In a refreshing new wave, doctors in primary-care settings, including clinics and hospitals, have begun prescribing supplemental meditation, which is considered alternative and complementary medicine, to patients for conditions such as high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S.

Some doctors, including physicians and cardiologists, at hospitals such as Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, may now recommend patients perform the mind-body practice of meditation anywhere from five to 20 minutes two times  daily, reports a recent Wall Street Journal article.

A common type of meditation currently being recommended, as a supplement not replacement to traditional modes of treatment, is called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Meditation seems to spur the body’s relaxation response, slowing heart rate and breathing and easing release of the stress hormone cortisol.

Research has shown that the slow, controlled, and conscious breathing involved in meditation and relaxation breathing techniques may lower blood pressure, thereby reducing risk for heart attack and stroke.

One recent study involving African American men with heart disease published in American Heart Association’s Circulation journal found those who routinely did Transcendental Meditation (TM) were half as likely to suffer a heart attack, stroke, or death compared to those who did not meditate. TM is derived from Hindu traditions and uses a mantra (a word, sound, or phrase repeated silently) to banish distracting thoughts, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Meditation relies on techniques including certain postures, an open attitude toward distractions, and focused attention, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. While the majority of meditative techniques originated in Eastern religious or spiritual traditions, meditation nowadays is often used for strictly health purposes. According to a recent NCCAM survey of 23,000 adults in the U.S., 9.4 percent of respondents (representing more than 20 million people) reported having meditated in the past year.

Generally, all types of meditation:

• Are practiced in calm, quiet areas

• Involve remaining in a certain comfortable position, such as sitting or lying down, anywhere from five to 20 minutes or more

• Focusing attention on a a mantra, an object, or the breath

• Letting go of distracting thoughts

If you suffer from hypertension, ask your doctor if meditation may be appropriate for you. When beginning to meditate, it may be worthwhile to take a class. An increasing number of hospitals, clinics, and centers now offer introductory classes lasting anywhere from four to eight weeks.

Would You be open to meditation as a treatment option for hypertension?