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Meditation Is Great for Your Health & Now the West Is Accepting It

Author: Dr Vijay Chauthaiwale
Publication: The Quint
Date: October 5, 2017
URL:   https://www.thequint.com/amp/story/voices%2Fopinion%2Fmeditation-is-great-for-your-health-and-now-the-west-is-accepting-it

In the last 20 years or so, a large amount of scientific data has been gathered to demonstrate the beneficial effects of alternative therapies like yoga, breathing exercises, music therapy, meditation, etc.

With the advent of science and scientific technologies, several chronic disease conditions can now be monitored at subclinical level, giving new insight into the progression or regression of the disease.

The world’s premier centre of biomedical research, National Institutes of Health, USA, has established the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), which is leading research in this field. In India too, increased collaboration between modern medicine practitioners and our traditional wisdom in this field has enabled quality research in scientific journals.

In the US, new terms have been coined, such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which is essentially a combination of mindful meditation, awareness, and yoga.

In several clinical studies, MBSR has shown its utility in treating chronic conditions like lower back pain. Music therapy too has shown positive effects on attentiveness, sleep, adolescence-related issues, etc.

In this background, the recent article by American Heart Association entitled “Meditation and Cardiovascular Risk Reduction” is of special significance.

For the first time, this premier platform of physicians and scientists has recognised meditation as a potential tool in adjunct therapy for various cardiovascular disorders.

It also sheds light on some interesting data.

Approximately 8% of adults in USA practice one or another form of meditation.

Meditation and Your Health

This article from the American Heart Association is confined to meditation only (and not other complementary therapies like yoga, music therapy, etc). It has reviewed several clinical studies reporting the use of eight types of meditation practices from Hindu-Buddhist traditions. It recognises Rajyoga – an ancient Hindu practice propagated in the West, initially by Swami Vivekananda, and then by Paramhans Yogananda. It also takes into account Zen meditation and Vipassana, giving a comprehensive picture of the impact of these practices.

The article is a compilation of studies to show the effect of meditation on diverse conditions like high blood pressure, blockade in blood circulation (ischemia), metabolic diseases like insulin resistance (a stage in diabetes where the body becomes less responsive to insulin), psychological stress, smoking habits, etc.

Neurophysiological and neuroanatomical studies demonstrated that meditation could have long‐term effects on the brain, which provides some biological plausibility for beneficial consequences for the physiological basal state and for cardiovascular risk.

The article further elaborated the positive effect meditation can have on various diseases and conditions.

* Electroencephalography (EEG) studies show that a mindfulness meditation program resulted in increased left‐sided anterior brain electrical activation, a pattern associated with positive affect and emotion.

* Further MRI imaging show that those who meditate a significant amount have more grey matter in their brain as compared to controls, particularly in regions associated with learning and memory.

* Studies have also reported that meditation is associated with improved psychological and psychosocial indices.

* Similarly, several studies have shown the lowering of blood pressure after meditation.

* In long-term studies, meditation has been shown to result in a regression in the thickening of arteries.

* A combination of diet and meditation has been shown to improve exercise tolerance in patients with ischemic heart disease.

So How Reliable are These Studies?

By and large, all these studies indicate that one or the other form of meditation does have a positive impact on a number of conditions. While these findings will bring cheer to proponents of these techniques (and rightly so), the authors of this article have been careful in interpreting the results. They conclude that there are "possible but not definitively established" benefits.

This cautious approach is for several reasons:

First and foremost, the sample size in most of these studies is relatively small, making it difficult to reach any firm conclusions.

Second, many of these studies are not “blinded”, which means the people who document these studies know who is employing these techniques (in this case, meditation) and who is not, leaving room for biases to creep in.

Sensitive technologies like MRI and PET scans have not been utilised in interpreting actual effect.

This is not putting a question mark on the positive effects of meditation. It only says that more studies/clinical trials are required in accordance with strict scientific criteria and using modern diagnostic technologies to further substantiate these findings. The authors have even suggested what kind of clinical trials should be conducted to support this data.

