meditation and heart disease

Delving into alternative care (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Susanne Quick, Journal Sentinal, Milwaukee: Johnnie Thomas spent 22 years trying to get teenagers to behave.

As a building superintendent for a dormitory first run by the YMCA, now by Marquette University, he saw more than his share of late-night shenanigans.

It took a toll, and in 1994, he underwent open-heart surgery. While recovering from the triple bypass, he re-evaluated his lifestyle – his food choices, his exercise regimen. But with an aloof doctor, and little in the way of support from home, he didn’t make much headway.

Then, two years ago, Thomas saw a late-night advertisement on TV – an ad that called for African-Americans with cardiovascular trouble to participate in a study at the Medical College of Wisconsin. The idea was to test the cardiovascular effects of Transcendental Meditation – a patented form of meditation owned and promoted by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Indian guru made popular during the 1960s by the Beatles.

Thomas figured, “Why not?”

He has been meditating every day since then, and according to Thomas, his new doctors – those not involved in the study – are thrilled with the results.

“They say, keep doing whatever it is you are doing,” he said. “And I do.”

A generation ago, even a few years ago, a heart patient learning about meditation from a leading medical center would have been unthinkable.

No more.

More than a third of Americans use some form of complementary or alternative medicine – treatments or regimens used in conjunction with, or as an alternative to, standard Western medicine.

The number of people using these non-standard treatments almost doubles if prayer is included, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine – a branch of the National Institutes of Health. And even though many treatments haven’t had much scientific testing, doctors, insurance companies and health centers are paying attention.

The Medical College’s meditation study, which has been funded for four years by NIH’s Complementary and Alternative Medicine center, has recently been extended for another four years. And it is similar to many others being conducted across the country.

The center has a 2004 budget of $117.7 million, double what it was just five years ago. And that’s less than half of NIH’s total annual spending on complementary and alternative medicine. Other money goes to agencies such as the National Institute on Aging and the National Cancer Institute. It funds such research as Transcendental Meditation and distance healing – defined as a “mental intention on behalf of one person, to benefit another at a distance” – as well as more “conventional” alternative treatments such as acupuncture and massage.

“Our goal is to find out what works, what doesn’t work, and what is safe and is not safe, and to share that information with consumers, practitioners, and policy-makers,” said Margaret Chesney, deputy director of the center. If the center finds something valid, doctors can start using it.

The result is that traditional research centers such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Johns Hopkins and Columbia University are competing for federal grants to study alternative medicine with places such as Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa. To date, Maharishi University has received more than $20 million in government support.

Beyond the government investment, alternative medicine centers have started appearing in mainstream medical centers and managed care facilities across the country.

In the Milwaukee area, Aurora, Covenant and Columbia St. Mary’s all have supported and managed “complementary care” facilities in their health systems. Covenant’s Center for Complementary Medicine in Mequon, for example, offers acupuncture and massage, as well as a full-time trainer who advises patients on a more balanced and holistic lifestyle.

“We knew patients were seeing chiropractors as well as their surgeons and physicians,” said Nancy Conway, director of complementary medicine at Aurora, which has similar centers.

What better way to manage their patients’ care than to get both types of practitioners under the same roof, she said.

Where is this headed?

The question no one has been able to answer is where all this is headed.

Government-funded health agencies would like to systematically either legitimize or debunk the numerous alternative treatments available. Chesney said the center reviews every proposal with the same scientific and critical rigor – irrespective of the politics, religion or spiritual practice associated with it.

But to conventional Western doctors, it’s one thing if a mainstream research center such as UW-Madison or Johns Hopkins says an alternative practice such as acupuncture is valid. It’s another if the research is from Maharishi University.Will family doctors really feel comfortable referring patients with high blood pressure to the nearest Transcendental Meditation clinic – where they will be asked to write a $2,500 check?

What is more likely – and what is already happening, regardless of the NIH studies – is that some doctors are referring patients to alternative practitioners within their own medical facilities.

And then there’s the question of insurance. So far, insurance companies have been reluctant to cover many alternative and complementary treatments, said Aurora’s Conway.

Some insurers will cover visits to chiropractors or offer discounts for acupuncture and chiropractic care. But for other kinds of complementary and alternative care – the more fringe practices such as homeopathy and chelation therapy- there is little in the way of coverage, Conway said.

“With the rising costs of health care,” both insurance companies and consumers are finding themselves on the same side of the table, said Sam Benjamin, corporate medical director for integrative health strategies at Humana. They both want cost-effective medicine.

Indeed, if insurance companies can inform and educate people about complementary medicine – a lot of it low-cost with few side effects – then both parties will be better off, Benjamin said.

There just isn’t a lot of incentive right now for insurance companies to pay for alternative medicine, he said. The last thing they want to do is cover more kinds of medical treatments. And again, there’s the question of endorsing fringe organizations. If insurance companies started paying for Transcendental Meditation, for instance, would they unwittingly be promoting Maharishi’s program for achieving world peace through yogic flying?

Mixed reactions in doctors

All this interest in new forms of health care – and the money following it – has drawn a mixed reaction from doctors on the front lines.

Many physicians say they embrace alternative and complementary approaches to medical care, or at least don’t reject them. Steven Pinzer, a spokesman for Aurora Health Care, contended that skeptical primary care physicians, at least at Aurora, don’t exist.

But others said doctors are choosing not to speak out for fear of appearing close-minded, or inviting disfavor from their health care network.

And then there is Stephen Barrett, a retired Allentown, Pa., psychiatrist and director of Quackwatch Inc. – a medical fraud watchdog group. Barrett calls alternative medicine “rubbish.”

Barrett said that while it may sound as if a lot of people are using non-traditional forms of medicine, it’s just not true. Remove prayer and the use of herbal supplements, and the number drops to about 18%. Practices such as biofeedback and Ayurveda, which is a form of holistic medicine, have received a fair amount of publicity but attract only 0.1% of the American population, he said.

“The fringe stuff is just not being used all that widely,” he said.

Barrett also wonders whether more physicians are not voicing their skepticism because they don’t know much about what’s going on outside their own specific fields and have enough on their plates without inviting conflict.

Benjamin agreed.

