It should not be a surprise to hear that meditation might be related to our health and wellbeing. We know, for example, stress, anxiety and anger can all increase our blood pressure and heart rate. It, therefore, follows that calming and relaxing activities might help to reduce blood pressure. Scientists have been studying the relationship between meditation and the performance of the heart and circulatory system for at least 60 years. Many scientific studies have been produced that indicates meditation and mindfulness have a calming effect. If you have a simple blood pressure monitor at home, you can test this for yourself.
However, from a scientific perspective, the problems occur when we try to repeat these experiments. Just because positive results are achieved in one scientific study, it doesn’t automatically follow that this can be scaled up to all populations. There are many reasons why in psychological experiments, an individual study may not reflect typical human behaviour. Therefore the scientific method requires that we repeat the study in different times and places to see if the same effect is evidenced in other circumstances. Within the psychological sciences, only at this point can we say that there is clear evidence.
Many of the hundreds of experiments looking at the relationship between blood pressure and meditation are individual studies, very few of which have been replicated. This doesn’t mean that meditation doesn’t lower blood pressure; I’m very confident that it does. But we need much better scientific evidence before we use it as a universal mainstream clinical treatment. There is also a second problem; it’s essential to understand how effective meditation is in lowering blood pressure in relation to other therapies. Unfortunately, many studies don’t compare the effects of meditation with any other potential treatments. For example, we know that art therapy, spending time in nature, gardening or other relaxing activities can reduce blood pressure. But we have very little data on the effectiveness of meditation compared to other potential treatments.
There are thousands of different forms of meditation, and each method can influence our mind and body in different ways. How often you practice and for how long may impact the health benefits of meditation. Your meditation teacher’s knowledge and experience are also essential, as is where you meditate and the people you meditate with. From my research, I know that achieving a lowering of blood pressure while meditating or shortly afterwards is a relatively simple effect to achieve. But to translate that short-term effects to permanent 24/7 improvements is much more problematic.
So if you are concerned about high blood pressure, you might want to talk to your doctor about the best possible course of action for you. There is a wealth of evidence suggesting that meditation is likely to be a helpful tool, but the amount of benefit you receive may depend on several factors, not least what you do with your mind while you meditate.