Shi, Chen

Lu Shi (left) and Liwei Chen collaborated on research recently published in the Journal of Hypertension. Their research is good news for proponents of non-transcendental meditation and mindfulness training.
Image Credit: Clemson University

Proponents of transcendental meditation (TM) have touted its positive effects on high blood pressure since the 1990s and, until recently, evidence related to similar effects from mindfulness training and other forms of non-transcendental meditation has not been systematically reviewed and summarized. However, recent research from Clemson University faculty published in the Journal of Hypertension suggests these forms of non-transcendental meditation may in fact have a similar effect on high blood pressure.

Lu Shi and Liwei Chen, both faculty members in Clemson’s public health sciences department, are two of the authors involved in the research, which examined literature spanning 35 years of study on blood pressure responses to meditation interventions. According to Shi, the research suggests TM and non-TM interventions are on similar footing as tools to combat high blood pressure.

“Our research analyzed multiple studies, and we could find no evidence from those studies that suggested one form of meditation or another was significantly better suited to affect blood pressure,” Shi said. “These findings have important public health implications because both forms of meditation might be considered another effective method to combat high blood pressure.”

Whereas an intervention of transcendental meditation typically involves individualized sessions and often costs more than $1,000 per course, some non-TM interventions such as mindfulness-based stress reduction could take a more flexible format and often cost less. According to Shi, the effects of meditation on reducing blood pressure have been addressed in randomized controlled trials since the 1980s, and the study’s analysis of 19 of those trials provided new evidence that non-TM interventions had similar effects.

Meditation_in_a_yoga_asana

Mindfulness training might seem similar to transcendental meditation, but it requires active participation and concentration on breathing.
Image Credit: Amila Tennakoon

Shi said the results are encouraging because meditation can be a lifestyle path one can choose to walk as a complement to a pill designed to lower blood pressure. Meditation is also a practice that requires nothing but a person’s own body and time, and as a practice it tends to age a little more gracefully than some other recommended practices.

“To reap the benefits, you don’t need to live in a highly walkable area or buy costly exercise equipment,” Shi said. “It’s also less physically demanding than an exercise routine, making it a feasible option for an aging population.”

Shi and Chen acknowledge that the study is limited to English journals and does not include information related to the effects of all practices with a meditation focus such as Qigong and yoga, although the meditation component of these practices is debatable. According to Chen, further studies with large sample sizes may one day change the perception of meditation as a viable method to lower blood pressure that even insurance companies may acknowledge.

“Meditation may not be a method that is embraced yet by mainstream medicine, but our results reveal the need for more in depth inquiry that may affect that relationship,” Chen said. “Our findings are consistent and support the consideration of meditation as a lifestyle approach to control blood pressure, particularly among the elderly.”