“Believe me, I don’t mean to criticize doctors – I am one,” he said. But they are so overworked and have so little time, most are unable to keep on top of the latest research in their own field, much less the latest on massage therapy and acupuncture.

“This is a failure on the part of medical schools” and health care organizations, which should be training their physicians in these methods and giving them the time to learn, he said.

Barrett was a little more critical: “They don’t know enough. They don’t want to get caught in a fix. And they are afraid of getting sued.”

Gaining acceptance

Nevertheless, there does seem to be a level of acceptance in the medical world.

Many specialists, such as heart doctors and cancer physicians, appear to be relatively open to newfangled (or very old-fangled, depending upon how you see it) treatments.

This is particularly true for cancer doctors, who for years have incorporated an array of treatments to help their patients.

“I think oncologists are an interesting group,” said James Stewart, a medical oncologist at UW Hospital. “We take a multidisciplinary approach to disease, a holistic approach, which is pretty traditional in cancer clinics.”

From diet and exercise to psychological care, oncologists have been aware that a patient who feels better about herself – who feels she has some control in the outcome of her care – will have a better experience.

“If I had my wishes, all my patients wouldn’t smoke. They’d exercise. And they’d be an ideal body weight,” he said. “I guarantee they’d feel better.”

But when he can’t get them to follow this advice – and they show interest in other treatments – he’s willing to refer them.

He’s quick to point out these treatments are complementary – not alternatives to the standard front lines of chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. And, he reiterated, the patient has to ask for it.

“There are definitely charlatans out there, people who take advantage of those with chronic, life-threatening diseases for which there are no easy cures,” he said. “And it’s those few who can give everybody a bad name.”

What Stewart and Ellen Hartenbach, another oncologist at UW, try to do is make sure they and their patients keep talking to each other.

Others hesitate

For doctors such as Jon Keevil, a cardiologist at UW, the open approach that his oncology colleagues have shown is not entirely comfortable.

He thinks heart specialists may be a bit less holistic than oncologists and primary care physicians – although he does have a dietitian in his clinic and regularly discusses the benefits of exercise and a good diet with his patients.

“When it comes right down to it, when a person suffers a heart attack, we don’t take over everything else” in the body, he said.

Indeed, discussing alternative and complementary approaches may be somewhat inappropriate coming from a specialist such as himself, he said. “That’s really what their primary care doctor is there for.”

That where David Rakel comes in.

Rakel is a primary care physician in Madison, and director of UW’s Integrative Medicine clinic, so he’s open – almost by the definition of his job – to new methods of health care.

But he thinks “adding more tools to the tool bag” is not the answer.

Instead, he said, there needs to be “a change in the way we approach the patient.”

From the minute patients walk into the room, the focus should be on listening to their story, and hearing what the patients have to say – instead of peppering them with questions to cram them into a preconceived diagnostic box.

Studies have shown that within 18 seconds of patients’ descriptions of their ailments, they are interrupted. And other research has indicated that only a handful of patients actually understand what their doctors tell them, or know what to do when they leave their doctor’s office.

“We really need to match a therapy to an individual,” said Rakel, taking into account that individual’s “biopsychosocial and spiritual influences.”

That means spending time with patients.

If adding 15 more minutes to a patient’s visit is what’s required, than that’s what should happen, Rakel said. And if that’s considered complementary or alternative, then so be it, he said.

“Integrative medicine encourages empowerment. It facilitates the body in a way that it is best able to heal itself,” he said.

So where does acupuncture, massage therapy and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi come in?

With any treatment, he said, “you have to take into account the potential harm, cost, the patient’s belief system and the evidence-based science,” he said.

“What’s legitimate for one person may not be for another,” he said. “The goal is how we can help a human being.”

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Iowa town booms on Eastern ways (Washington Post)

Kari Lydersen, The Washington Post: When Eric Schwartz decided to move his financial services business from Silver Spring here to southeastern Iowa so he could join other practitioners of Transcendental Meditation in 1992, he worried that clients and colleagues might think he was a little crazy. “Some people think TM [Transcendental Meditation] is some kind of cult or devil worship,” he said. “I thought it might be negative for my business, that customers would freak out.”

Things turned out just the opposite.

With much lower overhead, he found revenue for Cambridge Investment Research rising from one year to the next. He went from a gross revenue of about $500,000 a year in the D.C. area to more than $50 million in 2002. The magazine Investment Advisor named him broker-dealer of the year in 2003. He credits Transcendental Meditation, which he began practicing as a freshman at Amherst College in 1971, for fueling his success.

“Even if investors or customers aren’t interested in TM, they are attracted to the fact that I moved here to do this, that I’m concerned about more than just making money or having an ocean view,” said Schwartz, who is considering changing his title from chief executive to chief spiritual officer. “That’s the kind of business they want to be involved with.”…

Many other people in Vedic City and neighboring Fairfield feel the same way. The community founded by followers of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Beatles’ meditation guru, has become an entrepreneurial mecca of the Midwest. Followers began flocking to Fairfield after the establishment of the Maharishi University of Management in 1974, and Vedic City just outside the limits of Fairfield was incorporated in 2001, the first new Iowa city to be incorporated since 1982. Residents estimate that one-fourth of the 10,000 people in Fairfield and Vedic City practice TM.

Other successful businesses run by TM devotees include MarathonFoto, billing itself as the largest event photography company in the country; Creative Edge Master Shop, which manufactures intricate floor and wall murals out of marble and granite for Disney, the Chicago Bulls and other clients; and the Raj Ayurveda Health Center, a spa which draws national visitors paying hundreds of dollars a day. City officials say more than $200 million in venture capital has been invested in Fairfield and Vedic City companies during the past 13 years.

“For a small town in the Midwest to have so many successful businesses is really unbelievable,” said Rashi Glazer, co-director of the Center for Marketing and Technology at the University of California at Berkeley, who spends summers in Fairfield. “It means something’s going on here.”

Vedic is a Sanskrit word meaning “totality of knowledge.” Residents live in spacious homes designed with entrances facing east, small onion domes called kailashes on top and rooms oriented to correspond with the cycles of the sun and moon. Practitioners of TM generally meditate for 20 minutes twice a day.

