While meditation has been associated with decreased stress and enhanced well-being, its immediate effect on the heart remains unclear, scientists say. To help demystify matters, researchers at the Scripps Translational Science Institute (STSI) in California have teamed up with meditation guru Dr. Deepak Chopra in a new study.
"Little is known about the immediate effects of meditation on the heart and vascular system, partly because of the difficulty collecting research quality data through conventional means," said Dr. Steve Steinhubl, Scripps heath director of digital medicine. But now researchers have a new tool: "Wireless devices offer new ways to track blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature and other vital signs in a more discreet and nondisruptive way."
The research team has already conducted the study, but the results won't be ready until next year. Forty participants, aged 20 to 72, were involved in the study, with half being experienced meditators and half never having meditated before. Chopra, a bestselling author, led them in a weeklong meditation retreat at his center in Carlsbad, California. During meditation sessions, subjects wore wireless health devices that tracked heart rate, skin temperature, and respiration.
The STSI study might for the first time demonstrate the immediate influence of meditation on blood pressure and markers of stress, and eventually guide better and more individualized treatments of high blood pressure, chronic pain or other health conditions, said STSI director Dr. Eric Topol.
The team says that their work is in response to flaws in previous studies, as reported in a 2007 report by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which found problems in most of the 813 meditation studies that were reviewed, with the authors unable to draw "firm conclusions" about the role of meditation in health care.
"For thousands of years people have practiced meditation to experience inner calm, relieve stress and cultivate balance or what is known in modern medicine as homeostasis, which is the body's ability to regulate its internal conditions and create a healthy, stable environment," said Chopra. "We're excited about the opportunity to use wireless technology to gain more scientific data about meditation's tangible benefits for health and well-being."
To help spread the good word about meditation, this month Chopra has teamed up with media powerhouse Oprah Winfrey for a three-week meditation training dubbed "Desire and Destiny," offering free daily guided audio meditations via an interactive online program.