An apple a day is all well and good, but 40 minutes of daily meditation might prove far more effective in keeping the doctor away. The real surprise? Your doctor might just be the one to give you this advice.
Medical researchers in the United States have been studying meditation for more than 35 years, and the growing body of evidence is finally sinking in.
The ancient technique has been shown to aid in the treatment of conditions as varied as cancer, sleep disorders, headaches, depression, psoriasis, chronic pain, high blood pressure, and aging—and researchers say that's only the beginning.
One type of practice, Transcendental Meditation (TM), has shown particular promise. A recent study in the American Heart Association journal
Stroke reported that regular practice of TM could reduce the buildup of fat deposits in artery walls (and therefore reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke), even without a change in diet or exercise.
Worldwide, more than 600 studies have focused on the effects of TM over the past
30 years. Many of these took place at the College of Maharishi Vedic Medicine in Fairfield, Iowa.
"This is a technique that works at a very profound level—the inner intelligence, or the body's own know-how for self-repair or homeostasis," says Robert H. Schneider, M.D., director of the Center for Natural Medicine and Prevention, and dean of the College of Maharishi Vedic Medicine. "Certainly in our medical practice and in our studies we see more and more people concerned about their health. They want to do something about it proactively."
But as practitioners of all types of meditation know, you don't need a litany of research abstracts or meta-analyses to confirm the good it does.
Likewise, those experiencing great pain are often eager to try out any possible solution, especially one so convenient, cost-effective, and free of side-effects.
It is much harder to convince stressed-out (yet otherwise healthy) Americans to meditate, many of whom have a hard enough time finding time in the day to spend with their families.
"It takes a particular commitment to say, 'Yes, I'm worth this,'" says Dr. Saki Santorelli, associate professor and director of University of Massachusetts Medical
Center's Stress Reduction Clinic. "Ultimately, you're the one that taps these resources. No one can do that for you."
Santorelli says that in the face of increasing technological advances, more and more health professionals are returning to their long-abandoned but powerful ally: the patient.
Since the Stress Reduction Clinic opened in 1980, more than 1,400 physicians have referred patients to its program, where they learn an array of self-healing, mind-body skills, including a Buddhist-based practice called mindfulness meditation.
So once you've decided to make meditation part of your daily routine, how do you determine which type of the practice is right for you? Santorelli suggests shopping around.
"It's sort of like shoes," he says. "You can see seven or eight nice pairs of shoes you think might look good on your feet—but you would not buy them without trying them on."