Naturally, the authors recommend that meditation should be used as an adjunct therapy in such diseases and conditions in addition to standard therapy, and not as a substitute for medicines or other modern clinical interventions.

Here Lies the Dilemma

While modern science demands the same methodology be deployed on a large sample size in a blinded manner to prove the beneficial or the adverse effect of any tool, the proponents of yoga, meditation, etc argue that these are highly “personalised” techniques and need customisation for every case, and therefore, deploying the same tool en masse may not be the best idea.

I think we need to identify golden middle ground in this case. With modern tools and ancient wisdom, it is possible to categorise people with the same disease conditions into several subgroups, even though the outward clinical symptoms may be the same.

For example, two years back, using a genetic tool of “Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP)”, a collaborative effort by molecular biologists and Ayurvedic practitioners in India have shown that there is direct correlation between minute-level variation in a gene with “pitta” prakriti as per Charak Samhita.

What's the Larger Message?

We should be happy and proud that our conventional wisdom is now being recognised globally, and that too using rigorous scientific criteria. There are several indicators pointing towards the same overall message – meditation is beneficial in chronic diseases associated with the heart. There is a need to further substantiate these indicators using modern diagnostic tools, by designing appropriate clinical trials with large sample sizes, and evaluating results in an unbiased manner so as to strengthen these findings.

Also, we should avoid the tendency to exaggerate the benefits of these techniques. For example, there is no need to claim that yoga or meditation can cure cancer. At the same time, it’s equally true that these techniques can give significant benefits to cancer patients, in terms of pain relief, reduction in side effects of treatment (such as chemotherapy), and also enhancing their willpower to fight the disease. These benefits themselves can be of great help to cancer patients.

Last, and most importantly, the point is that rather than working in silos, Indian scientists, practitioners of modern medicines, and experts of our traditional knowledge need to address the issue of disease prevention and cure in an integrated and collaborative manner to improve outcomes of disease treatment in efficient and cost-effective manner.

