If you practice or are considering meditation to manage your stress, you have already found one of the best methods for protecting your heart and brain, even if heart and brain health were the last thing on your mind. Why does this matter? Because there is scientific evidence that meditation can help shield you from one of the most common yet little noticed health risks, high blood pressure, which can lead to heart attack and stroke.
Hypertension is not an old person’s disease.
According to a study from the University of California, many people in their 30s and 40s have slightly elevated blood pressure or pre-hypertension. And doctors have a hard time getting patients in this age group to take it seriously. After all, high blood pressure has no symptoms, and stroke sounds like one worry they can put off for years.
But the study found that even a slight increase in blood pressure causes you to lose brain cells. Not a lot at first…just a memory here or there. Or a lack of focus at your job. Or less ability to deal with stress. But a little over time adds up to a lot, and brain cells lost don’t return.
TM, High Blood Pressure’s #1 Foe.
Three styles of meditation have been shown to lower blood pressure, but the American Heart Association only endorses one…Transcendental Meditation, or TM. After its initial popularity in the 1960s, TM has thankfully lost the psychedelic reputation that rubbed off on it from its rock star devotees, and is regaining ground as a powerful force for health.
A 2012 study compared African Americans who practiced TM with a control group who attended health education classes. Over the five years of the study, the TM group had a 48% lower rate of heart attacks or strokes, than the non-meditating subjects.
To be the most effective, TM needs to be learned from an experienced teacher, giving every student the training that suits them best. If this sounds a little involved, think of a good gymnastics coach, or music teacher. Learning to stand on a balance beam is not something you want to try without someone showing you where to put your feet.
TM itself is not complicated. And when learned and practiced regularly it is said to be the only meditation method to significantly help people whose blood pressure is already too high. If your blood pressure is borderline or at the high end of normal, TM can keep it from ever moving into the dangerous zone.
If there are no TM teachers in your area, two more meditation methods may work for you very well.
High marks for Qi Gong and Zen Meditation.
In 2007, the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reported that Zen Buddhist meditation and Qi Gong reduced blood pressure significantly. Both of these Eastern health practices involve slow, deep abdominal breathing, which can slow heart rates, reduce stress and allow oxygen to flow more easily to your brain.
We often see Qi Gong practiced as a form of meditation in motion, though seated and specific breathing methods can be used as well. Zen meditation too can be practiced walking or still. Anyone can learn deep breathing, and a good DVD may be all the help you need to get started. If you live in a major urban area, consider visiting a Buddhist center or taking Qi Gong classes for further guidance.
Protecting yourself and those you love.
If you have ever felt a little guilty taking time for yourself to meditate, it’s time to shift your thinking. What could be less selfish than ensuring you are healthy enough to be there in the future for the people who need and love you?
It’s your choice. You can have years taking expensive medication for hypertension, or you could start meditating now for a healthy heart and brain…for free.
To find TM training locations, visit www.tm.org.
“What’s Slowly Killing Your Brain,” (2014) Bottom Line’s Health Breakthroughs 2014, page 21, HealthDay and Boardroom, Inc., Stamford, CT,
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