meditation and heart disease

Can yoga and meditation prevent high blood pressure?

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Devoted yogis often extol the virtues of their practice, from better sleep and improved fitness to what only the most devoted call “yoga butt.”

Now researchers at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre want to study if yoga, combined with meditation, can help lower blood pressure and prevent the onset of hypertension.

Dr. Sheldon Tobe and his team have begun the search for 70 patients to participate in the study, which will involve up to a 10-month commitment.

According to Tobe, participants in the study, dubbed HARMONY (Hypertension Analysis of Stress Reduction using Meditation & Yoga) will learn skills for decreasing stress, which is associated with elevated cardiovascular risk. Stress management is already a recommended treatment for patients with high blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart disease.

“My hope is that this may lead to the day when physicians can refer patients with high blood pressure to trained health practitioners who can deliver standardized, effective lifestyle therapy,” Dr. Tobe said in a statement.

For the study, participants will learn a form of relaxation therapy known as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which includes meditation and yoga.

During the study period, subjects will participate in nine MBSR group sessions over a period of nine weeks, as well as one full-day retreat. Participants will also have to practice MBSR at home.

Researchers will also monitor participants’ blood pressure during monthly visits.

The study follows other research that confirms the health benefits of yoga and meditation:

  • A study published last year in the journal Lancet Oncology found that one hour per day of relaxation or meditation, combined with a specific diet and exercise regimen, may delay aging and increase life expectancy.
  • University of Montreal research published last February found that practitioners of Zen meditation are less susceptible to pain, and appear to use their training to maintain steady breath.
  • Dr. Nicole Culos-Reed of Calgary’s Tom Baker Cancer Centre founded a therapeutic yoga program tailored to each patient’s physical and mental needs. The program has been so successful it is expanding across Alberta and into B.C., Saskatchewan and Ontario.
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Meditation ‘eases heart disease’

BBC: Heart disease patients who practise Transcendental Meditation have reduced death rates, US researchers have said.

At a meeting of the American Heart Association they said they had randomly assigned 201 African Americans to meditate or to make lifestyle changes.

After nine years, the meditation group had a 47% reduction in deaths, heart attacks and strokes.

The research was carried out by the Medical College in Wisconsin with the Maharishi University in Iowa.

It was funded by a £2.3m grant from the National Institute of Health and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

‘Significant benefits’

The African American men and women had an average age of 59 years and a narrowing of the arteries in their hearts.

The meditation group practised for 20 minutes twice a day.

The lifestyle change group received education classes in traditional risk factors, including dietary modification and exercise.

As well as the reductions in death, heart attacks and strokes in the meditating group, there was a clinically significant drop (5mm Hg) in blood pressure, and a significant reduction in psychological stress in some participants.

Robert Schneider, lead author and director of the Centre for Natural Medicine and Prevention at the Maharishi University in Iowa, said other studies had shown the benefits of Transcendental Meditation on blood pressure and stress, irrespective of ethnicity.

“This is the first controlled clinical trial to show that long-term practise of this particular stress reduction programme reduces the incidence of clinical cardiovascular events, that is heart attacks, strokes and mortality,” he said.

Dr Schneider said that the effect of Transcendental Meditation in the trial was like adding a class of newly discovered drugs for the prevention of heart disease.

He said: “In this case, the new medications are derived from the body’s own internal pharmacy stimulated by the Transcendental Meditation practice.”

Ingrid Collins, a consultant educational psychologist at the London Medical Centre, said: “I’m not at all surprised that a change of behaviour like this can have enormous benefits both emotionally and physically.

“Physical and emotional energy is on a continuum and whatever happens to us physically can affect our emotions and vice versa.”

British Heart Foundation Cardiac Nurse Ellen Mason said: “This is a fascinating area and the results were impressive.

“However, in order to fully assess the difference transcendental meditation could have on heart patient’s lives, we need to see research confirming it in a far bigger study and with other ethnic groups.”

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What inspired a scientist to open a meditation center at UCLA?