The area’s TM practitioners are not just being noticed for their entrepreneurship. For 15 years, the fully accredited Maharishi University of Management has been conducting studies funded by the National Institutes of Health on the effects of meditation on cardiovascular health, with a specific focus on how meditation can benefit African Americans with a high risk of heart disease.

“The physiological effects of this technique include a high degree of orderliness in the brain waves, which seems to spread throughout the body with lower levels of stress hormones, lower blood pressure, less reactivity to stress,” said Robert Schneider, a physician who completed a fellowship in hypertension at the University of Michigan Medical School and now serves as dean of Vedic medicine at Maharishi University.

Vedic City passed a resolution banning the sale of non-organic food and runs an organic farming operation that sells produce to Whole Foods Market and other outlets in Chicago and across Iowa. Farm director Dean Goodale notes that the farm includes one of the few greenhouses in the region that grow plants in soil rather than with hydroponics.

“Conventional farmers associate soil with bacteria and they want to kill all the bacteria,” he said. “But bacteria serves a purpose in making certain nutrients available to plants. It’s a symbiotic relationship.”

Across the street from the farm is the start of a housing project called “Abundance Ecovillage,” which will be powered by solar and wind energy. Vedic City and Fairfield receive federal grants from agencies including the Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture for developing renewable energy sources and running recycling and composting programs.

“The composting program will make use of yard waste from the city, kitchen waste from the Raj restaurant, plant waste from the farm and manure from [a nearby] organic llama farm,” said Kent Boyum, an aquatic toxicologist who directs Vedic City’s Energy Department-funded Rebuild America program. “The compost will be used in the greenhouse and marketed as specialty soil from Vedic City.”

Residents say most people moved here from the coasts to study meditation and related practices at Maharishi University or to send their children to Maharishi School, an elementary and high school that includes meditation, Sanskrit and ayurvedic medicine in its regular curriculum.

“There weren’t many jobs for people moving in, so they had to become entrepreneurial and create jobs,” said Ed Malloy, a TM practitioner who is president of Danaher Oil Co. and was elected mayor of Fairfield in 2001. “Meditation is about really perfecting and exploring human potential, so it makes sense these people tend to be highly motivated and creative.”

Jonathan Lipman and his wife, Pam Whitworth, quit careers in Washington to move to Fairfield seven years ago. Since then, Lipman, a former president of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, has designed only Vedic-style homes. Whitworth, an artist, started a business making pillows out of old kimonos and other fabrics imported from Japan, which are sold in an exclusive store in Manhattan and have been featured in home design magazines.

“She figured it was either get a job at Wal-Mart or start a business,” Lipman said.

Mario Orsatti, a Philadelphia native who studied with the Maharishi in Europe and moved to Fairfield in 1978, noted that the growing acceptance and popularity of alternative medicine and Eastern philosophy are also key to the area’s success.

“It was a lot different 30 years ago,” he said. “There was a lot of suspicion of things that are foreign, things from India. Today lots of people are doing yoga and meditation, looking at our tradition and saying, ‘That is so cool.’ Lots of small midwestern towns are dying, but Fairfield and Vedic City are thriving. People are moving here instead of moving away. Iowa would love to see this happening everywhere.”

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Meditation helps folks disengage, see clearly, release stress, improve health (Go Memphis, Tennessee)

B. Blair Dedrick, SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SERVICE: “You can’t see anything in a cascading river,” said the Memphis, Tenn., teacher of insight meditation. “But when the water gets to a lake, you can see the sky clearly.”

To see clearly is the point of meditation. It can be a path to better health or spiritual enlightenment, or simply a way to stay attentive to the present.

“When you are thinking, you are always in the past or the future, never in the moment,” Greer said. “When you slow down your mind, you return to where life is most real — where you are living.”

Insight meditation is not a clearing of the mind as much as the ability to have thoughts, acknowledge them and let them go, said Greer, a retired University of Memphis professor.

Mark Muesse decided to try meditation almost 20 years ago to help ease stress. The Rhodes College professor of religion stayed with it because it was successful.

“I’m one of those people who likes to control things.” Muesse said. “Meditation teaches you the more you try to control, the more you suffer. The more you relinquish control, the happier you will be.”

For Daniel Lamontagne and his students, the issue is health.

Lamontagne is the head of Healing Meditation, a business in Memphis that teaches meditation designed to help with everything from improving cholesterol and blood pressure levels to ending alcohol and drug use.

“Good health is a combination of mind, body and spirit,” Lamontagne said. “Meditation is just another aspect of good health.”

Various scientific studies have found that meditation lowers blood pressure, chemical levels associated with stress and the risk for heart disease.

“It’s like a preventative.” Lamontagne said. “Eating well helps, exercise helps and alleviating stress and fear helps.”

When Candia Ludy and her husband were sent on a three-year tour to the African nation of Tanzania in 1981 by Catholic Relief Services, the country was suffering from a severe food and water shortage, its factories were closing, its roads were in disrepair.

“It was a stressful time,” Ludy said. “Probably the worst time in Tanzanian history.”

She took along two books by Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and another by a Zen teacher, used them, and has been meditating ever since.

“I’m sure not stopping.” she said. “It’s my life.”

Buddhism teaches that there are many paths to the same end. Ludy said, “You have to find out what works for you.”
Ludy likens this type of meditation to a gentle form of therapy.

“If you put attention, loving attention, on a problem, it will start to melt away,” she said. “Meditation is a very organic, very natural way to make life sweeter.”

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Doing well by doing nothing. (Inc. Magazine)

Jess McCuan, Inc. Magazine: Feeling unfocused? Try doing nothing. Or rather, try sitting in a quiet room thinking about nothing for at least 20 minutes, twice a day. It sounds simple, even boring, but transcendental meditation isn’t just for mantra-chanting yogis or herbal-tea-drinking hippies. Maxed-out professionals are turning to daily meditation to lower blood pressure, prolong concentration, and crank up creative juices.

“It helps me slow down,” says Erica Kalick, founder and president of Erica’s Rugelach & Baking Co., a 10-employee gourmet pastry manufacturer in Brooklyn, N.Y. Kalick took up meditation to help her cope after a personal tragedy. “We run around all day, usually thinking about ourselves,” she says. “But if, for example, I’m pissed off at an employee, I can slow down and think about it from the other person’s perspective.”

