Does meditation have benefits for mind and body?
IT IS hard to believe some still question whether meditation can have a positive ef fect on mind and body. A very selective research review recently raised the question, leading to headlines such as the one in The Wall Street Journal that said the benefits are limited. I have been researching effects of meditation on health for 30 years and have found it has compelling benefits.
Over the past year, I have been invited by doctors in medical schools and major health centres on four continents to instruct them on the scientific basis of mind-body medicine and meditation in prevention and treatment of disease, especially cardiovascular disease. Research on Transcendental Meditation (TM), for example, has found reduced blood pressure and insulin resistance (useful for preventing diabetes), slowing of biological aging, and even a 48% reduction in the rates of heart attack, stroke and death.
I would consider those to be benefits. And so does the American Heart Association, which last year released a statement saying that decades of research indicates TM lowers blood pressure and may be considered by clinicians as a treatment for high BP. Research on meditation has also shown a wide range of psychological benefits.
For example, a 2012 review of 163 studies that was published by the American Psychological Association concluded that the Transcendental Meditation technique had relatively strong effects in reducing anxiety, negative emotions, trait anxiety and neuroticism, while aiding learning, memory and self-realization. Mindfulness meditation had relatively strong effects in reducing negative personality traits and stress, and in improving attention and mindfulness. “The effects found in the current analyses show that meditation affects people in important ways.”
Integrative health care has major effects on mind and bodyMan meditating outside at sunset. Why, then, did the recent review published in a specialty journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA Internal Medicine) conclude there were limited benefits, with mindfulness meditation showing only moderate or low evidence for specific stress-related conditions such as anxiety? That review was narrowly focused on research showing that meditation alleviates psychological stress, so objective benefits such as reduced blood pressure were outside its scope. In addition, the review only looked at studies in which the subjects had been diagnosed with a medical or psychiatric problem. The authors excluded studies of otherwise normal individuals with anxiety or stress, as well as any study that was not on adults. These selection criteria resulted in the omission of many rigorous studies, which, when taken as a whole, show that there are indeed benefits for reducing stress and anxiety. A 2013 meta-analysis (a type of rigorous review) of 10 controlled studies found that at least one meditation, Transcendental Meditation, significantly reduced anxiety.