Huffington Post:
I recently attended a gathering of supporters of the Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) at the University of California, Los Angeles. During this event, I heard MARC founder (and Huffington Post blogger) Susan Smalley, Ph.D., speak. Dr. Smalley, a research scientist for 25 years, shared her fascinating journey of how she was inspired to create a center for mindfulness research. Her audience was completely captivated. I was so moved by Dr. Smalley’s story, I wanted to share it with the HuffPost audience. I was fortunate enough to track her down for an interview. Read more here.

Before I share the interview, I’d like to clarify what mindful awareness is. According to the MARC website:

Mindful Awareness – the moment-by-moment process of actively attending to, observing and drawing inferences from what one experiences. Mindful Awareness (also known as mindfulness) is an ancient concept with over 2,500 years of history and development that has recently been brought into health settings and has shown to have a powerful role on overall health promotion and healing for a variety of physical illnesses including cancer, heart disease, arthritis, auto-immune disorders, chronic pain, depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

PF: Sue, thanks for meeting with me to share your story. Let’s start with your background that, in a surprising way, seemed to lay the foundation for your interest in the study of mindfulness. How did you originally get involved in science, specifically in the field of genetics?

SS: My Ph.D. is in Anthropology, specifically Population and Behavior Genetics. I was interested in evolution, how genes change in frequency over time. Also, how genes influence human behavior. I did two years of post-doc work at UCLA in Medical Genetics, and am licensed as a medical geneticist.

I was fascinated with the gene mapping studies. I thought that if you found all the genes that influence human behavior, you could solve the world’s problems. I thought that once we understood the biology, we would be able to map out what are the environments that interact with those genes and we could cure everything. I thought that was the solution to end suffering.

I did autism research for ten years, and ADHD research for 13 years. As I really started studying ADHD, it became clear that, like every other psychiatric and behavioral condition, there’s not a single gene involved. There are many genes that interact. It’s not something you’re going to treat by altering genes; it will require a variety of approaches. I see ADHD as a way of brain processing that impacts many dimensions, not only attention but also working memory, probably personality, and other domains.

PF: So for 25 years you were immersed in fascinating research at UCLA. And now you are the founder and director of the MARC Center. Seems like a complete 360, but I’m sure there’s an interesting story behind the switch.

SS: Patricia, I received a real wake up call when I was diagnosed with an early stage melanoma. It was a big shock. I thought I was going to die. I really reevaluated my life. I realized that I was doing everything Western medicine said keeps you healthy (working out, diet, etc.) and yet I was not preventing myself from getting ‘sick’. The shock of the diagnosis and the fear of death really brought me to a heightened awareness.

PF: What was your life approach before this heightened awareness?

SS: I didn’t think about trying to heighten my sense of consciousness in any way. I thought, yeah, learn more, read more, study more, talk to people, everything’s in books, everything’s out there in a reason-based world. Just follow it.

I gave zero time to places that would increase intuition, or enhance insight, ignoring what is probably a core component of wisdom. I was just running around constantly doing, doing, doing, and trying to soak up knowledge from books and experiments and science.

PF: So prior to this new level of “awareness,” did you have any hobbies, escapes?

SS: Not really … I would go on vacation with my family every year but mostly I worked. And in addition to working, I was a mom, but I was a workaholic in motherhood and a workaholic in work. I constantly would try to do more.

I loved the role of being a mother. It was the one place that intuition naturally arose for me. In that sense, when I had my first child, I had more awareness. I wrote about it in my first post on Huffington Post; it’s called Mystic Mom. Motherhood was my first touch with being connected to something outside of myself. That was 24 years ago. I have three kids now, ages 18-23.

Back then, I had very few friends to be honest, except my husband who has been my closest friend for 35 years. I didn’t really open up that much to anyone outside my family. But I did go into therapy. That was a huge component to my self-discovery.

PF: You were in therapy before your “awakening”?

SS: I was in therapy for stress, worry, parenting. I felt stressed, and wanted to do the best I could do with my kids. Therapy helped me open up on one level.

PF: Did the cancer diagnosis and the “awakening” inspire you to make changes in your lifestyle?

SS: The medical treatment for my cancer was successful; however, I felt that there was something deeper going on with my overall health.

I decided to go back to an East-West doctor that my husband had recommended earlier. I had started going to him 10 years before, but I didn’t believe in him. I just would roll my eyes. I was so skeptical. He would give me suggestions of ways to improve my well being, and I didn’t follow through.

