We're all familiar with the uncomfortable feelings stress can create. What's even more important than the feelings, however, is what that stress may be doing to our bodies. The medical community links "psychosocial stress" to both the onset and the progression of cardiovascular disease (CVD), proof positive that stress affects our lives beyond our conscious feelings. Plainly put, stress can indeed kill and reducing stress is key to protecting our health and wellbeing. The good news is that it appears that our brains may well have the power to positively impact our health by helping keep stress at bay.
Transcendental Meditation (TM) has been shown to reduce stress and help overcome the stress-driven contributors to CVD, including hypertension. The beneficial outcomes springing from this mind-over-matter are so promising that The National Institute of Health has granted over $24 million in grants over the past 20+ years to study the effects of Transcendental Meditation and related programs tackling CVD. A study recently released in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes tracked the impact of Transcendental Meditation versus health education on heart disease in a controlled sample of 201 African-American men and women who had already been diagnosed with CVD. TM came in strong as a tool for helping improve the cardio health of the participants over a 5 + year period, significantly reducing risk for mortality, myocardial infarction (a.k.a. heart attack), and stroke along with lowering blood pressure.
The study authors describe TM as a "simple, natural, effortless procedure that is practiced 20 minutes twice a day while sitting comfortably with the eyes closed." During this process, ordinary thinking processes settle down and physiological rest kicks in. Although the process may be simple, there was nothing simple about the training study participants received. It was quite intense with an instructor certified by the Maharashi Foundation guiding them through a 7-step course of instruction over six 1.5 -2 hour meetings with follow-up over the course of the study. They invested hours in learning to calm their minds and their bodies, an investment that paid off.
The implications of this study and the string of similar studies go beyond African-Americans. The writing is on the wall for everyone. Meditation and developing the ability to truly calm our minds might well improve the health of our bodies. Transcendental Meditation may not be on your radar but if you think about it, what's not to love about a risk-free potential pathway to better health? TM has a lot going for it. Once you master the process it costs nothing, can be practiced almost anywhere and requires no special equipment. It's certainly worth looking into. Your heart may just thank you.