Meditation

Imagine entering a doctor’s office and being greeted by a sign saying,”Quiet, Meditation in Progress,” and finding a waiting room full of people sitting with eyes closed. The doctor seated amongst them opens one eye and motions to you sit down and join in. Could this vision be the missing component of healthcare reform?

Many progressive doctors are championing the need for prevention and lifestyle changes as a way to reduce healthcare costs, yet reams of scientific research indicates that meditation may offer a short cut to this major overhaul in health consciousness.

A truly healthy lifestyle-change begins within, with a change in attitude and feeling about ourselves. Society teaches us to direct our attention towards material gain and sensory stimulation-chasing after fulfillment in the world of product consumption. The result is usually exhaustion and lack of connection to our bodies and inner well-being. It is no wonder we have allowed our healthcare to be based on consumerism, too. When we are sick, we buy a ‘magic’ pill to fix us and pay for expensive treatments and consultations. Looking outside ourselves for health, we suppress symptoms instead of dealing with the root causes of illness.

Taking care of the body starts with taking care of the Self within. Medical doctor and author Frank Lipman suggests, “Ultimately the most effective way to increase the health of the nation and to cut healthcare costs is by taking responsibility for our own health and learn prevention. It has been repeatedly shown that what we eat, how we respond to stress, how much exercise we get, our exposure to chemicals and the quality of our relationships and social support systems is powerful medicine.”

The missing link to creating this health consciousness is creating the inner strength and clarity of mind necessary to make healthy decisions. Day to day choices about what to eat, when to go to bed, how much exercise to do, how to handle stress at work-all depend on our mood and state of mind. An effective meditation practice that releases stress and deepens our connection to inner contentment and mental clarity is the best foundation for creating healthy habits that last.

Fortunately, science has taken the mysticism out of meditation and its effect on health. In the market place of self-help and meditation practices, subjective reports are unreliable for the purpose of healthcare reform. But researchers have studied what happens in the brain during meditation, and how meditation effects metabolic rate, blood lactate, heart rate, blood pressure and aging.

As early as 1971, scientists started looking beyond the subjective reports of meditators and investigating the physiological correlates of the meditative state. In the physiology laboratories of UCLA, the TM Meditation technique was found to produce decreases in oxygen consumption, respiratory rate, heart rate, muscle tension, and blood pressure, and a greater increase in skin resistance (showing a more relaxed state). Since that time, over 600 studies have been published in scientific journals. TM is the most widely researched of all meditation techniques, showing extensive benefits for mind, body and behavior. Healthcare reformists in Washington, overwhelmed by pharmaceutical lobbyists, should consider these findings on health savings :

o A study published in the journal of Psychosomatic Medicine found that the TM group had 55% less medical care utilization, both in-patient and out-patient, compared to controls matched for age, gender, and occupation. The TM group had lower sickness rates in all categories of disease, including 87% less hospitalization for heart disease and 55% less for cancer. [1]

o Compared with the five leading anti-hypertension drugs over a period of 20 years, a study published in the American Journal of Hypertension indicated that the TM technique had the lowest cost and the most health benefits. The cost reduction of TM ranged from 23.7% to 72.9% less than the anti-hypertensive medications. [2]

o People who practice TM spend 11% less annually on health care than the general population. [3]

o Research shows that the TM technique also strengthens health by decreasing habits such as tobacco, alcohol and non-prescription drug usage, which are behavioral correlates of chronic stress and result in millions of dollars in health-care expenditures each year. For
example, figures from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids assert that smokers cost the economy $97.6 billion a year in lost productivity.

Changing the healthcare model from focusing on costly disease treatment, to preventative care with meditation as a core practice, will create a health care system that will not only be cost effective but create a higher standard of what it means to be healthy.

1. Reference: Orme-Johnson, D. W. (1987). Medical care utilization and the TM program. Psychosomatic Medicine; 49(1): 493-507.

2. Reference: Schneider RH, Alexander CN, Staggers F, Orme-Johnson DW, Rainforth M, Salerno JW, Sheppard W, Castillo-Richmond A, Barnes VA, Nidich SI. A randomized controlled trial of stress reduction in African Americans treated for hypertension over one year. American Journal of Hypertension, 18:88-98, 2005.

3. Herron, R. E., Hillis, S. L. (2000). Impact of the TM Program on Medical Expenses. Abstracts of the American Public Health Association 128th Annual Meeting and Exposition, Nov. 12-16, p. 178.