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Table of Contents > Articles > Integrating meditation into ...
Integrating meditation into conventional medical practice

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 CFM, "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.


Borrowes, A. Meditation and Implications for Clinical Practice. The Integrative Medicine Consult. January 2001:6-7.

Benor, D. Meditation: Improving Healing through relaxation. The Integrative Medicine Consult. October 20, 1999:139,142.

Review Date: January 2001
Reviewed By: Integrative Medicine editorial

Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc

The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts) regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein.

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