Unlike other kinds of meditation that focus on breathing, the goal of transcendental meditation is to clear the mind completely. “It’s like having a quieter and quieter thought,” explains Gary Kaplan, director of Clinical Neurophysiology at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y. When performed correctly, Kaplan says, meditation allows the brain to “settle down,” while the meditator experiences a heightened level of alertness. According to studies conducted at Harvard and the University of Massachusetts, long-term benefits include lower blood pressure and reduced risk for heart disease and stroke. But other positive results, such as reduced stress, lower heart rate, and increased alpha brain waves for greater concentration, may be noticeable after a few weeks.

Encouraging workers to meditate, then, can potentially increase productivity and may also reduce health care costs. Eric Schwartz, CEO of Cambridge Investment Research, a 115-employee, $65 million financial services firm based in Fairfield, Iowa, has been meditating for more than 30 years. He relocated from Washington, D.C., in part because Fairfield’s Maharishi University is a mecca for transcendental meditators. Schwartz, who footed the bill for meditation courses for his top three managers, believes his brokers are open to new ways of doing business and see problems as opportunities to improve.

“Most businesses succeed or fail based on their people,” he says. “We’ve succeeded because we’ve kept an open mind.” Schwartz, who is the only person in his family without high blood pressure, can defuse potential crises. Once, an employee who had been with the company for about two years dreaded having to report that a trading error lost the company $33,000. “He came into my office thinking, ‘Eric’s going to go crazy,” Schwartz recalls. “But I just looked at him and said, ‘What are we going to do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?’ I was in a clear space.”

Other businesses are also hoping meditation can help keep employees healthy and harmonious. At the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness, Lawrence Horwitz, director of outreach and corporate program development, has noticed a swell of participation in the center’s Power of Mindfulness in the Workplace program, which offers on-site courses, workshops, and retreats. Eric Biskamp runs WorkLife Seminars, a Dallas-based corporate meditation coaching service. “It’s now accepted by some insurance companies and taught at pain management clinics,” says Biskamp, who has coached Nortel, Raytheon, and Texas Instruments execs. “The perception of meditation is changing.”

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Meditate the stress away (Los Angeles Daily News)

Mariko Thompson, L.A. Daily News: David Perrin couldn’t let go of his anxious thoughts. If he dealt with a cranky guest at the hotel where he works, the encounter weighed on him for the rest of the day.

Now when that happens, he just says, “Om.”

The 29-year-old Glendale resident took up the ancient practice of meditation six months ago. By stilling the turbulent thoughts that preyed on his mind, Perrin took control of his emotions and discovered a sense of balance.

“I’m not as reactionary as I used to be,’ says Perrin, who studies meditation at the Khandakapala Buddhist Center in Silver Lake. “I’d blame the other person for making me feel upset. Now I’m much more calm and have more patience.’

Meditation still elicits its share of navel-gazing wisecracks and Zen-master jokes (just ask former Lakers coach Phil Jackson). But these days, meditation is seen as more than a spiritual tool. In a 24-7 society where stress overload has become a natural state, a mini-vacation for the mind might be just what the doctor ordered.

“It’s about time, don’t you think?’ says Dr. Gary Davidson, an oncologist who leads meditation classes at Northridge Hospital Medical Center. “Ever since Descartes split the mind and body, we’ve been trying to put them back together.’

Tools for tranquillity

Chronic stress has been linked to increased risk for hypertension, heart disease and other illnesses. Since most of us can’t retreat to a cave or a monastery, managing stress — not avoiding stress — has become the mantra. Most people try meditation, yoga or tai chi on their own, not from a doctor’s recommendation. Dr. Ka-Kit Hui, director of the UCLA Center for East West Medicine, would like that to change.

Hui says there’s plenty of evidence to show that mind-body therapies such as meditation are beneficial and should be recommended alongside conventional treatments. For example, a patient with hypertension who meditates might be able to take a lower dose of medicine, he says.

“Anything that increases our ability to handle different types of stress in our lives will be beneficial,’ Hui says.

Dr. Jeffrey Brantley of Duke University Medical Center credits Harvard cardiologist Herbert Benson for laying the scientific foundation for mind-body medicine. Back in the 1970s, Benson studied the effects of meditation on the body, including heart rate and blood pressure. He coined the term “relaxation response,’ a deep, restful state that serves as a counterbalance to the adrenalin rush known as the fight-or-flight response.

Benson, who founded the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Harvard, provided evidence on how meditation affects the body. Now scientific research is giving clues as to why meditation affects the body, says Brantley, a psychiatrist and director of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program at the Duke Center for Integrative Medicine.

A preliminary study in 2003 at the University of Wisconsin Medical School compared brain activity in participants who meditated to those in a control group. The meditation group showed an increase in electrical activity in the left frontal region of the brain. According to the researchers led by psychiatry professor Richard Davidson, this area of the brain is associated with low anxiety levels and positive emotional states.

In other words, the reason meditation makes people feel good may be based in biology.

Time to practice

Like learning to play the piano or golf, meditation takes dedication and practice. Beginners may not experience an immediate calming effect as they sit with their eyes closed. Some people experience discomfort at first because the flood of thoughts becomes more intense. By being still, the person is simply more aware of the anxious thoughts, says Brantley, author of “Calming Your Anxious Mind.’

“It’s the natural fruit of paying attention,’ he says. “We tell people who come to our program that the first few weeks might be more stressful.’

Gen Kelsang Lekma, a Buddhist nun who teaches meditation at Khandakapala Buddhist Center, compares the novice’s experience to a radio blaring in the background. The noise has been there all along. With practice, the student learns to switch off the radio.

For the true student of meditation, calming the mind represents only the first step of the spiritual journey. But it’s a crucial one.

“We realize how many thoughts we have — and it’s a shock,’ she says. “We have to know we have the thoughts before we can let them go.’

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The flexible approach (Sydney Morning Herald, Australia)

Jacqueline Maley, Sydney Morning Herald, Australia: Celebrities have embraced it. Bookstores are bursting with literature about it, and converts evangelise about its benefits. The practice of yoga has taken off in the West, 5000 or so years after the philosophy was codified by the Indian scholar Patanjali.

Although many students of yoga report myriad benefits to their physical and mental health, it has yet to be embraced by mainstream medicine as a valid form of treatment.

