Health Alert 132
If you could take years off your life, dramatically improve your mental focus and reap proven medical benefits just by learning to do nothing, would you try it? I’m talking about the ancient art of meditation.
I know what you are thinking. Meditation is for new age hippies. Indulge me for a minute. Practicing meditation can make you appear, think and act younger. It can lower your blood pressure, decrease your stress, relieve anxiety, revive your immune system and improve your sleep. The list of benefits from meditation is second only to the benefits of exercise.
In this letter I’ll tell you why mainstream medicine is finally embracing this self therapy. I’ll give you practical tips on how to start your own program in the privacy of your own living room. And, I promise you won’t need turn vegetarian or take mind altering drugs to enjoy its benefits.
* Better than Medicine *
Meditation begins with nothing more than directed concentration. It usually involves focusing on a mental image or a repeated word or phrase. Recently the medical literature has seen scores of studies demonstrating its wide range of health rewards. Transcendental Meditation (TM) has been the most well studied form in the west.
Many different studies have found that TM can:
• Lower blood pressure
• Improve sleep
• Reduce stress and anxiety
• Improve immunity
• Help with pain management
• Have an anti-aging effect
• Increase productivity
• Improve concentration
• Heighten learning ability and creativity
A study published by the American Heart Association (AHA) found TM to be as effective as medications for lowering blood pressure. The study involved 111 black men and women between the ages of 55 and 85 with hypertension. About a third practiced TM for 15 to 20 minutes twice daily. A second group practiced muscle relaxation. The third group cut back on salt and calories and practiced aerobic exercise.1
The TM group showed the greatest improvement. Their systolic pressure – the top number – dropped an average of 10 points. And their diastolic number fell an average of 5.6 points.2 The National Institute of Health (NIH) was so impressed with the results they granted $1.4 million for a follow-up study.3
* How Does Meditation Works *
The truth is Western science has a far from complete understanding of what meditation does for your body and mind. But there is a great deal we do know:
During meditation, your oxygen consumption drops by 10 to 20 percent.4 This drop gives the entire physical system a rest. This contributes to the increased physical energy you feel after meditating.
Meditation also causes a drop in blood lactate. Lactate is a toxic substance that builds up in your muscles. Its accumulation causes pain and fatigue. Other physiological responses include decreases in heart and respiration rates.
Amazingly, meditation will increase your melatonin and decrease your cortisol. Melatonin is the hormone that helps you sleep. Cortisol is the hormone released in response to stress. It stimulates your heart rate and gets you ready for a fight. Chronic cortisol suppresses your immune function and cause atrophy of muscle and bone.
A recent study found reduced pain medications when subjects added meditation. And another study found people who meditated over a five year period were measured as physiologically 12 years younger than their chronological age.5
* Focus on Breath *
Meditation is another natural alternative to medication. It is safe, easy and free. The technique is exceedingly simple. The most natural object of meditation is your breath. For beginners, I recommend mastering your focus on your breath before you try any other object of meditation.
• Find a quiet comfortable place to sit.
• Rest your hands in your lap and close your eyes.
• For the first few minutes, focus on the natural rhythm of your breath.
• At first, don’t try to change it. Just follow your breath.
• The next step is to gently make your breath, quieter, slower, deeper and more regular.
• If your attention drifts to other things redirect it to your breath.
Try to meditate at least 10 minutes once a day. Twice a day is even better.
Al Sears, MD
1. Goad, M. “A powerful case for TM” Portland Press Herald: November 27, 1995.
2. Khalsa, D. S. Brain Longevity, Warner Books, 1997: 309.
3 . “The Effects of the Transcendental Meditation and TM-Sidhi program on the aging process,” International Journal of Neuroscience 16 (1): 53¬58, 1982.