But when the melanoma was diagnosed, I thought, something’s not working. I thought I was doing everything right, but something’s off.

So for the first time, I listened to what he said and started doing everything he recommended. This included massage, acupuncture, taking herbs, different forms of yoga. On my own, I decided I would explore dietary changes, too. I looked into all of the diets and I went really hardcore into macrobiotic. I did all of those things simultaneously. And I started meditating.

I had learned TM (transcendental meditation) in the 70s, and kind of made fun of it. But I did have a mantra and I knew how to do it.

I took a little time off from work when I started doing all of those things, including meditating every day. I would drop the kids at school and come home. I’d spend the day doing things to improve my health: acupuncture, yoga, massage. Hour after hour of it. This was like a mega retreat on my own. Then I’d pick my kids up from school and do the normal mom stuff.

PF: So when you get into something, you really get into something.

SS: Yeah, I totally got immersed in it. But it was all new because I’d never done any of it, and I didn’t believe any of it before, so I was like, be open, be open.

And it really had a huge impact and I had what I now call a “mystical experience” – I had a huge shift in consciousness. And it wasn’t one that was incremental, day after day, increasing and increasing, but one of those, bam! Wow! The world, we’re all interconnected, I’m part of the oneness of the universe. I discovered this sense of deep interconnectedness of our dependent nature and posted a blog about it.

It was so profound that I couldn’t harm anything, and it was like all of a sudden. It wasn’t choosing not to eat meat anymore or choosing not to harm an insect because I thought it was a nice thing to do. It was because I felt to harm another animal, insect, even plants was like hurting a part of myself, as if I was chopping off my own left arm. I saw us all as one interconnected thing.

It was a really profound state, and along with this heightened state of consciousness, this incredible state of compassion, came a flood of rushing joy, bliss, calmness, happiness. I couldn’t even muster the old feelings I had that included the negative feelings of jealously, greed, anger … all of those things I couldn’t find in myself.

This state was so overwhelming that I didn’t know how to function. It was so different, this heightened state of bliss. I had no signs or symptoms of any kind of mental disorder, but I’m guessing it had qualities of what mania or hypomania might feel like in some ways. But not only was there this bliss, but creativity was just massive. So I started painting, I started creative writing, doing lots of things I hadn’t done before.

PF: How long did this feeling last?

SS: It was a really profound experience, then it kind of dissipated after about a month. The negative emotions didn’t come back but I started to lose that extreme feeling of everything as so connected, of that extreme sort of blissful state.

Then I started reading a lot, trying to figure out what just happened to me? What was this amazing experience?

Somehow I came across William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience. Here
I had been an atheist, or an agnostic, my whole life. But what happened to me was a profound shift in consciousness which led me to relate to the universe in a very different way.

That experience sounded like what James described for people who had had what they called “religious experiences” except my experience had no ‘God’ associated with it.

But, when I began reading Eastern religions of Taoism and Buddhism, I saw many parallels with the profound ‘truths’ I experienced during my ‘epiphany’ in those 30 days, and writings of people from different religions, as well as philosophers, writers, poets, and others. I saw that a lot of truths that became apparent to me in meditation were commonly recognized universal truths that other people have seen and have written about throughout history.

My quandary became that I didn’t know how to go back to work, as I had a totally different view of the world. I felt that the insights I gleaned during that 30 day period were ones that we could each discover but how do you discover them if you don’t give time for yourself to try to uncover that stuff?

Before I didn’t think that this was anything I should value … to take time for myself, to reflect on things. Or to use any kind of tools that could help you to do that.

I didn’t know what to do next and I didn’t know if I could ever go back to UCLA because I just thought it was so inconsistent with this way of seeing the world – an alternative way of knowing – a first-person experiential way vs. a third person scientific way. Both are valuable and I used to think only one was valuable for real truth, until I realized they both are valuable.

Then I came across the Albert Einstein quote:

“The Intuitive Mind is a sacred gift, the Rational Mind a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

That was really profound to me because Einstein said it. It helped that my insight was validated by someone else who I knew was really smart.

