Investigative Podcast Series Examines Perils of Intense Meditation

A new investigative podcast series from the Financial Times and Goat Rodeo, titled Untold: The Retreat, examines the perils of intense meditation. The series focuses on retreats held by the Goenka network, teaching a popular meditation technique called Vipassana. Participants follow a strict schedule, waking before dawn and meditating silently for 10 days, 10 hours per day, and eat just two vegan meals each day.

While meditation and mindfulness have many known health benefits, including helping to process trauma and manage anxiety, improve eating habits, and ease chronic pain, The Retreat tells the stories of individuals whose mental health deteriorated during a 10-day retreat – or for some, after several 10-day retreats. Some spent time in psychiatric units, and two participants whose families spoke to the reporter, took their own lives.

Reporter Madison Marriage interviewed nearly two dozen people who had attended Goenka retreats in different countries, including the U.K., the United States, France, India, and Australia. According to these former participants, retreat staff all over the world had a similar reaction when they were approached with mental health problems. ‘They’re going to be telling you the same thing, which is keep meditating even if you’re in severe emotional distress,’ she told NPR.

The structure of the Goenka network is decentralized, and the Financial Times reached out for comment to lead teachers at several Goenka centers, including the centers in Delaware and British Columbia where participants had died by suicide after exhibiting signs of psychological distress. But they declined to do an interview or answer specific questions on the record.

The series sheds light on the potential risks associated with intense meditation practices and raises important questions about the responsibility of retreat organizers in addressing participants’ mental health concerns. While many participants say Goenka retreats changed their lives for the better, The Retreat highlights the need for a more nuanced approach to mental health support within such programs.


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