But Dr Craig Hassed, a senior lecturer in the department of general practice at Monash University, says yoga is “one of the most, if not the most, comprehensive approach to lifestyle management of all the traditional healing systems”.

Yoga is an effective tool in maintaining the mind/body balance, which is integral to general health, he says.

“Positive emotional states are associated with greater resistance to disease, better recovery from illness and a better ability to cope with illness,” he explains.

On the other hand, he says, negative emotional states have been proven to lead to a lower resistance to infection and higher risk of illnesses, such as heart disease, auto-immune disorders and inflammatory arthritis…

As proof of yoga’s benefits, Hassed points to a pivotal 1990 study by Dr Dean Ornish in the United States. Ornish tracked two groups of heart disease patients over a period of five years. The first group took medication only, and the second group took medication and also adopted a lifestyle based on yoga principles – incorporating exercise, meditation, diet and relaxation.

The five-year follow-up study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1997, showed the medication-only group had experienced 2 times as many “major cardiac events” (ie heart attack or death) as the yoga-lifestyle group.

“He was the first person to prove heart disease is reversible,” Hassed says.

And he did it using yoga principles.

Professor Avni Sali, the foundation head of the Graduate School of Integrative Medicine at Swinburne University in Melbourne, believes the “stillness”, or meditation part of yoga, usually practised after postures have been completed, is the most beneficial part of the yoga program.

Sali has conducted studies to show yoga meditation can reduce levels in the blood of the stress hormone cortisol.

“If your stress hormones are down and your immune system is working better, you are less likely, theoretically, to get cancer,” he says.

Hassed says the reduction in stress levels, by means such as meditation, can also assist in controlling diabetes, which can be exacerbated by stress. He emphasises, however, yoga can never be a replacement for insulin.

Yoga can also be useful for treating adult diabetes.

“[Type 2] diabetes is very much an illness of modern Western lifestyle, so yoga is a powerful intervention for lifestyle diabetes,” he says.

Yoga meditation is also the basis of research conducted by Dr Ramesh Manocha, a research fellow at the Natural Therapies Unit at the Royal Hospital for Women in Randwick.

Manocha focused on sahaja yoga, a method of meditation developed by Shrimataji Nirmala Devi in India in the 1970s.

He has just finished a seven-year doctoral research project “aimed at the answering the question: does meditation work in any way – body, mind, spirit, whatever?”

“You have this discrepancy,” Manocha explains, “the public has a very positive perception about meditation but when you actually look at the scientific literature, the scientific literature doesn’t agree.”

He set out to investigate the discrepancy by taking about 60 people with severe asthma and randomly allocating them to two treatment groups. One group underwent a standard, government-approved stress management program, involving counselling, breathing techniques and relaxation. The other group were taught sahaja yoga techniques.

The findings, published in the medical journal Thorax, were that the emotional state of the sahaja group – measured using psycho-metric questionnaires – was two times better than that of the stress management group.

The sahaja group also demonstrated significantly lesser degree of irritation in the lungs. The other group showed no change.

“There was significant evidence indicating that the actual physical disease was . . . influenced, and it wasn’t just the participants’ subjective impressions which were changing,” he says.

At the Sydney Menopause Centre, Manocha has also used sahaja to treat a group of women suffering hot flushes. The women had about a 70 per cent reduction in their hot flushes over eight weeks, he says.

Last year, he tried the technique on a group of children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

“In six weeks, we had them sitting down for 20 minutes at a time and relating better to their friends and family,” he says. Three of the children were able to stop their medication after attending the clinic.

Dr Luis Vitetta, the deputy head and director of research at Swinburne’s Graduate School of Integrative Medicine, supervised another study involving yoga and children. One group of children was given reading to do and the other was led through yoga exercises.

There was a reduction in anxious mood in the yoga group, but measurements of cortisol levels in the children were inconclusive.

Vitetta says this only serves to show that yoga is not a quick fix. “You need to do yoga over a long period of time,” he says. “You don’t take yoga as you take a pill.”

Practised over long periods, there is some evidence yoga can help people with cancer, anxiety, depression, Vitetta says. It can even help you quit smoking, by “teaching people a unity of mind and body”.

“Yoga exists in the domain of mind/body medicine,” he says. “The mind/body connection is at the centre of health, whether you want to believe it or not.”

But doctors admit the benefits of yoga are not always taken seriously, especially when it comes to meditation and “mental stillness”.

Hassed says although yoga is becoming more widely accepted as a form of therapy, there is still very little about yoga in medical education. “Relative to its potential health benefits and a growing body of research, it seems to be under-represented in the health care system,” he says.

He argues governments should take notice of yoga, if not for the sake of patients, then for the cost savings it delivers.

During Ornish’s yoga/heart disease project, Hassed says an insurance company worked out that $83,000 was saved per patient, three years after they began the yoga treatment.

Avni believes it is the holistic nature of yoga which prevents it from gaining due recognition. That, and the fact that it receives minimal research funding, because there is no “product” and hence no pharmaceutical company, associated with yoga.

“You can’t put yoga in a bottle and sell it,” he says. “It’s the responsibility of the government to fund it.”
What is yoga

Yoga is a Hindu discipline and philosophy that has been practised in India for more than 5000 years. In the West, “yoga” is used to refer to the exercises only, but yoga is actually an entire lifestyle system, involving meditation, diet and good works. It was codified in the second century in a book called the Yoga Sutras.


The generic term for the physical postures and exercise part of the entire yoga philosophy. Hatha is also describe a gentle, traditional style of yoga.


Also called “hot” yoga, conducted in rooms heated to 38 degrees or more to aid muscle stretching. It is very dynamic and involves the repetition of 26 set asanas, or poses. Not for beginners.


A very physical form of “power”, yoga based on the original texts of Patanjali, the founder of yoga. Ashtanga is physically demanding, involving fast movement and breathing.


Focuses on ideal body alignment and posture. It is rigorous but gentle. Practitioners use props such as straps and wooden blocks to aid flexibility.
Roma’s a picture of health

Roma Blair spent three years in a Japanese prison camp in the Dutch East Indies in World War II. In that time, she gave birth with no doctor present, was given stitches without an anaesthetic and contracted two types of dysentery. Sometimes, she coughed up worms.

