The world’s first scientific breakthrough in using meditation to fight heart disease

For the first time in its history, the American Heart Association has made a direct connection between meditation, including Swami Vivekananda’s Raja Yoga and Vipassana, and its possible benefits on heart disease. This has come through a paper published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. One scientist among the team of researchers who wrote the paper, Dr. Indranill Basu Ray, explained to Grin why the paper is such a breakthrough. Dr. Basu Ray is a cardiologist and Interventional Electrophysiologist at the Jack Stephens Heart and Vascular Institute in Arkansas and research faculty at the Texas Heart Institute. Dr. Basu Ray is trained in medicine and cardiology from the Interventional Electrophysiology and Device Therapy, University of Toronto, and Electrophysiology research from Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School. He is also one of the world’s leading authorities in subcutaneous implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (S-ICD) therapy as an effective and safe alternative to the transvenous cardioverter-defibrillator (TV-ICD) in appropriate patients with heart disease.

Dr. Indranill Basu Ray says scientific recognition to yoga meditation was long pending.
  1. In simple terms, why is your paper as breakthrough in understanding and curing heart disease?

This paper has been a breakthrough since meditation existed for over 5,000 years as a practice in Hindu philosophy as part of yoga. It was not given scientific validity. In the last two decades multiple research papers have actually shown the tremendous physiological changes that meditation can bring to human body not only in terms of making it disease-free but also decreasing the mortality and morbidity associated with a large number of diseases including cancer and heart disease. Despite tremendous research and widespread acceptance the physician community has been slow to accept this. Due to this lay people in general were also slow to accept the scientific validity of meditation though thousands practice it every day. Many of those who practiced particularly in this country felt it worked and thus they practiced but were not sure if this practice would stand to research scrutiny. Thus we had millions who did not believe in meditation as they thought it was nonscientific and on the other hand we had thousands were actually practice meditation and derive benefit and felt good but was not sure if it was scientifically viable to create a more healthy existence. We have been working to bring out the scientific validity of meditation. This is the first major cardiovascular organization in the world and one of the premier one that is American Heart Association that formally accepted the scientific validity of meditation that has been practiced and introduced into the West by Swami Vivekananda. Thus this is a big breakthrough. A small group of cardiologist from all over the world authored this paper and I’m lucky to be one of them.

2. What, to you, are the most important findings of your paper?

The most important findings in this paper is that meditation is helpful along with appropriate therapy to conquer a majority of cardiovascular conditions including hypertension, coronary heart disease, heart failure and also plays a vital role in curbing smoking and other addictions all of which play a major role in accentuating heart diseases. It may be noted that heart disease is the largest killer in the world and thus a combination of modern medicine appropriately complemented with yoga and meditation can effectively control this problem.

3. Your paper talks about the impact of meditation not only on heart disease but also on tobacco use and diabetes, isn’t that correct? Could you tell us a little more about this?

While the number of smokers in America has declined, India, China and Russia have the dubious distinction of increasing the number of smokers in the world. See my article in DailyO and the Huffington Post. Coronary artery disease or heart attacks, stroke and cancer are all accentuated multiple times by smoking however despite that smoking continues to rise all over the world. In poor countries like India where we do not have enough funds to control TB and malaria; an epidemic of coronary artery disease as it is happening now along with diabetes, would cause economic devastation and thus it is important to out this evil by educating the masses. In a country like America well over 200,000 people don’t have any insurance or thrice that number without adequate insurance at all and belong to the lower middle class or the poor family will tend to have the most number of smokers it is important to spread the education as they are most easily liable to suffer from coronary artery diseases both because of their lifestyle and addiction.

The focus of the paper was not on exercise-based yoga or practices like Tai Chi because it has already been proved earlier that such activity helps fight heart disease and lower its risk.

The AHA paper focuses on forms of meditation while sitting like Raja Yoga, Vipassana, Zen and Transcendental and Mindfulness. It shows that meditation could bring about better sleep, less anxiety and depression and a happier sense of well-being. It might also help lower blood pressure, but how much or quantifying the decline has not yet been possible. It might also help people give up smoking.

Scientists say the main impact of meditation is reducing stress which causes heightened blood pressure and a rise in inflammatory chemicals in the bloodstream. Meditation helps the body calm down which could bring a range of physiological benefits.