Meditation for Hypertension
The most common disease in the United States is hypertension, sometimes referred to as high blood pressure. It can bring problems in circulation to the heart and put strain on the heart muscle. The most dangerous form of hypertension is one that has not yet been diagnosed, because damaging or even life-threatening effects can take place without the person’s knowing anything is wrong. Hypertension can lead to heart attacks or stroke and can adversely affect other serious medical conditions. Meditation can be helpful in managing hypertension, as complementary therapy used in conjunction with your doctor’s recommendations.
Why Use Meditation for Hypertension?
Meditation practiced regularly has been shown to relieve stress—a significant factor that can cause hypertension. Stress can come from the pressures of work and everyday life or from an external, sudden occurrence, such as an accident, the death of a loved one, or a diagnosis of a serious illness. Meditation is believed to offer relief from stress by altering a person’s focus from the problems encountered in daily living, and by helping to decrease the physiological effects of stress.
Meditation employs the practice of deep breathing, and evidence supports the fact that this brings on relaxation, which results in reduced stress. Though meditation techniques vary, the primary characteristic in meditation is the conscious regulation of breathing to achieve a level of relaxation necessary for the establishment of a state of well being—spiritually, physically, and emotionally. Control in breathing is accomplished by two sets of nerves. One is from the voluntary nervous system and the other from the involuntary, or autonomic, nervous system. These two systems are actually joined by breath. As the intensity of life activates our sympathetic nervous system, the deep rhythmic breathing and calmness of meditation can help to engage the opposing parasympathetic nervous system, allowing the mind and body to enter deeper states of relaxation and repair.
The use of meditation to relieve stress could help reduce or even eliminate the need for medication in individuals with hypertension. Although a host of medications have demonstrated that, when used on a long-term basis, they help relieve high blood pressure, they also might have serious side effects. Always talk to your doctor before making any adjustments to your hypertension medications, and have your blood pressure checked regularly.
Practicing meditation for the management of hypertension can be accomplished with regular practice. Each daily session of meditation will allow you to unwind at deeper and deeper levels, providing a variety of physical and mental health benefits.
What is Meditation?
Meditation refers to a variety of practices or techniques for controlling a person’s focus. These techniques have many origins and variations. They are primarily rooted in spiritual traditions—from the Eastern religions to more traditional branches of Christianity. Meditative practices have been used for thousands of years.
The two most common forms of meditation approaches are Transcendental Meditation (also known as TM) and Mindfulness Meditation. TM originated in the Vedic tradition of India and uses a mantra (a word or a sound) that is repeated silently to distance oneself from distraction. Mindfulness Meditation originated in the Buddhist tradition. This approach is based on a concept of being of full presence of mind and awareness and focusing on the flow of breath in and out of the body—experiencing, but without judging the experience or environment.
Other forms of meditation include:
- Upward—aimed to lift consciousness out of the body
- Downward—aimed to internalize the universe into a person
- Mind-centered—without emotion and empty of thought
- Heart-centered—full of emotion and with a goal of experiencing all emotion
- Monastic—refers to a solitary form of meditation (from life in monasteries), often used to explore the mystery of death and overcome fear of death and suffering
- In-Life—meditations that are life affirming and explore life’s purpose
- Observer—from a Buddhist principle that causes the one meditating to observe oneself as from a distance
- Lover—that which is focused on the emotions of the heart and include physical and emotional sensation and vision, and not as a detached observer
- Passive—no goal in place, unfocused, neutral, non-judgmental, and often characteristic of beginners
- Active—seeking a goal in meditation very deliberately and focusing on what emerges rather than what is internalized from an outward force
- Fantasy-based—meditation that removes the one in meditation to another place or time, or steps into the role of someone else, or a different type of personality.
- Reality-based—limits meditation to only what is true but not necessarily that which can be directly realized
- Trance—an altered state of consciousness that removes someone from normal sensory experiences, such as occurs in hypnosis
- Awakening—sensory awareness that might occur from chanting
- Denial or Dualistic—attempts to overcome the reality of an individual’s universe by contrasting the self and emotions to the opposite
- Inclusive—meditation based on a unified reality
Transcendental Meditation Centers offer their program for meditation and lifestyle changes at locations throughout the country, including their national center in Iowa. Information on this form of meditation and help in finding a local center is available through the Transcendental Meditation website. General information about meditation, including some instructions for meditating, is available at the World Wide Online Meditation Center.
What is Hypertension?
Blood pressure measures the force of a person’s blood as it pushes against the walls of the arteries. Every time the human heart beats, blood is pumped into the arteries. Blood pressure reaches its peak when the heart beats and pumps the blood—this is known as systolic pressure. When the heart is resting, blood pressure falls and is known as the diastolic pressure. Hypertension is defined as blood pressure that reaches levels of 140/90 or higher, with the first number being systolic and the second the diastolic pressure. A reading between 120 and 139 for the systolic pressure and between 80 and 89 for the diastolic pressure is considered a state of prehypertension.
Hypertension most often is only diagnosed through a reading and seldom reveals itself through symptoms, hence its common name the silent killer. Some people do experience such symptoms as persistent dull headaches, dizzy spells, and nosebleeds more than could be considered normal. Unfortunately, it is the onset of these symptoms that often indicates high blood pressure at a level than can be life threatening.
What Causes Hypertension?
Primary, or essential, hypertension accounts for 90-95 percent of adult cases, has no identifiable cause, and develops gradually over many years. Secondary hypertension accounts for the other 5-10 percent of adult cases. This type of hypertension is caused by an underlying condition and might appear suddenly and cause blood pressure higher than primary hypertension.
Some of the conditions that can lead to secondary hypertension include:
- Kidney abnormalities
- Tumors of the adrenal gland
- Certain congenital heart defects
- Certain medications, including birth control pills, cold remedies, decongestants, over-the-counter pain relievers, and certain prescription drugs
- Illegal drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines.
Some risk factors for developing high blood pressure—age, race, or family history—are out of a person’s control, but others can be controlled, including:
- Being overweight or obese
- Physical inactivity
- Tobacco use
- Too much salt in the diet
- Not enough potassium in the diet
- Not enough Vitamin D
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Chronic conditions such as kidney disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, and sleep apnea.
“Meditation for Health Purposes.” National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
“High Blood Pressure." U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health.
“Heart Rhythm Meditation.” The Institute for Applied Meditation.