Taking a Closer Look at Health Benefits of Meditation
Meditation research has come a long way since the first scientific study on meditation was published in a peer-reviewed journal in 1971 . That study declared the discovery of a major fourth state of consciousness— the state of restful alertness — experienced during the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique.
Now there are over 1,000 published studies on various meditation practices, with over 600 studies on the TM technique alone. Many universities, medical schools and hospitals offer classes in mind-body medicine and provide training in meditation.
Nevertheless, recent press reports about a scientific review  published in JAMA Internal Medicine (January 2014) raised questions about the extent of health benefits that can be claimed for meditation. While the review has been criticized as too narrowly focused to represent the current state of meditation research — it excluded many major studies and randomized clinical trials — there is an upside: The JAMA review may prompt health professionals to look closer at meditation and discover how far the research has actually come at verifying the health benefits and specific effects of different practices.
One meditation researcher, the physician and author Robert Schneider, M.D., FACC, is currently touring universities and medical schools across the U.S. to update health scientists, physicians and students about the latest meditation research and the role of meditation in stress reduction and the prevention and treatment of heart disease.
“Many doctors and scientists are recognizing that mind-body-heart research has crossed a threshold,” says Dr. Schneider. “With the recent publication of the American Heart Association’s scientific statement on alternative methods for lowering blood pressure, and the AHA’s publication of a long-term clinical trial  showing that the Transcendental Meditation technique reduces rates of death, heart attack and stroke by 48 percent — and with hundreds of other peer-reviewed studies on TM, mindfulness and other meditation practices — there is now strong scientific evidence that meditation, when properly practiced, may significantly contribute to preventing cardiovascular disease and promoting well-being. The data indicates that managing your stress is at least as important as a balanced diet and exercise.”
Recent medical schools and hospitals to host Dr. Schneider include the University of Michigan, the University of Iowa and Des Moines University. Grand rounds presentations are scheduled for Cleveland Clinic, Yale University, the University of Chicago, the University of Arizona and the University of Maryland.
High-profile doctors Mehmet Oz, the Discovery Channel’s Dr. Pamela Peeke and many other physicians are also speaking out these days about meditation’s scientifically verified health benefits and its power as a stress-buster.
Psychiatrist and author Norman Rosenthal, formerly a 20-year senior researcher at the National Institutes of Health, has famously stated, “If TM were a new drug, conferring this many benefits, it would be the biggest-selling, multibillion-dollar drug on the market.”
One of Dr. Schneider’s aims in meeting with doctors and health researchers across the country is to discuss resent research confirming that different mind-body practices produce different results.
To measure the differences between the various types of meditation, scientists are now using many of the same research methods used to compare effects of drugs and other medical therapies.
Dr. David Orme-Johnson, who has participated in more than 50 meditation studies and served as peer-reviewer for the National Institutes of Health, speaks of a new scientific paradigm in the field of meditation research.
“We now know from hundreds of studies, including randomized clinical trials, that different meditation practices produce different effects on anxiety, addiction, depression, and mental and physical health,” says Orme-Johnson. “Mindfulness meditation, for one, has shown positive effects on anxiety , and in larger comparative studies  the TM technique typically shows an even greater reduction — for both moderate and high anxiety. Recent studies  have shown that certain meditation techniques do not improve PTSD symptoms, whereas the TM technique has been found highly effective  in this area. There is considerable evidence that TM practice can reduce medical care utilization and costs  and reduce mortality  from heart disease. Research is not yet shown that other meditation techniques will produce these same long-term effects on objective measures.”
Brain researchers have compared  the EEG or brain wave patterns of mindfulness meditation, the TM technique and other practices.
“Meditations differ in procedure, patterns of brain blood flow, brain metabolic rate and EEG signatures,” says Dr. Fred Travis, lead author of several such studies .
Travis and other researchers have identified three major categories of meditation practices, each with its own brain wave pattern: focused attention (gamma waves), open monitoring or mindfulness (theta waves), and automatic self-transcending, which includes the TM technique (alpha waves and EEG coherence).
In his outreach to medical schools, Dr. Schneider hopes to further the practical applications of mind-body medicine: “The kind of knowledge that medical students undergo today will set the tone of our health care system for decades to come.”
Dr. Robert Schneider on Meditation and Heart Health:
- Wallace, K. Physiological Effects of Transcendental Meditation. Science. 27, 1970167 (3926): 1751-1754.
- Goyal, M., et al. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(3):357-368.
- Schneider, R., et al. Stress Reduction in the Secondary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease: Randomized, Controlled Trial of Transcendental Meditation and Health Education in Blacks. Circulation. 2014;129:e28-e292.
- Goldin, PR. Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder. Emotion. 2010 Feb;10(1):83-91.
- Orme-Johnson, DW. Effects of the Transcendental Meditation Technique on Trait Anxiety: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. J Altern Complement Med. 2013: 9.
- Kearney, DJ. Effects of participation in a mindfulness program for veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder: a randomized controlled pilot study. J Clin Psychol. 2013 Jan;69(1):14-27.
- Rees, B. Reduction in posttraumatic stress symptoms in Congolese refugees practicing transcendental meditation. J Trauma Stress. 2013 Apr;26(2):295-8.
- Herron, RE. Changes in physician costs among high-cost transcendental meditation practitioners compared with high-cost nonpractitioners over 5 years. Am J Health Promot. 2011 Sep-Oct;26(1):56-60.
- Schneider, R., et al. Effects of Stress Reduction on Clinical Events in African Americans With Coronary Heart Disease: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Circulation. 2009;120:S461.
- Travis, F. Focused attention, open monitoring and automatic self-transcending: Categories to organize meditations from Vedic, Buddhist and Chinese traditions. Consciousness and Cognition. 19.4, 2010: 1110–1118.
- Travis, F. Effects of Transcendental Meditation practice on brain functioning and stress reactivity in college students. Int J Psychophysiol. 2009 Feb;71(2):170-6.
Ball, J. (2015). Taking a Closer Look at Health Benefits of Meditation. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 23, 2017, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/03/27/enlightening-our-universities-and-medical-schools-about-the-health-benefits-of-meditation/