Meditation becomes part of normal treatment

At one Boston hospital, doctors give their patients an unusual instruction: meditate. "I recommend five minutes, twice a day, and then gradually more and more," says physician Aditi Nerurkar. She recommends meditation in the same way as medicine.

"I don't start high doses right away," she is quoted as saying by the Wall Street Journal. But ultimately, patients who suffered from insomnia or irritable bowel syndrome, for example, should meditate for about 20 minutes, twice a day.

Studies have found that meditation can lower blood prere and help patients with chronic diseases manage pain and depression. In addition, meditation significantly lowers the risk of heart attack or stroke.

At Boston hospital, meditation and other mind-body therapies have been slowly incorporated into primary care for six months. Eventually, there should be group classes in meditation, Nerurkar says.

Health experts say meditation should not replace traditional therapies, but complement them. "When you breathe slowly and consciously, it temporarily lowers blood prere," says Josephine Briggs of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Still, meditation techniques should not be used as a substitute for medicines for high blood prere.

Patients are not simply sent to exercise by Boston doctors, Nerurkar says. Instead, she and her colleagues demonstrate the meditation techniques. "It's really nothing more than sitting in a quiet, comfortable posture, closing your eyes and watching your breath."

The effect of meditation on the body has not been fully researched, says psychiatrist Murali Doraiswamy. Some forms of meditation activated the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for controlling most internal organs and blood circulation. The Wall Street Journal quotes the psychiatrist as saying that this relaxes the body, improves blood circulation, calms the pulse and respiration, and activates digestion. In addition the output of stress hormones such as Kortisol is slowed down.

Some short-term studies have also shown that meditation can improve cognitive skills such as attention and memory, Doraiswamy says. With the help of imaging techniques, it has been proven that the performance of certain areas of the brain can be improved, he said. The age-related decline of various brain centers can be reduced, especially those that are susceptible to Alzheimer's disease, the psychiatrist said.

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