.2014.08.002.
- Elliott, J. C., Wallace, B. A., & Giesbrecht, B. (2014). A week-long meditation retreat decouples behavioral measures of the alerting and executive attention networks. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00069.
- Farb, N. S., Segal, Z. V., Mayberg, H., Bean, J., McKeon, D., Fatima, Z., & Anderson, A. K. (2007). Attending to the present: mindfulness meditation reveals distinct neural modes of self-reference. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 2, 313–322. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsm030.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
- Goldberg, S. B., Wielgosz, J., Dahl, C., Schuyler, B., MacCoon, D. S., Rosenkranz, M., et al. (2015). Does the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire measure what we think it does? Construct validity evidence from an active controlled randomized clinical trial. Psychological Assessment, 28, 1009–1014. doi: 10.1037/pas0000233.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Jacobs, T. L., Epel, E. S., Lin, J., Blackburn, E. H., Wolkowitz, O. M., Bridwell, D. A., et al. (2011). Intensive meditation training, immune cell telomerase activity, and psychological mediators. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 36, 664–681. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2010.09.010.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Kozasa, E. H., Lacerda, S. S., Menezes, C., Wallace, B. A., Radvany, J., Mello, L. M., & Sato, J. R. (2015). Effects of a 9-day Shamatha Buddhist meditation retreat on attention, mindfulness and self-compassion in participants with a broad range of meditation experience. Mindfulness, 6, 1235–1241. doi: 10.1007/s12671-015-0385-8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Kramer, J. H., Mungas, D., Possin, K. L., Rankin, K. P., Boxer, A. L., Rosen, H. J., et al. (2014). NIH EXAMINER: conceptualization and development of an executive function battery. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 20, 11–19. doi: 10.1017/S1355617713001094.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Krygier, J. R., Heathers, J. J., Shahrestani, S., Abbott, M., Gross, J. J., & Kemp, A. H. (2013). Mindfulness meditation, well-being, and heart rate variability: a preliminary investigation into the impact of intensive Vipassana meditation. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 89, 305–313. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2013.06.017.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Lutz, A., Slagter, H. A., Rawlings, N. B., Francis, A. D., Greischar, L. L., & Davidson, R. J. (2009). Mental training enhances attentional stability: neural and behavioral evidence. The Journal of Neuroscience, 29, 13418–13427. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1614-09.2009.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
- MacLean, K. A., Ferrer, E., Aichele, S. R., Bridwell, D. A., Zanesco, A. P., Jacobs, T. L., et al. (2010). Intensive meditation training improves perceptual discrimination and sustained attention. Psychological Science, 21, 829–839. doi: 10.1177/0956797610371339.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
- Muthén, L. K., & Muthén, L. (1998). Mplus [computer software]. Los Angeles, CA: Muthén & Muthén.Google Scholar
- Niles, A. N., Mesri, B., Burklund, L. J., Lieberman, M. D., & Craske, M. G. (2013). Attentional bias and emotional reactivity as predictors and moderators of behavioral treatment for social phobia. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 51, 669–679. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2013.06.005.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Ólafsson, R. P., Smári, J., Guðmundsdóttir, F., Ólafsdóttir, G., Harðardóttir, H. L., & Einarsson, S. M. (2011). Self reported attentional control with the Attentional Control Scale: factor structure and relationship with symptoms of anxiety and depression. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 25, 777–782. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2011.03.013.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Saggar, M., King, B. G., Zanesco, A. P., MacLean, K. A., Aichele, S. R., Jacobs, T. L., & … Saron, C. D. (2012). Intensive training induces longitudinal changes in meditation state-related EEG oscillatory activity. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00256.
- Sahdra, B. K., MacLean, K. A., Ferrer, E., Shaver, P. R., Rosenberg, E. L., Jacobs, T. L., et al. (2011). Enhanced response inhibition during intensive meditation training predicts improvements in self-reported adaptive socioemotional functioning. Emotion, 11, 299–312. doi: 10.1037/a0022764.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Spielberger, C. D. (1983). Manual for the state-trait anxiety inventory. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.Google Scholar
- Szekeres, R. A., & Wertheim, E. H. (2015). Evaluation of Vipassana meditation course effects on subjective stress, well‐being, self‐kindness and mindfulness in a community sample: Post‐course and 6‐month outcomes. Stress and Health: Journal of the International Society for the Investigation of Stress, 31, 373–381. doi: 10.1002/smi.2562.
- Weissman, A. (1979). Dysfunctional Attitude Scale: a validation study. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.Google Scholar
- Zanesco, A. P., King, B. G., MacLean, K. A., & Saron, C. D. (2013). Executive control and felt concentrative engagement following intensive meditation training. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00566.