The study was small, but its results were encouraging. Meditation may prove to be a beneficial addition to lifestyle and/or medical approaches to heart disease, say Frank Treiber, PhD, and colleagues.
Treiber directs the Georgia Prevention Institute at the Medical College of Augusta. He and his colleagues reported their findings in Orlando, Fla., at the Second International Conference on Women, Heart Disease, and Stroke.
The girls were assigned to either get four months of training in transcendental meditation (TM) or health education without meditation. Before the groups got underway, researchers checked the pliability of a blood vessel wall in the girls' arms. Studies have shown that African-Americans have decrease pliability of blood vessels. TM has been shown to improve this function in young people with prehypertension.
Normal healthy blood vessels contract and expand; a very early sign of blood vessel disease is when this ability is impaired. A decrease in blood vessels' ability to contract and expand is seen in high blood pressure.
The blood vessel pliability test was repeated four months later. The researchers compared the change in blood vessel function to the earlier test.
By the four-month follow-up, the transcendental meditation group had "improved significantly" its blood vessel function compared to the group which received health education only, say the researchers.
Transcendental meditation was popularized in recent decades by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It's easy to learn and doesn't require any particular religious, spiritual, or philosophical beliefs, says Robert Schneider, MD.
Schneider directs the Center for Health and Aging Studies in Fairfield, Iowa. He is also a professor of physiology and Maharishi Ayurveda. He discussed meditation and aging in a previous WebMD Live Event.
Meditation has garnered lots of research attention. It's been found to be good for the heart, immune system, PMS, and even breastfeeding and hot flashes. There seems to be no down side to meditation, but it doesn't take the place of needed conventional medicine.
Say Om ... or Not
"There are many different forms of meditation," says Patricia Monaghan, author of Meditation, The Complete Guide. In a live event with WebMD, she counted more than 50 kinds of meditation.
You don't need a mantra or a Zen-like room, and you don't have to twist yourself into a pretzel, says Monaghan. Sitting and focusing on your breath works. So does meditating while walking. Classes teach the techniques, and the practice takes as little as 10 minutes a day, says Monaghan. "Everyone has 10 minutes," she says.