Une étude, publiée récemment en décembre 2016 dans Frontiers in Psychology, porte sur les effets psychologiques d’une retraite d’un mois de méditation de pleine conscience / vipassana (selon la méthode thaïlandaise à la fois d’attention focalisée sur la respiration et d’attention ouverte). (1-month Vipassana meditation retreat that was led by Dhiravamsa and held at the Bujedo Monastery (province of Burgos, Spain), between August and September 2014)
Background: There are few studies devoted to assessing the impact of meditation-intensive retreats on the well-being, positive psychology, and personality of experienced meditators. We aimed to assess whether a 1-month Vipassana retreat: (a) would increase mindfulness and well-being; (b) would increase prosocial personality traits; and (c) whether psychological changes would be mediated and/or moderated by non-attachment.
Method: A controlled, non-randomized, pre-post-intervention trial was used.
- The intervention group was a convenience sample (n = 19) of experienced meditators who participated in a 1-month Vipassana meditation retreat. The control group (n = 19) comprised matched experienced meditators who did not take part in the retreat.
- During the retreat, the mean duration of daily practice was 8–9 h, the diet was vegetarian and silence was compulsory.
- The Experiences Questionnaire (EQ),
- Non-attachment Scale (NAS),
- Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS),
- Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS),
- Temperament Character Inventory Revised (TCI-R-67),
- Five Facets Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ),
- Self-Other Four Immeasurables (SOFI) and
- the MINDSENS Composite Index were administered.
ANCOVAs and linear regression models were used to assess pre-post changes and mediation/moderation effects.
Results: Compared to controls, retreatants showed
- increases in non-attachment, observing, MINDSENS, positive-affect, balance-affect, and cooperativeness; and
- decreases in describing, negative-others, reward-dependence and self-directedness.
- Non-attachment had a mediating role in decentring, acting aware, non-reactivity, negative-affect, balance-affect and self-directedness; and a moderating role in describing and positive others, with both mediating and moderating effects on satisfaction with life.
Conclusions: A 1-month Vipassana meditation retreat seems to yield improvements in mindfulness, well-being, and personality, even in experienced meditators. Non-attachment might facilitate psychological improvements of meditation, making it possible to overcome possible ceiling effects ascribed to non-intensive practices.
« The meditation practiced during the retreat was Vipassana, which mainly includes open monitoring meditations and focused attention (Lippelt et al., 2014). The mean duration of daily practice was 8–9 h, with 1–2 h of teaching and questions/answers. Meditative practice was mainly unguided. Practice was as a group during the first and fourth weeks, whereas practice was individual, done in each retreatant’s own room, during the second and third weeks. The diet was vegetarian, and silence was compulsory. No contact (including by mobile or email) with the outer world was allowed.
The control group was asked not to participate in any retreat (even as short as a 1-day retreat) during the 1-month study period. Their usual daily meditation practice was maintained (40–50 min/session).
To our knowledge, this is the first controlled study on the effect of a 1-month, intensive Vipassana meditation retreat on a wide array of psychological constructs related to mindfulness, psychological well-being and personality. We hypothesized that the retreat would increase mindfulness, well-being, and prosocial personality traits, and that psychological changes would be mediated and/or moderated by non-attachment. We have observed significant improvements in experienced meditators as a result of the retreat, showing a potential specific role for this type of training, which likely provides added benefits to daily and regular mindfulness practice. Moreover, a significant mediating and moderating role of non-attachment was observed, which is important from the perspective of the implied processes in improvements associated with meditative practice.
The socio-demographics reflected a pattern of highly educated, middle-aged participants of both genders, with many years of meditation experience. The only significant difference between the groups was that the retreatants were more frequently single than the controls. In any case, marital status showed no significant associations with the study outcomes, in contrast to meditative experience, which was related to non-reactivity, and was therefore controlled in the corresponding case. Both samples showed similar educational levels, somewhat relevant given that FFMQ seems to be influenced by them (Baer, 2008). With regard to practice, focused meditation predominated in both samples.
Surprisingly, there were no significant differences in decentring, which has shown to improve with simple mindful breathing (Feldman et al., 2010). Likewise, there were no differences in acting aware, non-judging, and non-reactivity. These results could be explained as some mindfulness variables tend to stabilize with long-term meditation experience (“ceiling effect”), and an intensive retreat would not modify previous high levels (Soler, 2014b). However, there were improvements in non-attachment, which suggests that ceiling effects on this variable are more difficult to reach. In the same way, there were improvements in MINDSENS and observing, as well as reductions in describing and negative-others. Changes in MINDSENS reinforce the notion that this index is sensitive to an intensive meditation retreat, despite previous meditative experience. The increase in observing and decrease in describing might be explained by the vow of silence taken during the retreat. To our knowledge, there are no studies relating silence with these factors, but experts on meditation have associated external and internal (mental) silence with a reduction in the need for labeling everyday experiences (Manocha, 2013). Finally, some studies have confirmed that mindfulness could decrease anger, hostility, and aggression toward others (Borders et al., 2010).