Jonas Salk is another person who had a huge influence on me. I didn’t know Jonas Salk had written anything about ‘insight’ or ‘intuition’ until after my experience and then I discovered this Salk quote:

“Intuition will tell the thinking mind where to look next.”

This resonated a lot with me.

Then I read Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason, where even he, the great proponent of reason, argues for the value of ‘intuitive’ experiences; what he described as the sort of knowledge that makes reason pale in comparison.

So there was all this from highly intelligent, reason-based thinkers that I respected.

My analogy that I use all of the time to reflect the balance of these two modes of knowing (reason and intuition) is that of a coin rolling on its side, and I wrote a blog about it. One side is reason and one side is intuition. If you ever lean too far, the coin falls flats and can’t move. The only way to keep the coin rolling is to keep both sides in balance.

With all of this, I contemplated whether or not to go back to UCLA….

Stay tuned for Part II (next Wednesday), where you’ll read how Dr. Smalley created a university-based center to share her insights and processes with others.

Huff Post readers: Have you had an experience of heightened awareness – intuition – mindfulness – that affected you in a significant way? We’d love to hear from you.

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For stress reduction, just say ommm

CNN: Managing the service department of an Atlanta, Georgia, car dealership is a stressful job, according to Debbie Peek.

Handling customer demands and keeping up with paperwork would leave anyone frazzled, but Peek, 56, has found a way to cope with the stress. For the past seven months, she’s been meditating daily.

“What I have found for me is it helps me find the quiet time in the hustle-bustle of the day,” Peek said. “I am able to focus.”

Researchers like Dr. Charles Raison, a psychiatrist at the Emory School of Medicine in Atlanta, are convinced that meditation serves an important purpose.

“All the studies aren’t perfect, but there is more and more data suggesting that meditation is useful for reducing stress responses,” said Raison, who is also CNNhealth’s mental health expert doctor.

Too much stress puts wear and tear on your body and damages your health, he said.

Even simple meditation techniques such as saying a mantra in your head or watching your breath can make a big difference.

“Relaxing your body will actually turn down your heart rate. It turns down your blood pressure,” Raison said. “We’ve shown that certain types of meditation will actually lower this inflammatory response to stress, which is undoubtedly a big player in heart disease.”

Raison isn’t the only fan of alternative healing as a means of stress reduction.

Another is Dr. Brent Bauer, director of the Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

“We completely underestimate the severity of stress and the impact on our health,” Bauer said. “When you look at what stress does to us, it reduces our immune function, it delays wound healing … and raises the risk of heart disease.”

He said he would never recommend that a patient replace conventional medicine with alternative therapies; rather, he suggested they be used to complement each other.

“I’ve got high blood pressure,” he said as an example. “I’m taking medication, but I’m also doing meditation. That’s probably the right approach.”

Two decades ago, he acknowledged, many American physicians were skeptical about integrating alternative medicine into their recommendations. Today, he said, it is part of our culture.

“It’s great to pull out a different arrow from the quiver and say, ‘Why not try meditation or how about guided imagery?’ ” Bauer said.

“We’re bringing other tools to the table,” he said. “It doesn’t mean they work for everybody, but you’ll find something to help you manage your own stress more effectively.”

In addition to meditation, he suggested tai chi and yoga as a means of relaxation.

Massage is another way to reduce stress and anxiety.

Aromatherapy and acupuncture are believed to have relaxing effects.

Biofeedback is a fairly new technique mentioned in “Mayo Clinic Book of Alternative Medicine,” edited by Bauer.

During biofeedback, a patient learns to control the body’s response to stress and anxiety by relaxing.

Raison suggested some other ways to combat stress include exercising, eating a healthy diet, socializing and reducing conflict.

He admitted none of the solutions is easy, including meditation.

“I think it’s not completely without risk,” Raison said. “I’ve certainly known people who sit down to meditate and they’re shocked at the thoughts or noise that come into their mind or they realize things about themselves that aren’t cool.”

Keeping your mind from wandering during meditation is one of the most difficult tricks, he conceded.

“Most people don’t make it to a breath or two, and if you can make it to 10 breaths you’re doing well.”