- (Dr Vijay Chauthaiwale is the former Vice President, R&D, of Torrent Pharmaceuticals, Ahmedabad and currently IN-Charge of Foreign Affairs Dept, Bharatiya Janata Party)
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PMO India @PMOIndia
आज मुझे बहुत खुशी है कि मैं ऐसे विद्वानों के बीच आया हूं जो इस बात के लिए जिम्मेदार हैं कि देश में मौजूद प्रत्येक कंपनी कानून का पालन करे, अपने बही-खातों में गड़बड़ी ना करे, पूरी पारदर्शिता रखे: PM @narendramodi
6:29 PM - Oct 4, 2017
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PMO India @PMOIndia
आप अपनी जिम्मेदारी जिस तरह से निभाते हैं, उसी से देश का corporate culture तय होता है। आपकी संस्था का motto भी है- “सत्यम वद्, धर्मम चर्” यानि सत्य बोलो और नियम-कानून का पालन करो। आपकी दी हुई सही या गलत सलाह देश के corporate governance को प्रभावित करती है: PM @narendramodi
6:30 PM - Oct 4, 2017
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PMO India @PMOIndia
हमारे देश में भी मुट्ठी भर लोग ऐसे हैं, जो देश की प्रतिष्ठा को, हमारी ईमानदार सामाजिक संरचना को कमजोर करने का काम करते रहे हैं। इन लोगों को सिस्टम और संस्थाओं से हटाने के लिए सरकार ने पहले दिन से स्वच्छता अभियान शुरू किया हुआ है: PM @narendramodi
6:33 PM - Oct 4, 2017
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PMO India @PMOIndia
ये सरकार के अथक परिश्रम का ही परिणाम है कि आज देश की अर्थव्यवस्था कम Cash के साथ चल रही है। Demonetisation के बाद Cash to GDP Ratio अब 9 प्रतिशत पर आ गया है। 8 नवंबर 2016 से पहले ये 12 प्रतिशत से ज्यादा हुआ करता था: PM @narendramodi
6:36 PM - Oct 4, 2017
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PMO India @PMOIndia
There are some people who sleep well only after they spread a feeling of pessimism all around. We need to recognise such people: PM @narendramodi
6:39 PM - Oct 4, 2017
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PMO India @PMOIndia
पिछली सरकार के 6 साल में 8 बार ऐसे मौके आए जब विकास दर 5.7 प्रतिशत या उससे नीचे गिरी। देश की अर्थव्यवस्था ने ऐसे क्वार्टर्स भी देखे हैं, जब विकास दर 0.2 प्रतिशत, 1.5 प्रतिशत तक गिरी: PM @narendramodi
6:41 PM - Oct 4, 2017
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PMO India @PMOIndia
ऐसी गिरावट अर्थव्यवस्था के लिए और ज्यादा खतरनाक थी, क्योंकि इन वर्षों में भारत Higher Inflation, Higher Current Account Deficit और Higher Fiscal Deficit से जूझ रहा था: PM @narendramodi
6:41 PM - Oct 4, 2017
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PMO India @PMOIndia
GDP growth rate over the years.
6:43 PM - Oct 4, 2017
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PMO India @PMOIndia
भाइयों और बहनों, मैं ना कोई अर्थशास्त्री हूं और ना ही कभी मैंने ऐसा claim किया है, लेकिन आज जब अर्थव्यवस्था पर इतनी चर्चा हो रही है, तो मैं आपको flashback में भी लेकर जाना जाता हूं: PM @narendramodi
6:44 PM - Oct 4, 2017
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PMO India @PMOIndia
एक दौर वो था जब अंतरराष्ट्रीय अर्थव्यवस्था के संदर्भ में भारत को एक नए ग्रुप का हिस्सा बनाया गया था। ये ग्रुप जी-7, जी-8, जी-20 जैसा ग्रुप नहीं था। इस ग्रुप का नाम था- Fragile Five: PM @narendramodi
6:45 PM - Oct 4, 2017
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PMO India @PMOIndia
इसे ऐसा Dangerous ग्रुप माना गया था जिसकी खुद की अर्थव्यवस्था तो एक समस्या थी ही, बल्कि ये वैश्विक अर्थव्यवस्था की Recovery में भी बाधा बन रहे थे: PM @narendramodi
6:45 PM - Oct 4, 2017
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PMO India @PMOIndia
मेरे जैसे अर्थशास्त्र के कम जानकार को अब भी ये समझ नहीं आता कि उस समय बड़े-बड़े अर्थशास्त्रियों के रहते ऐसा कैसे हो गया था: PM @narendramodi
6:46 PM - Oct 4, 2017
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PMO India @PMOIndia
Inflation over the years.
6:47 PM - Oct 4, 2017
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PMO India @PMOIndia
Fiscal deficit over the years.
6:49 PM - Oct 4, 2017
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PMO India @PMOIndia
Foreign exchange reserves over the years.
6:50 PM - Oct 4, 2017
