In the fast paced industrial age, millions are suffering from stress related problems of the physical body such as high blood pressure, heart disease, migraines and much more. Doctors can only prescribe medication in order to ‘stop’ these so called problems. There is an answer to this may be meditation.
Taking part in programs designed to modify behavior, such as anger management training and transcendental meditation sessions, seems to have a measurable impact on blood pressure according to preliminary results of the Health Education and Diet, Stress Management and Anger Reduction Therapy (HEAD SMART) study.
“Blood pressure, at least from the anger management and transcendental meditation (groups), is being reduced on average by 12 millimeters mercury (mm Hg) systolic and 7 to 8 millimeters mercury diastolic,” said Lollis, a professor at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia.
The study of 150 men and women in the San Francisco area compared the effects of twice daily meditation, muscle relaxation and health education classes. Women who meditated showed the greatest benefit.
The transcendental meditation study is the latest in a number conducted by researchers affiliated with the Maharishi University of Management, founded by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Indian cleric best known for teaching the Beatles about eastern religion in the 1960s. Numerous studies of other meditation techniques by researchers at other schools have also found benefits for those suffering from conditions ranging from arthritis to cancer.
Dr. Frank Staggers, a study co-author, said the idea for the study stemmed from successful results achieved after he asked patients with high blood pressure to use relaxation techniques. Staggers, who is black, said many of the patients at the Oakland clinic are black and suffer from high blood pressure.
“It just makes sense. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you just relax, your whole body would say `OK, thanks’ and settle down. It’s a simple concept but something that we had to prove,” Staggers said.
Women who meditated had both blood pressure readings drop about seven points while the other two groups registered drops of about one point one and three points. The findings were less supportive for meditating men.
Men who meditated had a 0.2 point increase in their systolic reading and a 4.7 point drop in their diastolic reading while those who practiced muscle relaxation registered drops of 2 points and 3.1 points. Men in the health education group recorded drops of about .9 and 2 points.
The use of blood pressure medication, meanwhile, went down slightly in the transcendental meditation group while increasing for the other two groups, the authors reported.
Trish Magyari, director of the mindfulness-based stress reduction program at the University of Maryland’s Center for Integrative Medicine, who was not involved in the study, said the results were most significant for women and consistent with previous studies that have shown benefits of meditation for stress-related conditions. Magyari said she has seen similar reductions in blood pressure among patients who practice meditation at her center, which studies complementary and alternative medicine.
Dr. Amparo Castillon-Richmond, a co-author of the study, said meditation may help balance opposing nervous system functions responsible for slowing and speeding the heart and other involuntary functions. Meditation may activate the half responsible for lowering blood pressure, she said.
Castillon-Richmond, of the Midwest Latino Health Research Training and Policy Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said participants were given a mantra, a simple word or sound, by a teacher, closed their eyes and repeated the word in their mind, settling what she called the “thought process” and allowing them to reach a “level of restful alertness.”
“The technique in meditation is very simple, you take 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the afternoon to close your eyes and repeat the mantra, that’s all it takes,” she said.