For that reason, he recommended taking a class or a lesson on how to meditate. He said having a teacher guide you through a meditation session is often more helpful than trying to do it on your own.

It worked for Peek. She started taking a meditation class in the spring and she’s seen a big shift in her stress level.

“You practice and over a period of time you’re able to focus,” Peek said. “If you find yourself in a stressful moment, rather than reacting, you take a moment to take a deep breath in and to just let yourself relax before you act or react.”

Read more here.

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Meditation 101

Herald Tribune: Why meditate? A better question is why not? A regular meditation practice is good medicine for body, mind and soul. Countless studies have explored its therapeutic benefits and found meditation can lower stress and your risk of heart disease, and treat many anxiety disorders. Read more here.

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Living Well: Quieting the mind can boost the body (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

Bob Condor, Seattle Post-Intelligencer: You’ve seen those small, water-filled globes that you shake up to simulate snow falling inside the scene. Dr. Mark Abramson wants you to think about those globes the next time you feel a bit frazzled or stressed out.

Like, oh, today or tomorrow as we go careering into the holiday weekend. There are just so many hours to wrap presents and wrap up work projects. Or to see friends and relatives while seeing to all of the details.

“We live in daily worlds that seem to always be shaken up,” says Abramson, who teaches mindfulness meditation and stress-reduction classes at Stanford University’s Center for Integrative Medicine. “We rarely feel settled. Starting a meditation practice is a way to resettle ourselves.”

Abramson is way ahead of you, because you likely are thinking that meditation is too hard, you’re never very good at it, there’s not enough time … have I mentioned the right reason yet?

“The first thing I address in any class is debunking the myths of meditation,” said Abramson, who teaches several “Mindfulness and Heartfulness” weekend courses at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, Calif. “Historically, when meditation first came to the U.S., there was the idea that it leads to a trancelike state in which you develop super powers.”

Just not the case, said Abramson.

“What people find is they can’t stop their flow of thoughts as they try to meditate and quiet the mind,” said Abramson. “They think they are failing. They think everyone else is able to do it.”

Just not the case.

“There is just no stopping our thoughts,” said Abramson. “It’s not going to happen and it’s not necessary.”

Instead, Abramson practices a form of meditation called “mindfulness” that simply urges you to be mindful of those thoughts, that you are having them, that you may be distracted. You can even practice mindfulness on your last-minute shopping trips this week or over the weekend when a relative at the holiday table is, well, annoying you.

The aim of mindfulness is to be more aware of your body and your mind. Stopping to recognize your anxiety levels in itself slows stress hormones.

Abramson doesn’t want his students to set rigid goals for meditation. The idea is to “tap into whatever experience is going on inside of yourself.” Staying mindful becomes easier because there is no right or wrong way of doing it.

Abramson’s association with Stanford is no aberration. Meditation has become subject for many academic researchers looking to increase what we know about the mind-body connection. Some examples: The University of Massachusetts has a large-scale stress reduction program used at its medical center. UCLA scientists are evaluating whether meditation techniques can help individuals with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder.

An Indiana State researcher, Jean Kristeller recently was awarded a $1.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to explore whether mindfulness meditation can help decrease the alarming rate of obesity in the U.S. by helping to curb eating binges.

“The focus of this research is to help people more effectively internalize control about eating through meditation,” said Kristeller, who has been a meditation researcher for 25 years. “Not only do they learn better to control their eating habits, but they don’t have to struggle with it as much. They don’t have the temptations that usually exist because they simply don’t want to overeat.”

For his part, Abramson said a meditation starts with awareness of breath. A taped meditation he provides to students even acknowledges that the mind is likely to wander.

“Just bring it back to being aware of your breathing,” explained Abramson. “Notice that your mind wandered, then refocus on your breath.”

Next, Abramson suggests a body scan. Start with your feet. What do you feel? Then your calves and shins, the knees and on up through the body and head. Make any number of stops.

It’s possible you won’t feel much at all in some parts of the body. That’s OK, said Abramson.

“That’s information,” he said. “You want to learn from your meditation practice.”

Not feeling parts of your body reinforces the need for connecting the mind and body. So does lots of activity or stress. It is healthful simply to know that your mind is racing or your shoulders and neck feel tight. You can do a body scan in seconds.

