Most Americans aren't raised to sit and say "Om." But meditation has
gained millions of converts, helping them ease chronic pain, anxiety, stress,
improve heart health, boost mood and immunity, and resolve pregnancy
Any condition that's caused or worsened by stress can be alleviated through
meditation, says cardiologist Herbert Benson, MD, well known for three decades
of research into the health effects of meditation. He is the founder of the
Mind/Body Institute at Harvard Medical School's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical
When heart specialist John M. Kennedy, M.D., of Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, stands at the scrub sink before an operation, he breathes deeply with seven-count exhales, visualizing how he wants the procedure to go. "Athletes use these techniques to perform under pressure, but we can all call on them in our regular lives," Dr. Kennedy says. It starts with knowing what kind of breathing works best for the challenge you're facing. Here's what the latest research shows.
"The relaxation response [from meditation] helps decrease metabolism,
lowers blood pressure, and improves
heart rate, breathing, and brain waves," Benson says. Tension and tightness
seep from muscles as the body receives a quiet message to relax.
There's scientific evidence showing how meditation works. In people who are
meditating, brain scans called MRI have shown an increase in activity in areas
that control metabolism and heart rate. Other studies on Buddhist monks have
shown that meditation produces long-lasting changes in the brain activity in
areas involved in attention, working memory, learning, and conscious
The soothing power of repetition is at the heart of meditation. Focusing on
the breath, ignoring thoughts, and repeating a word or phrase - a mantra -
creates the biological response of relaxation, Stan Chapman, PhD, a
psychologist in the Center for Pain Medicine at Emory Healthcare in Atlanta,
"Meditation is not difficult to learn," Chapman tells WebMD.
"You don't need to see a therapist 40 times to learn it. But like tennis,
it's a skill. You need to practice. In time, people develop the ability to
produce these meditative, very relaxed states very quickly. When they meditate
several times during the day, they become more relaxed during the entire
Some research on meditation's benefits:
Heart Health: Countless studies have looked at meditation and heart health.
Regular practice has been shown to significantly help high blood pressure over the long
term, according to government-sponsored studies conducted at the College of
Maharishi Vedic Medicine in Fairfield, Iowa. Among those studies, one showed
significant lowering of blood pressure and heart rate in black adults.
Also, a study in the American Journal of Hypertension showed that
teenagers who meditated for 15 minutes twice a day for four months were able to
lower their blood pressure a few points.
Immune Booster: Meditation also helps ward off illness and
infections. In one study testing immune function, flu shots were given to
volunteers who had meditated for eight weeks and to people who didn't meditate.
Blood tests taken later showed the meditation group had higher levels of
antibodies produced against the flu virus, according to the study in
Health:Premenstrual syndrome (PMS),
infertility problems, and even breastfeeding can be improved
when women meditate regularly. In one study, PMS symptoms subsided by 58% when
women meditated. Another study found that hot flashes were less intense among
Women struggling with infertility had much less anxiety, depression, and
fatigue following a 10-week meditation program (along with exercise and
nutrition changes); 34% became pregnant within six months. Also, new mothers
who meditated on images of milk flowing from their breasts were able to more
than double their production of milk.