The pivotal moment was January 1990. For the previous 40 years or so, the results of research on meditation had been published in hundreds of articles, demonstrating its benefits in a myriad of conditions, from high blood pressure to anxiety, from sleep disorders to high cholesterol. One general hospital – at the University of Massachusetts – even opened a meditation clinic in its midst. Over a thousand patients have been referred there by physicians for a wide variety of diseases.
Still, the health-care professions remained largely unmoved. But one thing that gets people's attention is heart disease. In January 1990, US cardiologist Dean Ornish, presented his findings to the press, later published in the UK medical journal, The Lancet. The essence of his findings was spectacular enough for Time magazine to report: "By normal standards, the impossible has happened."
What he had done was to take a group of patients with badly furred-up coronary arteries and offer them a program of meditation, a low-fat vegetarian diet, and moderate exercise. He showed that those who participated in this new program responded dramatically, with extraordinary reductions in symptoms and with demonstrable unfurring of the arteries in their hearts.
What really distinguishes this research on meditation from so much of what had preceded it, was the use of high-tech imaging where the increase in the diameter of these blood vessels could be visualized and measured. They weren't just looking at preventing patients with heart disease from dying, but of reversing the whole process!
The bottom line was this: rather than having to undergo dangerous and invasive cardiac surgery, it was now possible to get better results by taking country walks – for 30 minutes three times a week – by meditating, and by eating the prescribed low-fat diet. In addition to low cost, $US3, 900 – sitting quietly and eating your greens could sure beat a $US 40,000 chain saw to the chest!
Three years later, the fitness industry's trade magazine CBI featured Dean Ornish on their October 1993 front cover with the words: "Life after Ornish. On July 28th, This Man Changed Health Care Forever." What is surprising about this cover headline is that it is true. In the three intervening years, Dean Ornish had kept track of the original study group and shown that those who continued to follow his program continued to improve; those that didn't continued to deteriorate. So, on July 28th, Mutual of Omaha, one of the world's largest insurance companies, issued a press release announcing that they would in future reimburse participants of this program.
Now things really started moving. Hospitals were already taking a more "healthy lifestyle" approach to health – building their own fitness centers and health clubs. Industry was beginning to offer subsidized health-club membership or offering bonuses for joining and using the facilities.
At the same time, the fitness industry was beginning to provide massage therapists, nutritionists and yoga – representing a very new, less muscle-bound attitude to health.
Now, suddenly, a major health insurance company was reimbursing participants for a "medical" program that might best be held in fitness clubs rather than hospitals. No wonder they realized that health care was "changed forever." Still other hospitals took the direct route and have begun to offer Dean Ornish's program themselves.
In fact six major cardiology centers are now offering this program. One such center is the New York teaching hospital, Beth Israel. An indication of the extraordinary revolution that is in the making can be gleaned from a November 1993 Business Week article where Dr Steven Horowitz, chief of cardiology at Beth Israel, is quoted as saying of Dean Ornish's program: "It is almost medical malpractice not to offer it."
When top doctors in the world's most advance medical facilities start saying that it is almost medical malpractice not to offer meditation for heart disease – and, more importantly, are actually prescribing it – the revolution is unstoppable.
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