The Mysterious 'Medication' of Meditation
One study of transcendental meditation, another form of meditation, and its
effects on black people with high blood pressure was published earlier this
year in Stroke. The study was authored by Amparo Castillo-Richmond, MD,
an assistant professor at Maharashi.
In the group that practiced transcendental meditation, there was an
reduction in thickness of one of the arteries that supplies blood to the brain,
a sign that blood flow is increasing, Castillo-Richmond tells WebMD. In the
group that only followed diet and exercise recommendations, "the artery
walls were getting thicker."
The transcendental meditation group also had significant changes in blood
pressure as well as heart rate. "It's possible to reverse heart disease
through meditation," reports Castillo-Richmond.
Another three-month study, published in the journal Hypertension,
showed that transcendental meditation had a much greater effect on blood
pressure than a widely used approach for relaxation, called progressive muscle
"What we found was that conventional education had little or no effect
in reducing high blood pressure, which is what doctors find most of the time.
We tell our patients to change their diet, lose weight, avoid salt, avoid
stress, get more exercise, but they just don't do it. It's hard to change your
lifestyle," Robert H. Schneider, MD, director of the Center for Natural
Medicine and Prevention at the College of Maharishi Vedic Medicine, tells
The group that practiced progressive muscle relaxation showed a small change
in blood pressure, which is consistent with other studies, he says.
However, "the transcendental meditation group had twice the change in
blood pressure as the relaxation group" and had results similar to drug
treatments, Schneider tells WebMD. "This is really critical because
transcendental meditation is widely misunderstood. The original hypothesis 25
or 30 years ago was that all meditation approaches had the same effect.
However, research in the past decade has disproved this hypothesis
There are several forms of meditation, including transcendental meditation,
and several types of relaxation therapies. Many clinicians believe that
relaxation -- however it is achieved -- is the crucial factor.
"There are three basic kinds of meditation: concentrative, awareness,
and expressive. Transcendental meditation and Kundalini are concentrative,
focusing on a mantra; Vipassani is a mindfulness or awareness meditation,
becoming aware of thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they arise; and
expressive meditation is dance, twirling, shaking," says James S. Gordon,
MD, director of Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, D.C.
"Each may have slightly different physiologic effects, but that doesn't
mean that one technique is better than the other. ? Different kinds of
meditation are appropriate for different people at different times," Gordon
Benson agrees. Meditation is but one form of relaxation that leads to a
common set of physiologic changes, he tells WebMD. "There's nothing unique
about meditation. Physiologically, it is called the relaxation response, and
its opposite is the stress response. With the relaxation response there is
decreased metabolism, heart rate, blood pressure, rate of breathing, slower
brain waves. That's been proven repeatedly in studies."