A recent study indicates that regular practice of transcendental meditation has health benefits.
Researchers have discovered that people who practise transcendental meditation were 48 per cent less likely to have heart attack.
In the report published in the American Heart Association journal, Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, November 13, it was found that those who engage in meditation also lowered their blood pressure and reported less stress and anger.
According to online sources, transcendental meditation is a nonreligious practice that involves an individual sitting comfortably for 20minutes twice a day, while using a silent mantra, or nonverbal sound to attain a profound state of awareness and relaxation. Like yoga or martial arts, there is need for guidance with a teacher, though.
TM, as it is sometimes called, is taught one-on-one – at least initially – by a teacher who is used to sustained meditation, not only to instruct new learners and provide follow-up, but also to customise the approach for each learner. Initial instruction has seven steps: two lectures and a personal interview with a certified teacher, then four teaching sessions on four consecutive days with each session lasting about ninety minutes.
According to the researchers from the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee USA, the more regularly patients meditated, the greater their chances of surviving heart-related illnesses.
Lead researcher and director of the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention in Fairfield, Iowa, Robert Schneider, says the research team hypothesised that reducing stress by managing the mind-body connection would help improve rates of epidemic diseases.
“It appears that transcendental meditation is a technique that turns on the body’s own pharmacy – to repair and maintain itself,” he says.
For the study, the researchers randomly assigned 201 people to participate in a transcendental meditation stress-reducing programme or a health education class about lifestyle modification for diet and exercise.
Forty-two per cent of the participants were women, average aged 59, and half reported earning less than $10,000 per year. Average body mass index was about 32, which is clinically obese and nearly 60 per cent in both treatment groups took cholesterol-lowering drugs. Forty-one per cent of the meditation group and 31 per cent of the health education group took aspirin; and 38 per cent of the meditation group and 43 per cent of the health education group smoked.
Those in the meditation programme sat with eyes closed for about 20 minutes twice a day, practising the technique, allowing their minds and bodies to rest deeply while remaining alert. Participants in the health education group were advised, under the instruction of professional health educators, to spend at least 20 minutes a day at home practising heart-healthy behaviours such as exercise, healthy meal preparation and nonspecific relaxation.
The researchers evaluated participants at the start of the study, at three months and every six months thereafter for body mass index, diet, programme adherence, blood pressure and cardiovascular hospitalisation.
According to the report, they found that there were 52 primary end point events, which included death, heart attack or stroke. Of these, 20 events occurred in the meditation group and 32 in the health education group.
They also discovered that blood pressure was reduced by five mm Hg and anger decreased significantly among transcendental meditation participants compared to controls. Both groups showed beneficial changes in exercise and alcohol consumption, and the meditation group showed a trend towards reduced smoking – although there were no significant differences between the groups in weight, exercise or diet.
The researchers’ finding was that regular meditation correlated with reduced death, heart attack and stroke. They used African-Americans as participants in the study. The reason being that death from heart disease is about 50 per cent higher in black adults compared to whites in the US. In other words, they focused on African Americans because of the health disparities in America.
“Transcendental meditation may reduce heart disease risks for both healthy people and those with diagnosed heart conditions,” Schneider notes. “The research on TM and cardiovascular disease is established well enough that physicians may safely and routinely prescribe stress reduction for their patients with this easy to implement, standardised and practical programme.”
In a 2007 report also, researchers found that people with high blood pressure may find relief from transcendental meditation. The report, published in Current Hypertensive Reports, says the transcendental meditation technique produces a statistically significant reduction in high blood pressure that is not found with other forms of relaxation, meditation, biofeedback or stress management.
Blood pressure changes for the transcendental meditation technique included average reductions of 5.0 points on systolic blood pressure and 2.8 on diastolic blood pressure, which were statistically significant, according to the review. The other stress reduction programmes did not show significant changes in blood pressure.
The study says blood pressure changes associated with transcendental meditation practice were consistent with other controlled studies showing reductions in cardiovascular risk factors, improved markers of heart disease, and reduced mortality rates among participants in the TM programme.
The meta-analysis was conducted by researchers at the Institute of Natural Medicine and Prevention at Maharishi University of Management and the University Of Kentucky College Of Medicine.
Professor of medicine at the University of Kentucky and co-author of the new meta-analysis, Dr. James Anderson, says the meta-analysis identified all high quality meditation studies published through 2006 and rigorously analysed their effects, which the previous reports failed to do.
He says, “The magnitude of the changes in blood pressure with the transcendental meditation technique are at least as great as the changes found with major changes in diet or exercise that doctors often recommend. Yet the transcendental meditation technique does not require changes in lifestyle. Thus many patients with mild hypertension or pre-hypertension may be able to avoid the need to take blood pressure medications – all of which have adverse side effects. Individuals with more severe forms of hypertension may be able to reduce the number or dosages of their BP medications under the guidance of their doctor.”
Schneider says the transcendental meditation programme is distinctively effective compared to other scientifically studied techniques in lowering high blood pressure.
“Here is a scientifically documented, yet simple and easy way to lower blood pressure without drugs and harmful side effects. In addition, related studies show an integrated set of positive ‘side benefits,’ such as reduced stress, reduced heart disease levels and longer lifespan with this technique to restore balance in the cardiovascular system, mind and body,” he notes.