I was recently alerted to a great study (this time, a randomized controlled trial, which is the gold standard in medicine, featured below in Science Magazine) from 2009 illustrating the amazing effects of meditation on the body. African American men were randomized to 2 groups: a) usual care (medication and a cardiovascular health course...which is actually much more than usual care!) and b) usual care plus 15 to 20 minutes of transcendental meditation per day (which they were taught how to do). The men were followed for an average of 5 years and the number of heart attacks, strokes and deaths were tracked and compared. Needless to say, the results were impressive! 'Patients who practiced transcendental meditation on top of standard treatment experienced 47% fewer heart attacks, strokes, and deaths compared with the control group. For comparison, statin drugs, which reduce cholesterol levels, tend to lower the risk of life-threatening events by 30% to 40% relative to existing treatments. Common blood pressure drugs reduce these outcomes by 25% to 30%. In all, transcendental meditation has proved as powerful as any new class of heart disease medications entering the market.'
This strong decrease in heart attack, stroke and death rates is fascinating and VERY impressive! However, it comes as no surprise to me as I've learned quite a lot about meditation through both reading research and personal experience. Researchers believe that meditation fully decreases the action of body's sympathetic nervous system, which normally increases your blood pressure and keeps you on high alert for threats (stress response). By counteracting this system, blood pressure is lowered and your brain, heart and other organs (kidneys, lungs, eyes) stay in a state of calmness and tranquility. In doing so, you increase the oxygenation to your organs and tissues and decrease inflammation in the body. This is where we all need to stay in order to prevent heart attack, stroke and other diseases.
So, moving to the practicality of daily meditation. If you've never meditated before, I would recommend you buy a meditation or guided-imagery CD (can get them used for very cheap!) OR attend a few yoga classes that make time for relaxation (most do, but some more than others). You can start out with "sitting" for 10-15 minutes a day (or as much as you can tolerate) in a cool, dim room with your eyes closed and hands in your lap. You don't need to chant or hum or do anything weird, but just sit there and focus on breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. When a thought enters your mind (like your shopping or to-do list), you acknowledge the thought and then let it go. It's pretty simple, yet takes a LOT of practice, so don't be discouraged when your mind wonders off or you feel like you can't focus.
Remember, we've been hard-wired to both increase and decrease stress; unfortunately, Western cultures are taught very well how to increase their stress response, but we are not taught how to counteract it. Meditation is one way of doing that. Others are exercise, yoga and tai chi; all of which
are wonderful, clinically proven, side-effect free and CHEAP ways to center your mind, focus your energy and rid yourself of unnecessary anxiety and obsessive thoughts. And, you'll be counteracting the negative effects of stress on your body! Trust me, I know this from personal experience! Enjoy!
Here's a link to the full article - http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2009/11/16-01.html
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