This great guest post was written by Dr. Joel Kahn, a holistic heart doctor! I encourage you to go check out his website here!
Imagine you are in your cardiologist’s office after being released from the hospital for a chest pain which was found to be due to early heart disease. You are concerned about your elevated blood pressure and the amount of stress you are under at work and with parents failing in health.
You take notes during the visit, writing down the prescription medications that you are supposed to take each day.
You record the recommendations to avoid smoking, to walk daily, and to eat a plant based diet. You make note that you are to try to sleep 7 hours at night and begin a cardiac rehabilitation program at the local hospital to improve your fitness.
Meditation for Medication
But did you really hear the last recommendation you were given to heal your heart disease? Your doctor was advising to meditate for 20 minutes, twice a day using transcendental meditation or 12 minutes a day using another type of meditation you had never heard of.
Was this really what you heard? You had listened to an occasional afternoon talk show on TV and had attended several heart related charity lunches but had never heard anyone tell you to sit in a lotus positon, chant a mantra, and observe.
The idea that a meditation practice has measurable effects on heart and general health is not well known in the halls of most hospitals and clinics but there have been several scientific reports that have led me to teach the benefits of meditation to my patients in my heart prevention and reversal clinic.
Some of these techniques that have scientific support can be learned in minutes and put to use the very same day I teach them.
Transcendental Meditation for Heart Disease
Much of the research on the medical benefits of meditation has come from Dr. Robert Schneider and his team at the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention. The researchers completed a study in 2012 on 201 people with heart disease.
The heart patients were taught either to practice Transcendental Meditation 20 minutes twice a day or to spend at least 20 minutes learning about health by reading.
During a follow up just over five years, the group that was taught to meditate enjoyed a 48% reduction in the combined occurrence of death, heart attack and stroke! This is as powerful as any medication a doctor is likely to prescribe and had no side effects or complaints.
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Kiran Kriya Meditation
A second style of meditation that has been researched and published in the medical literature is the kirtan kriya meditation (KKM). This practice comes from the Kundalini yoga tradition and is taught by Dr. Dharma Singh Khalsa at his research institute in Tucson, Arizona.
I had previously read Dr. Khalsa’s books on food and meditation as medicine, but recent publications from his research unit are impressive.
He teaches a 12-minute meditation consisting of repeating the mantra “sa-ta-na-ma” aloud first in a song, then in a whisper, and finally silently while using repeating finger movements or mudras. This type of meditation is easily explained from a handout that can be found on his website and put to practice right away.
Dr. Khalsa and a group out of UCLA School of Medicine have shown that KKM results in different patterns of brain metabolism compared to other general relaxation methods. Using PET scanning, they saw that KKM resulted in 19 genes being up-regulated and 49 genes being down-regulated, resulting in the production of fewer inflammatory mediators, and increased telomerase activity by almost 50%.
If you follow the science of the role of telomeres you may appreciate how amazing this observation is for health and longevity. In case you do not know about telomeres, they are the tips of chromosomes found in the genetic material in our cells.
The Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded in 2009 to a research group studying them. They found a connection between increased telomerase activity, longer telomeres and greater longevity.
The fact that KKM increased telomere length and telomerase activity, the enzyme that lengthens telomeres, is quite radical and encouraging. Finally, the Tuscson/UCLA research group identified that high stress individuals taught KKM had higher scores of mental health and lower scores of depression.
Meditation and Prevention
Two more studies called meta-analyses, or pooling of data, have been published recently. In the first study, researchers from the UK looked at reports on preventing heart disease with transcendental meditation in those at risk for heart issues. They identified a benefit in lowering blood pressure but did not feel there was enough data available to conclude on the role of this style of meditation pro or con.
Meditation and Nervous System
The second analysis considered all kinds of meditation and all kinds of heart disease so it was broader in scope. The researchers indicated that they found that meditation could reduce sympathetic nervous system activity, lower cortisol levels, and reduce negative behavioral habits like smoking.
Improvements in conditions like diabetes mellitus type 2, hypertension, elevated cholesterol levels, and stress were all documented. They recommended further studies of meditation and heart disease.
Researchers at the University of Michigan recently commented on the role of alternative therapies for elevated blood pressure. They reviewed statements by the American Heart Association so we are talking mainstream medical recommendations.
They concluded that transcendental meditation, along with other therapies like device guided slow breathing, isometric, aerobic and resistance exercise all had support for use in clinical practice.
The Future of Meditation
With the potential benefits of health and longevity balanced with the low cost and risk, I believe the time has come to teach meditation more widely in medical and other settings.
How wonderful would it be if a meditation break and TM rooms became routine for employees, patients, and guests in medical centers?
What if meditation were taught in doctor’s waiting and exam rooms on the cable TV? Imagine if meditation classes were beamed into patient rooms on a health channel while they were healing in their beds?
Meditation is a medication of a powerful nature with no apparent side effects. The biggest hurdles have been the lack of reimbursement and adequate trained staff to share the practice and techniques. It is time to declare to patients and heart related medical and nursing staff that a breath brake may be more beneficial than a bypass!
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