Cardiovascular and nervous system changes during meditation

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Originally published in Frontiers
Steven R. Steinhubl1*, Nathan E. Wineinger1, Sheila Patel2, Debra L. Boeldt1,Geoffrey Mackellar3, Valencia Porter2, Jacob Redmond4, Evan D. Muse1, Laura Nicholson1, Deepak Chopra2 and Eric J. Topol1

  • Scripps Translational Science Institute, USA
  • The Chopra Center for Wellbeing, USA
  • Emotiv Research Pty Ltd, Australia
  • Emotiv, Inc, USA

A number of benefits have been described for the long-term practice of meditation, yet little is known regarding the immediate neurological and cardiovascular responses to meditation. Wireless sensor technology allows, for the first time, multi-parameter and quantitative monitoring of an individual’s responses during meditation. The present study examined inter-individual variations to meditation through continuous monitoring of EEG, blood pressure, heart rate and its variability (HRV) in novice and experienced meditators. Methods: Participants were 20 experienced and 20 novice meditators involved in a week-long wellness retreat. Monitoring took place during meditation sessions on the first and last full days of the retreat. All participants wore a patch that continuously streamed ECG data, while half of them also wore a wireless EEG headset plus a non-invasive continuous blood pressure monitor. Results: Meditation produced variable but characteristic EEG changes, significantly different from baseline, even among novice meditators on the first day. In addition, although participants were predominately normotensive, the mean arterial blood pressure fell a small (2-3 mmHg) but significant (p<0.0001) amount during meditation. The effect of meditation on HRV was less clear and influenced by calculation technique and respiration. No clear relationship between EEG changes, HRV alterations or mean blood pressure during meditation was found. Conclusion: This is the first study to investigate neurological and cardiovascular responses during meditation in both novice and experienced meditators using novel, wearable, wireless devices. Meditation produced varied inter-individual physiologic responses. These results support the need for further investigation of the short- and long-term cardiovascular effects of mental calm and individualized ways to achieve it.

Keywords: Meditation, Heart rate variability, Blood Pressure, wireless sensor technology, personalized medicine Citation: Steinhubl SR, Wineinger NE, Patel S, Boeldt DL, Mackellar G, Porter V, Redmond J, Muse ED, Nicholson L, Chopra D and Topol EJ (2015). Cardiovascular and nervous system changes during meditation. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 9:145. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2015.00145 Received: 14 Oct 2014; Accepted: 02 Mar 2015.

Edited by: Lynne E. Bernstein, George Washington University, USA

Reviewed by:Richard Gevirtz, Alliant International University, USA Laura Redwine, University of California, San Diego, USA

Copyright: © 2015 Steinhubl, Wineinger, Patel, Boeldt, Mackellar, Porter, Redmond, Muse, Nicholson, Chopra and Topol. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms. * Correspondence: Dr. Steven R. Steinhubl, Scripps Translational Science Institute, La Jolla, USA, [email protected]