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PMO India @PMOIndia
ये बात सही है कि पिछले तीन वर्षों में 7.5 प्रतिशत की औसत ग्रोथ हासिल करने के बाद इस वर्ष अप्रैल-जून की तिमाही में GDP ग्रोथ में कमी दर्ज की गई। लेकिन ये बात भी उतनी ही सही है कि सरकार इस ट्रेंड को रिवर्स करने के लिए पूरी तरह से प्रतिबद्ध हैं: PM
6:50 PM - Oct 4, 2017
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PMO India @PMOIndia
हमने reform से जुड़े कई महत्वपूर्ण फैसले लिए हैं और ये प्रक्रिया लगातार जारी रहेगी। देश की financial stability को भी maintain रखा जाएगा। निवेश बढ़ाने और आर्थिक विकास को गति देने के लिए हम हर आवश्यक कदम उठाते रहेंगे: PM @narendramodi
6:51 PM - Oct 4, 2017
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PMO India @PMOIndia
मैं आश्वस्त करना चाहता हूं कि सरकार द्वारा लिए गए कदम देश को आने वाले वर्षों में विकास की एक नई league में रखने वाले हैं: PM @narendramodi
6:51 PM - Oct 4, 2017
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PMO India @PMOIndia
बदलती हुई देश की इस अर्थव्यवस्था में अब ईमानदारी को प्रीमियम मिलेगा, ईमानदारों के हितों की सुरक्षा की जाएगी: PM @narendramodi
6:52 PM - Oct 4, 2017
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PMO India @PMOIndia
A trend of increased consumption after June 2017.
6:58 PM - Oct 4, 2017
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PMO India @PMOIndia
Increase in sale of tractors.
6:59 PM - Oct 4, 2017
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PMO India @PMOIndia
Some facts on the roads sector.
7:03 PM - Oct 4, 2017
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PMO India @PMOIndia
Here are some numbers from the railways sector.
7:05 PM - Oct 4, 2017
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PMO India @PMOIndia
पिछली सरकार ने अपने आखिरी के तीन सालों में Renewable Energy पर 4 हजार करोड़ रुपए खर्च किए थे। हमारी सरकार ने अपने तीन साल में इस सेक्टर पर 10 हजार 600 करोड़ रुपए से भी अधिक खर्च किए हैं: PM @narendramodi
7:06 PM - Oct 4, 2017
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PMO India @PMOIndia
हमने affordable Housing के क्षेत्र में ऐसे-ऐसे नीतिगत निर्णय लिए हैं, वित्तीय सुधार किए हैं, जो इस क्षेत्र के लिए अभूतपूर्व हैं: PM @narendramodi
7:06 PM - Oct 4, 2017
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PMO India @PMOIndia
Big boost to the housing sector.
7:07 PM - Oct 4, 2017
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PMO India @PMOIndia
पिछले तीन वर्षों में 21 सेक्टरों से जुड़े 87 छोटे-बड़े Reform किए गए हैं। Defence सेक्टर, Construction सेक्टर, Financial Services, Food Processing, जैसे कितने ही सेक्टरों में निवेश के नियमों में बड़े बदलाव हुए हैं: PM @narendramodi
7:10 PM - Oct 4, 2017
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PMO India @PMOIndia
देश के आर्थिक क्षेत्र को खोलने के बाद से लेकर अब तक जितना विदेशी निवेश भारत में हुआ है, उसकी तुलना अगर पिछले तीन वर्षों में हुए निवेश से करें, तो आपको पता चलेगा कि हमारी सरकार जो Reform कर रही है, उसका नतीजा क्या मिल रहा है: PM @narendramodi
7:10 PM - Oct 4, 2017
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PMO India @PMOIndia
मेहनत से कमाए गए आपके एक एक पैसे की कीमत ये सरकार समझती है। इसलिए सरकार की नीतियों और योजनाओं में इस बात का भी ध्यान रखा जा रहा है कि वो गरीबों और मध्यम वर्ग की जिंदगी तो आसान बनाएं हीं, उनके पैसों की भी बचत कराएं: PM
7:14 PM - Oct 4, 2017
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PMO India @PMOIndia
Fall in price of LED bulbs.
7:16 PM - Oct 4, 2017
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PMO India @PMOIndia
मैं जानता हूं कि रेवड़ी बांटने के बजाय, लोगों और देश को Empower करने के काम में, कई बार मुझे आलोचना का भी सामना करना पड़ेगा, लेकिन मैं अपने वर्तमान की चिंता में, देश के भविष्य को दांव पर नहीं लगा सकता: PM @narendramodi
7:21 PM - Oct 4, 2017
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PMO India @PMOIndia
Mudra Yojana transforming lives.
10:04 PM - Oct 4, 2017
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