After the body scan, Abramson suggests checking in with all of your senses and any emotions you may be feeling. If a noise is distracting you, be mindful of it. If you are sad about not being with a loved one this holiday, be mindful of it. Honor all of the senses and emotions, then let go and refocus on your breathing.

Abramson was trained as a dentist who now specializes in patients with head and neck pain. He came to mindfulness early if accidentally. As a 14-year-old, a serious auto accident put him in bed for 10 weeks. During recovery he decided to pay attention to his considerable pain and suffering, that it might teach him something. As a dental student, he learned about the more formal art of mindfulness meditation and “realized I was already doing it.”

His Stanford classes are filled with patients referred by physicians to help address such conditions as heart disease, cancer, chronic pain, along with “Silicon Valley executives who realize if they keep up their current pace and lifestyle they will get sick.” He works with plenty of beginners.

“My students jump right into practices of 45 minutes a day,” said Abramson. “But I tell them if they can’t find 45 minutes, then even 15 minutes can be effective. Meditation practice gives you the choice of deciding who you are. It starts with being kind to yourself every day.”

Original article no longer available…

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Meditation lowers youths’ blood pressure (WebMD)

Miranda Hitti, WebMD: Middle school students reap benefits within 3 months, says study.

Meditation has the power to lower blood pressure, even for healthy young people. All it takes is a little low-cost training and 20 minutes a day, say experts from the Medical College of Georgia.

You don’t even need to say “om.” No particular personal or spiritual beliefs are required. Simply focusing on breathing will do the job, say Frank Treiber, PhD, and colleagues.

Meditation has shown promise against high blood pressure and other concerns including anxiety, stress, depression, and addictions. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends it for people facing high blood pressure. Medications, diet, and exercise can also help control high blood pressure.

The potential for meditation to lower blood pressure in young people is significant, since high blood pressure is creeping into younger age groups. It’s particularly common in some minority groups. For instance, black youths have up to seven times the risk of high blood pressure, say the researchers.

High blood pressure “is no longer considered an adult disease,” write the researchers in the November/December issue of the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

Learning healthy habits at a young age equips kids to take good care of themselves as adults. Experts have seen that with nutrition and exercise. Could that also be true for meditation?

Treiber’s team recently tested a meditation program on 73 middle school students in Augusta, Ga. None of the students had high blood pressure. All wore monitors recording their blood pressure at regular intervals, day and night.

A teacher taught half of the group to meditate. The other participants learned about blood pressure in health education classes emphasizing diet and exercise.

The meditating students sat with their eyes closed for 10 minutes, focusing on their breathing. If thoughts intruded, they noticed them and gently returned their focus to their breathing.

The students meditated twice daily — once at school and once at home. More than 85% completed the three-month study.

At the study’s end, their blood pressure was significantly lower. Their resting systolic blood pressure (the top number of a blood pressure reading) was down 3.8 points more than the nonmeditating group. Their blood pressure and heart rate during waking hours were also better than the nonmeditators, who had no change or slight increases in those areas.

Stretched into adulthood, those numbers would cut the risk of stroke or heart disease by more than 12%, say the researchers. Since meditation is free and easy to learn, it may deserve a place on school curriculum, they conclude.

Original article no longer available…

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Yoga gets hearts healthy (WebMD Medical News)

Peggy Peck, WebMD News: Yoga and Meditation 3 Times a Week Improves Heart Disease Risk.

Stretching may do more than make you limber, according to new research from Yale University School of Medicine. Findings show that people who practice yoga and meditation at least three times a week may reduce their blood pressure, pulse and — most importantly — their risk of heart disease.

Moreover, yoga improves heart health in both healthy individuals and those with diagnosed heart disease, says Satish Sivasankaran, MD, who conducted the study while training at Yale. He says that volunteers taking a six-week yoga-meditation program improved blood vessel function by 17%. Blood vessel function, also called endothelial function, is the way vessels contract and expand to aid blood flow and is a measure of healthy vessel function. However, study participants who had heart disease had close to a 70% improvement in endothelial function.