After the war, Blair was living in South Africa when her doctor referred her to a local yoga swami to help her with her ongoing health problems.

“I was nervous and in pain,” she says. “I was a very sick lady, but I’m very, very healthy today,” she says.

Blair believes yoga cured her. She was so impressed that when she returned to Australia in 1957, she established the Roma Blair yoga clubs in Sydney.

From 1959, she began filming yoga exercise shows for Channel Nine and featured in magazine lift-outs.

In 1966, she went to India and was made the first female Australian swami by Swami Satyananada.

Since then Blair, 80, has published six books on yoga, made two videos and four records.

Swarmi Sarasvati is also one of the longest-practising yoga experts in in Australia.

Sarasvati practises what she calls “complete lifestyle yoga” which is an integrated yoga, combining meditation, physical exercise and karma yoga (self reflection and doing good works).

She believes yoga can be useful in treating a range of illnesses, from stress-related complaints such as headache, insomnia and heart problems, to breathing difficulties and people with musculoskeletal pain.

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The Science of Meditation (Psychology Today)

Cary Barbor, Psychology Today: Meditation may help squash anxiety. The practice brings about dramatic effects in as little as a 10-minute session.

In the highlands of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, people look at life differently. Upon entering the local Buddhist monastery, there is a spectacular sculpture the size of a large oak. The intricate carving of clouds and patterns are painted in powerful colors. But as soon as winter gives way, this magnificent work will melt to nothing. The sculpture, in fact, is made of butter, and it is one of the highland people’s symbols of the transient nature of life.

And life here is not easy. Villagers bicycle to work before dawn and return home long after sunset. Many live with nothing more than dirt floors and rickety outhouses. Upon entering these modest mud-brick homes, you’ll find no tables or chairs—just a long platform bed, which sleeps a family of eight. However, when the people invite you in for tea, their smiles are wide and welcoming. How do they possess such inner calm in conditions we would call less than ideal?…

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Cancer as a ‘reversible disease’ (Globe and Mail, Canada)

Mark Hume, Globe and Mail: Doctors at a centre in B.C. are involving cancer patients with their own healing in a holistic approach, with surprising results.

When Dennis Thulin was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1999, he wanted to play an active role in searching for a way to get healthy again.

In the hope of avoiding the invasive, traditional treatments of surgery or radiation therapy, he changed his diet, began to exercise more, had his mercury fillings removed, started to relieve stress through meditation and fasted to detoxify his body.

The attitude of his doctors, he said recalling the frustration he felt then, was that “everything I was doing was a waste of time.”

But he thought differently, and when he learned about the Centre for Integrated Healing — where doctors seek to combine traditional medicine with alternative approaches that empower patients — Mr. Thulin went to investigate.

“I was euphoric,” he said of his feelings after he visited the clinic for the first time and learned the philosophy of the team that runs the only centre of its kind in North America.

“It’s a wonderful place with a wonderful attitude,” said Mr. Thulin, who is on a treatment program at the centre, where he now works as a volunteer.

“It’s a whole different attitude. It’s not just a doctor saying do this, this and this,” said Mr. Thulin. “There’s so much support and love in that place. That’s what blows people away. It’s not like a typical cancer clinic.”

Founded by Dr. Roger Rogers and Dr. Hal Gunn, the centre stresses that emotional and spiritual healing is as important as physical healing.

Dr. Gunn said that before the centre was established, he went on a tour of cancer facilities in the United States, where he found clinics were offering one aspect or another of complementary care. Some clinics focused on diet, others keyed on stress reduction, or meditation. He and Dr. Rogers, who in 2001 was awarded the Order of British Columbia for his work on cancer care, wanted a fully integrated facility that offered a broad spectrum of treatment.

Patients begin with 12 hours of seminars and workshops that cover “complementary cancer care and healing, meditation, healthful nutrition, visualization, group sharing, decision-making, vitamins and supplements.”

Dr. Gunn believes that the centre is where health care is headed in the future.

“There’s more and more interest in this approach,” he said yesterday. “I think that what has happened in conventional medicine is that we’ve been focused in the 20th century on treating the end result of the disease with chemotherapy and radiation and surgery. And those treatments have certainly been helpful in many circumstances but those treatments . . . don’t address the cause of the disease.”

Linking prevention and treatment, the mind and the body, the Centre for Integrated Healing has accomplished some amazing results.

One patient, Joanne, had inoperable lung cancer but, after treatment at the centre, a recent MRI scan of her lung “showed only residual fibrosis at the site of the original tumour.”

Another patient, Jerry, had multiple myeloma and was given two years to live. The centre’s program led him back to health and more than a decade later “his blood test results are now almost within the normal range.” He has recently qualified for life insurance.

“Why some people are able to recover from incurable cancer is still a very interesting mystery,” said Dr. Gunn. “But there’s so much about the immune system and the relationship between the mind and the spirit and the immune system that we don’t understand. I think it’s important to embrace that mystery and be open to it.”

Dr. Gunn says that 25 years ago, heart disease was seen as an irreversible condition. Now doctors stress the importance of a holistic approach to address the underlying causes.

“I believe we will come to understand cancer in the same way — as a reversible disease,” said Dr. Gunn.

While the hard science isn’t in yet, the Centre for Integrated Healing has taken a leap of faith that the relationship between the mind and the body is a key to helping cancer patients recover.

Mr. Thulin, who is still battling cancer, agrees.

“Complementary medicine doesn’t mean a cure for cancer — but neither does traditional medicine,” said Mr. Thulin. “What the centre is showing is that they work well together.”

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Clear the mind, treat the body (Courier-Journal, Kentucky)

Linda Stahl, The Courier-Journal, Kentucky: Meditation is gaining support for relieving stress and easing symptoms.

• Eat a balanced diet.
• Get 30 minutes of aerobic exercise a day.
• Meditate.

More and more people are adding meditation to their healthy lifestyle checklist.

June Pittleman of Louisville did just that when she started experiencing nausea, headaches and dizziness but regular medical diagnostic tests didn’t reveal any source of the problem.

Gradually, as she practiced meditation, the symptoms abated.

