Stress has been seen as a major factor in the development of both physical and mental illness. For example, more people die from cardiovascular disease than any other illness, a clinical condition that is often highly associated with a stressful lifestyle.
New research on the benefits of incorporating complementary and alternative approaches with Western medicine suggests the use of meditation to either prevent or reduce the severity of cardiovascular disease.
A new research review paper on the effects of the stress-reducing Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique on the prevention and treatment of heart disease among youth and adults provides evidence that this alternative approach should be included in private- and government-sponsored wellness programs.
The paper is published in the journal Current Hypertension Reviews.
Researchers discovered TM can help teens reduce blood pressure, improve heart structure and improve school behavior. According to the paper, the technique has been shown to be a safe alternative without adverse effects.
For adults, the technique reduced stress hormones and other physiological measures of stress and produced more rapid recovery from stress. TM helped participants decrease blood pressure and use of blood pressure medication, decreased heart pain in angina patients and reduce the risk of stroke.
Among study participants with congestive heart failure, individuals were able to walk for longer distances. Overall improvements included decreased alcohol and tobacco use, anxiety, depression, and medical care usage and expenditures.
Researchers also found a correlation between TM practice and a decreased risk of death from heart disease, cancer, and all causes.
“These findings have important implications for inclusion of the Transcendental Meditation program in medical efforts to prevent and treat cardiovascular disease,” said Dr. Vernon Barnes, lead author and research scientist at Georgia Health Sciences University, in Augusta, Georgia.
“This review is potentially more important than individual research papers because it shows that TM has an integrated, holistic effect on all levels of cardiovascular disease,” said co-author Dr. David Orme-Johnson.
Orme-Johnson says that no other meditation technique has been shown to produce this constellation of changes, especially when it comes to hard measures of cardiovascular disease.
Barnes said it was important to start preventing heart disease with adolescents before the disease sets. “Adding Transcendental Meditation at a young age could prevent future cardiovascular disease and save many lives, not to mention reduce the national medical bill by billions of dollars.”
Researchers believe the details associated with the practice of TM may influence the beneficial outcomes.
The uniqueness of the outcomes of the TM technique may have something to do with the mechanics of the practice of the technique itself, said Barnes.
According to the researchers, Transcendental Meditation uses a different approach from other meditation techniques and falls under a category of automatic self-transcending — meditations that transcend their own activity.
This is in contrast to other meditation techniques that involve focused attention, concentrating on an object or an emotion, like compassion; and open monitoring, being mindful of one’s breath or thoughts, either contemplating the meaning of them, or just observing them.
The TM technique does not employ any active form of concentration or contemplation, but allows the mind to effortlessly experience the thought process at more refined levels until thinking comes to a quiet settled state without any mental activity, said the researchers.
Researchers believe this state of restful alertness allows the body to make the necessary repairs to rebalance its normal functioning. This cumulative process resets the physiology and shows up as reduced symptoms of cardiovascular disease and improved health.