With regard to psychological well-being, some studies have found that mindfulness training improves positive affect (Nyklicek and Kuijpers, 2008; Orzech, 2009), and reduce negative affect (Glück and Maercker, 2011; Tanay et al., 2012). However, to our knowledge, there have been no studies on the effect of an intensive mindfulness retreat on these variables. In the present study, based on Vipassana techniques of meditation, there were no significant changes in satisfaction with life or negative affect. Nevertheless, retreatants showed an increase in their positive affect and affect balance.
We also found decreases in reward dependence and self-directedness, and increases in cooperativeness. Reward dependence refers to reinforcement and maintaining behaviors, and individuals scoring high in that variable tend to be sensitive and dependent on the approval of others (Cloninger et al., 1993). On the contrary, individuals with low scores in this trait are independent, practical and reserved (Cloninger et al., 1993; Maj, 2005). Cooperativeness refers to acceptance and identification with others, and includes compassion. The decrease in reward dependence could be associated with a reduction in the need for the approval of others, and this is compatible with an increase in cooperativeness, in the sense of being empathic, helpful and compassionate. Interestingly, the conditions of the retreat, in which verbal communication and social interactions were limited, increased proximity to others instead of independence and coldness. Previous studies have also found increases in compassion after mindfulness interventions (Birnie et al., 2010; Van Dam, 2011). However, the reduction in self-directedness seems somewhat unexpected, given its relation with purposefulness and discipline, characteristics needed in order to engage in a 1-month retreat. A possible explanation may be that high scores would be required at the beginning of the retreat, but not at the end. Moreover, the self-directedness scores after the retreat did not reflect being aimless or undisciplined (Svrakic, 2002; Nyklicek and Kuijpers, 2008), although it is true that this result contrasts with previous studies in which increases in self-directedness were found (Campanella, 2014; Crescentini and Capurso, 2015). These studies were conducted in non-retreat conditions, and subjects were therefore not free of life responsibilities, unlike during the retreat. In summary, these results are coherent with the reductions obtained in negative-others, and are also in line with other studies carried out in retreat conditions (Maj, 2005; Birnie et al., 2010).
Our findings showed that non-attachment played an important role in improving psychological outcomes such us mindfulness, well-being, and personality. Non-attachment has been proposed as a mechanism of mindfulness associated with long-term practice (Hölzel, 2011). We did not find this kind of association in our study, but we observed that the higher the basal levels for non-attachment, and the higher the improvement in this variable by means of meditative practice, the greater the benefits it might bring. We found that both retreatants and controls had similar non-attachment scores at baseline (similar to other samples of meditators) (Feliu-Soler et al., 2016), and the retreat was able to increase non-attachment by almost double in comparison with the control group, in terms of the increment. Therefore, this variable, to some extent, may have a ceiling effect when practiced in a non-intensive way. In short, non-attachment could be the keystone that mediates and moderates other changes produced by meditation, and these effects might wear off as the result of a ceiling effect in non-intensive practices. This is coherent with the teachings of experienced meditators that higher meditation states are only achieved by intensive meditation practices and retreats (Karmapa, 1981). Mindfulness seems to be the first stage of this process by means of which one is able to focus attention upon the flow of experience without distraction. However, through the intensive practice of specific meditation techniques, one will develop a greater ability to respond to this flow with equanimity, an impartial attitude in response to experience (Desbordes, 2015). Equanimity allows mindful awareness to be unbiased by facilitating an attitude of non-attachment, a perspective shift which includes certain sense of detachment from the ongoing experience (Gunaratana, 2002; Wallace, 2006). This perspective shift might be a cornerstone in the improvement of well-being by widening our perspective on experience, allowing us to respond skilfully to whatever is arising in the present moment (Desbordes, 2015).
The main limitation of this study was that it was not a randomized trial. This problem is very difficult to tackle in these types of studies because retreatants tend not to accept randomization to different conditions. The small sample size was also an important limitation, and could lead to a type II error. However, most of the existing research on retreats had been conducted with small groups owing to the high demands of the experience, and to the need for close supervision by the master leading the retreat. Another limitation was that the participants could show bias in their answers to the questionnaires to please the master or experimenters. Although the questionnaires were anonymous and the participants were supposed to be strongly committed to ethical values, this possibility cannot be completely excluded. On the other hand, the effects of the retreat may not be exclusively explained by meditation, as other possible active ingredients could be silence, a light vegetarian diet, group and master-disciple dynamics, general expectations, etc. The effect of these other ingredients are quite difficult to isolate in standard retreats if researchers intend to keep their ecological validity. The aim of the paper was the effect of a Vipassana meditation retreat, although we are fully aware that these other ingredients are always present in any retreat. Finally, this was a pre-post study without follow-up. Long-term follow-ups would be interesting because it is possible that the effects of mindfulness could vary over time, producing positive changes that are not immediately apparent after the retreat but which are evident after a longer period of time (Hill and Updegraff, 2012).
Montero-Marin, J., Puebla-Guedea, M., Herrera-Mercadal, P., Cebolla, A., Soler, J., Demarzo, M., … García-Campayo, J. (2016). Psychological Effects of a 1-Month Meditation Retreat on Experienced Meditators: The Role of Non-attachment. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 1935.