Now her physicians know meditation is part of her daily life. So recently, when she was at the hospital for an outpatient procedure and her blood pressure shot up and a nurse asked Pittleman’s doctor what to do, she told the nurse to have Pittleman meditate for 30 minutes.

In a half-hour, Pittleman’s blood pressure went from 200/120 to 120/80, she said, and she could be discharged.

“The nurse had a strange expression on her face when she came back to tell me my doctor wanted me to meditate,” said Pittleman, who recently related the story at the Siddha Yoga Meditation Center in the Highlands, one of the local places where people can learn meditation.

Erin Delaney, who practices meditation at the center, said she and her artist-husband, Dionisio Ceballos, feel meditation helps them deal with the stresses of life, including the stress of raising a young child.

While the Siddha Yoga Meditation Center has a decidedly spiritual aspect, other settings where people learn and practice meditation are more secular in nature.

Patti Metten, a physical therapist who works out of her home on Eastern Parkway, is also a transcendental meditation instructor who leads classes in her living room.

Ben Perry, a restaurant manager in Louisville, helps a group of friends meditate together as they sit in chairs in the basement of his Clarksville home two nights a week. Perry, 35, who started learning about meditation as a teenager, uses a technique called guided imagery.

Rita Hayes, communications manager for Norton Healthcare, participates in Perry’s meditation group. She uses meditation to control the symptoms of her multiple sclerosis and said her neurologist is supportive.

Hayes believes her combination of traditional medicine and meditation is a winning one. “I was diagnosed when I was 23,” said Hayes, now 36, “and I’m still ambulatory and don’t use any walking aids.”

“The mind is far more powerful than we could ever imagine,” she said.

One of her techniques is to visualize her immune system and imagine repairing it.

Indeed, a University of Wisconsin-Madison study released last year showed, for the first time, that meditation can produce lasting beneficial changes in immune-system function and brain electrical activity.

In recent years, a new medical field — psychoneuroimmunology — has emerged, and a growing number of scientists are studying the mind-body connection.

Following a particular spiritual path to seek inner peace has led many people to meditation, but many others learn and practice meditation as a stress reducer and health benefit and detach it from any religious belief system.

Felicia Ray, 57, decided to learn meditation after discussing it with her physical therapist, Metten, who treated her for a back injury.

Ray, who lives in Valley Station and works as a substitute teacher in the Jefferson County Public Schools, said, “I tend to be tense, so I thought it could help me to focus myself and give me a little inner peace.”

She said her goal is to maintain her health as she ages and avoid numerous doctor’s office visits. So far, so good, she said.

“It’s very simple, very easy. I do it for 20 minutes before breakfast and before dinner,” she said.

Louisville psychiatrist Gary Weinstein said meditation can take many forms. “Some people repeat a chant or mantra; some people concentrate on their breath. Usually people just sit quietly, but for others there is moving meditation, such as tai chi.”

He said he is finding people more open to meditation as a treatment tool, “particularly those who want to participate in their own treatment and take responsibility.”

He uses meditation selectively with patients to treat a variety of conditions. Among those who can benefit are people who are obsessive worriers, and people who have trouble focusing on the present and instead worry about the past or the future, he said.

Alice Cash, who has a doctorate in musicology, leads chemical-dependency recovery patients at Baptist Hospital East in a form of “sound” meditation called toning.

“Vocal toning is a way to quiet the chatter that the mind produces,” she explained.

While doing their toning, patients sit in a chair with their feet flat on the floor, stand or lie down. Participants make a long vowel sound with an exhaled breath.

“At SMU (Southern Methodist University) in Dallas, they found that 10 minutes of toning equaled five to 10 milligrams of Valium,” said Cash, who developed her techniques in sound meditation as former director of music and medicine at the University of Louisville School of Medicine.

She also works with patients who are depressed, anxious, pregnant or recovering from cancer. This Saturday, she will lead a workshop on toning and chanting for a Man to Man-Louisville prostate cancer support group offered by Baptist Hospital East.

Jewish Hospital’s Garon Lifestyle Center Cardiac Rehab Program offers some meditation instruction to patients. Nurse coordinator Pam Oshana is finding patients and their physicians more accepting of the idea that meditation can help control stress, a major risk factor for heart disease.

During the last 20 minutes of any visit to Garon, the patients are encouraged to go into a quiet room with big easy chairs and dimmed lights and participate in visualization, progressive muscle relaxation and deep-breathing exercises.

Some people are reluctant or feel awkward, Oshana said, but she is finding more people are open to the idea of doing meditation for stress management than once was the case.

Some of that may be because of media attention that has been given to such figures as Dr. Dean Ornish, a nationally recognized heart-disease specialist, who has long made meditation an essential part of his program for reversing heart disease.

Trudy Ray, a 20-year meditator who moved back to Louisville in recent years to care for one of her parents, said she saw signs of greater local acceptance of secular meditation as a tool for health management when she brought in a meditation expert for a weekend workshop last year and attracted 298 participants.

She plans to do it again in June.

Contrary to popular belief, not everyone who grows up in Asia learns meditation.

Dr. Shiela Thyparambil Mathew, who recently retired from her Louisville anesthesiology practice, grew up in southern India in a Christian family and didn’t have any exposure to the Eastern philosophies that support meditation as a practice.

But in the late 1990s, she decided to see what she could learn and studied with Dr. James S. Gordon, a psychiatrist who directs the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, D.C.

Eventually, she led meditation training sessions for Norton Healthcare employees and for patients of the Norton Cancer Resource Center.

She has come to believe that a variety of meditation techniques, including guided imagery, movement to music or sitting and looking at something beautiful, can be helpful and healthful.

[Original article no longer available]
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Meditation Has a Place in Helping Patients Improve Health, Doctors Say

Good housekeeping: In the middle of the night, Dale Lechtman wakes up, all kinds of thoughts crowding sleep out of her mind. But Lechtman uses meditation to handle insomnia. Lying in bed, she focuses on breathing. She takes in air deeply. Then, she expels it through her nose and mouth slowly, as though she were trying to make a feather float on her breath.

In the middle of the night, Dale Lechtman wakes up, all kinds of thoughts crowding sleep out of her mind. But Lechtman uses meditation to handle insomnia.

