Meditation in Healthcare

The nonreligious practice of transcendental and mindfulness meditation will improve your health by reducing stress and enhancing the body's immune system.

Meditation, put in a proper context, is one of many different methods of establishing a level of self-control over multiple systems within our bodies and minds. By itself, meditation continues to be regarded with skepticism by much of the Western medical world, but that impression is shifting as more and more evidence regarding the efficacy of meditation is found. One of the most confounding problems of modern medicine is the patient's mental state - patients with a positive attitude and an optimistic outlook tend to heal faster and more fully than those given over to pessimism. How could "attitude" have any effect upon the function of your cells? How could blood flow and your immune system be related to a mental or emotional state? While the specific answers to these questions have not yet been answered by science, the proponents of transcendental and mindfulness meditation have achieved an understanding about how to improve the mental state so that healing may be enhanced. It is, then, the purpose of this paper to explore the nature of transcendental and mindfulness meditation, how it effects overall health, and how such practice can be integrated into modern medical practice.

Transcendental meditation is the creation of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a native of India who broke from traditional Vedic teaching in 1955 to create this particular form.

The form of meditation takes its name from the idea that a person can achieve a higher state of being through chanting and entering into a trance-like state followed by a post-trance suggestion. Western culture became aware of transcendental meditation in the late when the Beatles took up the practice. "In the 1960s and 70s the Indian Maharishi Mahesh Yogi popularized a mantra system known as Transcendental Meditation. Meditation is now used by many nonreligious adherents as a method of stress reduction; it is known to lessen levels of cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress. The practice has been shown to enhance recuperation and improve the body's resistance to disease," (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 2008). As has been the case more recently with other socio-religious-cultural fads (such as Scientology and Kabbalism, for example) where a large body of people take up the practice because a popular person (Tom Cruise for Scientology and Madonna for Kabbalism) has done so, transcendental meditation became instantly marginalized in effect on two counts: it was immediately seen as a trapping of the counter-culture, and it was promoted by non-medical practitioners who made medical and psychological claims regarding the benefits of transcendental meditation.

Mindfulness meditation is similar to transcendental, but it differs significantly in the activity of the mind during the trance state. Mindfulness requires focusing on a particular aspect of a problem, life, issue, etc., and thinking about it actively during the trance state. This approach seeks to block out all other distractors so, in effect, thinking about the problem you wish to resolve is the rough equivalent of the mantra. Regardless, both practices work very well and are relatively similar in acceptability among patients.

The serious practitioner begins transcendental meditation with a consultation with a highly skilled guide or teacher. This person will discuss the goals of the meditation with the practitioner - such as to combat depression, to alleviate particular medical conditions, or to achieve a deeper sense of being. Regardless of the ultimate goal, the instructor will help the practitioner find a "mantra" to use as a method of chanting ones-self into the trance-like state necessary to achieve the benefit of the meditation - a state of wakefulness with no higher brain function (no active thinking) that allows the body to heal in a different manner than it does when the mind is asleep. Two twenty-minute periods per day are the regimen and require that one retire to a quiet and contemplative place to meditate. "The Transcendental Meditation technique allows your mind to settle inward beyond thought to experience the source of thought -- pure awareness, also known as transcendental consciousness. This is the most silent and peaceful level of consciousness -- your innermost Self. In this state of restful alertness, your brain functions with significantly greater coherence and your body gains deep rest," (Maharishis University of Management, 2008). These, at least, are the claims of the proponents of transcendental meditation, and are in part backed up by scientific study.

What can be clinically observed in those who engage in a course of transcendental meditation is a lowered heart rate, a reduction in overall reporting of stress levels, and a lowering (in the short-term) of blood pressure. As for achieving "higher states of consciousness" or a deeper connection with the soul or God, that has not been clinically observed and, really should be left out of the discussion because, like with many "fringe" treatments, there is much more to the treatment than quasi-religious significance placed upon it by some practitioners.

Before we look at the challenges to the efficacy of meditation within the medical setting, we have to understand just how significant mental state is to the overall healthy function of the human body.

What has been discovered is that stress has significant negative effects upon the body: lowered immune system functionality, increased blood pressure, higher inter-cranial pressure, higher incidences of headache, body pain, stomach pain, and greater incidences of "stress-related" self-medication (USA Today, 2004). Stress can even cause the body to slow particular functions, reduce motor coordination, impair the gastric system, and can reduce fertility (Whorwell, Houghton, Taylor, & Maxton, 2005). What has also been observed is a significant negative effect on mental stability, marital relations, and an overall incerease of violent thoughts and behavior (Whorwell, Houghton, Taylor, & Maxton, 2005). "Unmanaged chronic stress can have deleterious effects on the physical and psychological health of individuals. Stress may lead to or worsen disorders and diseases such as heart disease, anxiety, depression, hypertension, substance abuse, and gastrointestinal disorders, is a contributing factor for lifestyle behaviors that increase vulnerability to diseases such as lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, and obesity, it has an impact on absenteeism rates and job performance, effectiveness, and satisfaction," (Schure, 2008).

Mentally, meditation has been observed to increase emotional forgiveness of faults in others. This is found in a study conducted of college students. "Our study appears to be one of the first to investigate the impacts of an intervention on either forgiveness or rumination in college populations. Findings of increased forgiveness and reduced rumination are encouraging and suggest that meditation training might foster positive relationships at a time of crucial developmental changes," (Oman, Shapiro, Thoresen, Plante, & Flinders, 2008).

So, how does meditiation fit into this picture? If we know that stress of all forms, physical, mental and emotional, can cause these kinds of problems, then part of medical practice needs to include approaches to reduce and eliminate stress whenever possible. Many physicians will recommend general stress-reduction techniques such as reduction in responsibilities, avoiding stressful situations, etc., but very few offer clinically proven techniques to reduce stress. What research has discovered is that by reducing stress we improve overall quality of health. In addition, it is the responsibility of physicians to provide the best combination of approaches to resolve medical problems. Therefore, if it has been proven that transcendental meditation, at the very least, has a stress-reduction effect, then it stands to reason that it should be promoted as one of many different approaches to the overall stress-management treatment.

Research into alternative forms of HIV treatment has included a significant amount of work with meditation. One of the most significant discoveries has been the finding that mantra repetition, for a person skilled with meditation and entering a meditative trance, can indeed decrease the levels of stress and anger associated with chronic and high-morbidity disease. "Mantram repetition -- a psycho-spiritual practice that is easily integrated into daily life-can significantly decrease the psychological distress of anger and increase spiritual faith which is associated with quality of life in HIV-infected adults," (Bormann, et al., 2006).

In addition, it has been determined that Meditation modifie[s] the suppressive influence of strenuous physical exercise on the immune system. Other studies (see below) strongly suggest that meditation enhances both chemical and cellular immunity," (Anderson, 2006). Finally, stress reduction and, specifically that achieved by transcendental meditation, has demonstrated effects on even skin conditions. "Stress management can benefit individuals with psoriasis. Subjects who listened to a guided meditation tape while undergoing phototherapy cleared four times faster than those who received phototherapy only, as judged by two independent dermatologists," (Traub & Marshall, 2007).

Anyeurisms have been seen to reduce in frequency with meditation, because meditation is believed to have stress reducing properties, (Mind, Mood & Memory, 2008).

So, how do we integrate Transcendental and mindfulness meditationinto everyday medical practice? How do we make this proven effective method of stress reduction part of the daily prescription pad? First, TM and other similar meditative techniques…