Endothelial function is an important indicator of atherosclerosis because as the disease and plaque build-up progresses, the blood vessels become less supple and less able to constrict and expand…

“Stress is known to increase the risk of coronary events. Both anxiety and type A behavior have been associated with coronary diseases,” Sivasankaran, who is now a cardiology fellow at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Mass., tells WebMD. Yoga and meditation, on the other hand, are often recommended as a way to relieve stress.

The study, which was presented during the opening day of the American Heart Association’s 2004 Scientific Sessions here, is the first to look at the way blood vessels respond to stress.

“The endothelial function improved in the total cohort of patients and was most dramatic in patients already diagnosed with heart disease,” he explains.

And, it doesn’t take years of lotus positions and meditation to see improvement — the study volunteers had measurable improvement in just six weeks, he says. The yoga and meditation program included 40 minutes of postural yoga, 20 minutes of deep relaxation, 15 minutes of yoga breathing, and 15 minutes of meditation.

The study enrolled 33 patients, 30% of whom had heart disease. The study required them to practice yoga and meditation for an hour and a half at least three times a week. More than 60% of the volunteers were men and the average age of the study participants was 55.

The researchers monitored blood pressure, pulse, body mass index (BMI, an indirect measure of body fat used to measure weight), and cholesterol levels at the beginning of the study and again after six weeks.

The researchers used an ultrasound to measure the blood flow in an artery of the arm, he explains.

Yoga Improves Blood Pressure

At the beginning of the study the average blood pressure was 130/79 mmHg. The American Heart Association says that a normal blood pressure reading is 120/80 mmHg. After six weeks the average blood pressure reading was 125/74 mmHg, which was a significant decrease with yoga and meditation classes. The volunteers also had a modest reduction in BMI — from 29 to 28, and they “had an average reduction in pulse rate of nine beats per minute,” he says.

While people with heart disease had the biggest improvement in blood vessel function, that improvement “was independent of any improvements in blood pressure,” he says. And after six weeks it was the healthy patients who posted the biggest improvements in blood pressure, pulse rate, and BMI.

“Even with a small number of patients for a short period of time there was a benefit of yoga and meditation seen in people with heart disease,” he says. He says, however, that the researchers don’t know the mechanism involved in that benefit, which means that more study is needed.

Gerald F. Fletcher, MD, a cardiovascular disease specialist at the Mayo Clinic Florida in Jacksonville, tells WebMD that “it is probably exercise. There are several studies that suggest that exercise — any kind of exercise — improves oxygen consumption, which improves endothelial function.” Fletcher, who was not involved in the study, is a spokesman for the AHA.

“I’m not sure that meditation has a specific benefit, but if combining meditation with exercise will get people to exercise, then I’m all for it. But the most important message is that exercise works,” Fletcher says.

Read the rest of the article…

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Transcendental meditation can help heart (News 8 Austin, Texas)

News 8 Austin, Texas: Dr Brian Olshansky, a cardiac electrophysiologist at the University of Iowa, promotes a healthy diet, regular exercise, and the Transcendental Meditation Programme (TM) to help take control of one’s health and prevent cardiovascular disease. Dr Olshansky is currently treating a group of people who have heart disease with alternative therapies, including TM, yoga, breathing exercises, herbal preparations, and a predominantly vegetarian diet. It is a joy for Global Good News service to feature this news, which indicates the success of the life-supporting programmes Maharishi has designed to bring fulfilment to the field of health.

Although the results of the study are not yet finalized, News 8 Austin reported that Olshansky plans to follow up with a larger study if the results are positive.

The article described the Transcendental Meditation Technique as ‘a simple mental technique that involves deep relaxation and rest. It is usually practiced twice a day, while sitting comfortably with the eyes closed.’ The article cited the recently published study wherein patients practising TM lowered both their systolic and diastolic blood pressure numbers by an average of nearly four points by performing only two 15-minute sessions each day.

Olshansky said that currently health and heart problems are national epidemics and that although doctors perform cardiac surgery only as a last resort, at least 250,000 people die each year from the operation or from drug interactions. He wants people to avoid getting to that point by utilizing simple lifestyle changes, and techniques such as TM, proper diet, and exercise.

Original article no longer available…

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