Lying in bed, she focuses on breathing. She takes in air deeply. Then, she expels it through her nose and mouth slowly, as though she were trying to make a feather float on her breath.

Thoughts relentlessly pound at her mind’s door, but in time, they are no match for Lechtman’s skills. They disintegrate harmlessly into darkness, and finally, the 62-year old nurse from Westminster, Calif., is relaxed enough to resume sleeping.

Lechtman has found that secular meditation – the deliberate quieting and focusing of the mind and body – can be beneficial to her health.

As patients and doctors seek answers other than medications to treat illnesses, some are finding that meditation can be strong medicine.

More doctors have opened their minds to the idea of meditation as complementary therapy as more studies emerge linking better health and meditation, said Dr. Roger Walsh, professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Irvine. Walsh has published research on meditation and teaches the practice as an elective to medical students.

Among the latest findings:

-A pilot study led by Walsh suggested that meditation is useful in understanding the effects of anti-depressants and might be useful as maintenance therapy for depression.

Researchers found that meditation – like anti-depressants – fostered a state of equanimity.

This is the ability to tolerate and not be disturbed by potentially provocative or stimulating thoughts, events, encounters or experiences. The study appeared recently in the Journal of Mental and Nervous Disorders.

-A study presented at a recent American Heart Association meeting found that transcendental meditation, or TM, reduced the severity of risk factors in metabolic syndrome.

This syndrome is a collection of conditions that lead to heart disease, such as high blood pressure and increased blood-sugar levels.

People who practiced TM significantly decreased their levels of blood pressure, blood sugar and insulin, said Dr. Noel Bairey Merz, study author and medical director of the Preventive and Rehabilitative Cardiac Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Merz continues to study the effect of meditation on heart disease.

-Preliminary results of a study on meditation and binge-eating disorder showed that meditation can help people “reconnect” with their mind and body to understand when to eat and when to stop.

Mindfulness meditation can help those with the disorder gain control over their eating habits, said Jean Kristeller, professor of psychology and director of the Center for the Study of Health, Religion and Spirituality at Indiana State University in Terra Haute, Ind.

This research joins an increasing body of knowledge based on science rather than on religious beliefs, whether rooted in Buddhism or Christianity. Religious elements can be present in meditation, but it’s also possible to practice meditation without them.

Some meditators in hospital settings say the turning point for meditation in medical practice came after 1975, when Harvard University researcher Dr. Herbert Benson first wrote about the value of meditation in treating illnesses in the book “The Relaxation Response.”

Meditation already is an essential part of the Dr. Dean Ornish program for reversing heart disease, which impressed Lechtman and her husband, Max.

This year, the Lechtmans took weekly beginner meditation classes taught by Martha Jensen at UCI Medical Center in Orange. In these classes, Jensen teaches a range of meditation techniques in sets of four weekly sessions.

Meditation practitioner Cheryl Medicine Song-Procaccini also introduces participants to various meditation techniques in monthly classes at the Cordelia Knott Center for Wellness in Orange, which is affiliated with the oncology and breast centers of St. Joseph Hospital.

At Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, Calif., meditation is part of a stress-management program offered by the hospital’s cardiac rehab services.

People with medical conditions such as cancer or heart diseases take the classes, as well as those who want to deal with stress, according to Jensen and Procaccini.

“Everything we learn in the meditation chair we can use in everyday life,” Procaccini said. “As we strengthen our concentration, we become less reactive to what’s happening to everything outside of ourselves.”

It’s important for beginners to be exposed to different types of meditation to find one that’s right for them, Jensen said.

One person may find walking meditation effective, while another may prefer to use a mandala, a symbol upon which one concentrates. Some choose to chant a mantra or repeat a prayer or word, such as peace or calm.

A common mistake some novices make is to try a type of meditation and not like it, then give up without experimenting with other ways.

Not surprisingly, time – not motivation – is the biggest obstacle to maintaining the practice of meditation, said Dr. Wadie Najm, associate professor of family medicine at UCI. Longtime practitioners recommend meditating twice a day for 20 minutes each time. “It’s not as quick as taking medication,” said Najm, who has recommended meditation to some patients. It requires a time commitment, much as exercise does.

Sometimes, meditation helps the body and mind so much that patients can reduce their dosage of medications, such as drugs to reduce blood pressure or stress and anxiety, Najm said. In a few cases, meditation has proved so effective that it picks up where medication leaves off.

To maintain the state of equanimity that sometimes results from meditation, meditators have to “Meditation is not about getting rid of difficult experiences or feelings. It’s about learning to cope continue practicing throughout life. Even longtime meditators are never completely rid of intrusive thoughts and distractions, but with practice, are better able to deal with them, Walsh said.

“The biggest myth is that if one learns to meditate, one will never feel upset,” Procaccini said. with them. We learn to develop a more accepting outlook, with less resistance to life.”


There are many ways to meditate. Here is one to try. If you are unable to complete this for 20 minutes, do not worry. Relax and do as much as you can:

Choose a quiet place.

Sit, as if on a throne, with dignity and stability. Allow breath to move gently through your body. Let each breath be like a sigh, bringing calmness and relaxation.

Be aware of what feels closed and constricted in your body, mind and heart. With each breath, let space open up those closed-in feelings. Let your mind expand into space. Open your mind, emotions and senses. Note whatever feelings, images, sensations and emotions come to you.

Each time a thought carries you away, return to your sense of connection with the Earth. Feel as if you were sitting on a throne in the heart of your world. Appreciate moments of stability and peace. Reflect on how emotions, feelings and stories appear and disappear. Focus on your body and rest for a moment in the equanimity and peace.

Sit this way for 10 minutes.

Slowly stand up and take a few steps, walking with the same awareness as when you were sitting.

-Source: “The Meditation Year,” by Jane Hope (Storey Books)


“Meditation for Optimum Health,” by Jon Kabat-Zinn and Dr. Andrew Weil (Sounds True): This two-CD set is a first-timer’s guide to the principles and practice of meditation. Call (800) 333-9185

“The Relaxation Response,” by Dr. Herbert Benson (Quill): The classic primer on the link between meditation and health. Not a guide on how to meditate.

“The Meditation Year,” by Jane Hope (Storey Books): A beautifully rendered seasonal guide that describes various ways to meditate.

[Original article no longer available.]
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