Meditation as a popular spiritual practice in the United States dates back to
the 1960's when people traveled to India to learn techniques of Transcendental
Meditation (TM), introduced to the West by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. TM involves
clearing of the mind through the repetition of a word or phrase (called a
mantra). In the 1970's, Dr. Herbert Benson and Dr. Dean Ornish pioneered
research on the beneficial effects of meditation on cardiovascular disease,
prevention, and recovery, with Dr. Benson coining the term "relaxation response"
to refer to the general stress-reducing effects of meditation. Dr. Ornish's
research included a TM-type meditation, along with dietary recommendations and
exercise. Another type of meditation based on vipassana or 'insight' Buddhist
practice, has also found its way into conventional healthcare settings. This is
a form of silent meditation called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and
introduced by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at The Center for Mindfulness in Medicine,
Health Care, and Society (CFM) at the University of Massachusetts.
Over the last 25 years, research has focused on identifying the physiological
changes effected by meditation and exploring its application to particular
conditions. Research has shown that both TM and mindfulness meditation have
clear health benefits, including reduced heart and respiration rates, lower
cholesterol, and lower blood pressure. Much of the research on the beneficial
effects of meditation on particular conditions has come from groundbreaking
research at CFM. In a 4-year study of chronic pain patients who were
participating in MBSR meditation, those who practiced mindfulness showed
significant long-term improvement in coping with their chronic pain. Mindfulness
has also been associated with increased production of melatonin. Dr.
Kabat-Zinn worked with patients suffering from anxiety disorders to help them
gain a sense of control over their lives rather than simply coping; patients
showed significant reductions in anxiety after 3 years. They learned to identify
anxious thoughts as simply thoughts rather than fact-based reality. Another
research team, also at CFM, found similar beneficial results in a group
following an 8-week MBSR course. In another study, cancer patients who followed
a mindfulness-based stress reduction program experienced a 65% reduction in
total mood disturbance and a 31% reduction in total stress score (e.g., symptoms
affecting the heart, lungs and gastrointestinal tract, emotional irritability,
mental disorganization, and depression).
Ultimately, meditation in clinical practice is a collaborative process
between the patient and the doctor. According to Saki Santorelli, Director of
"Bringing meditation into a clinical practice can be life-changing for the caregiver as well as the patient."
Numerous clinics and hospitals around the country have integrated relaxation
techniques into their healthcare programs. That the U.S. Senate allocated more
than $12 million in 1999 for the NIH's Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences
Research (OBSSR) to establish pilot mind/body medical centers and to train and
teach healthcare professionals in these approaches is further evidence that
meditation has come of age.
To learn more about meditation and relaxation techniques and to locate
healthcare facilities that include them as part of their practice, contact the
Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical
Center in Worcester, Massachusetts by visiting their website at
There you can find a list of the healthcare facilities in 38 states that offer
information on and training in relaxation techniques.
Melatonin: a hormone that plays an important role in regulating the
24-hour sleep-wake cycles of our bodies.