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Meditation vs More Medications

The following tells a story of discovery of meditation as a healing modality far more powerful than any medication.


Hives, Hives and more Hives

Hives - from head to toe daily.  Every day, I had hives from my neck to my feet for over a year.  As uncomfortable and grotesque appearing as they were, I just ignored them.  Then one day, my lips and face were so swollen I was barely recognizable.  It was shocking and frightening.  At my husband’s insistence, I went to see a doctor and told him the story. 

A few months after the birth of my son, I started to experience hives.   Everyday for about 18 months, I had progressive hives and welts that covered my entire body, a Promethean cycle of suffering.  I was fine in the morning but by the end of the day the hives were so widespread that it was hard to find patches of normal skin.  I was miserable with itching and scratching.  I would fall sleep and wake to find them gone, only to start the cycle again.  I changed my diet, soap, detergent, went on vacation: nothing helped. I decided to just ignore them, until one day my face blew up and here I was at the doctor’s office.  

Stress, Stress and More Stress

After a fairly extensive workup, I was told I had stress induced hives and high blood pressure.  I was stunned.  Really, all this from stress?  Could stress really induce this type of reaction in my body?  My life was hectic – starting right after my water broke.  I remember working until 9:00 PM at the hospital – my water broke at 10:30 PM.   I went into labor until 1:00 PM the next day.  My postpartum course was typical with little sleep and I was back to work in less than 3 months, dropping my son off at daycare at 6:30 AM and picking him up at 6:30 PM.   In between I raced around seeing patients.   Sure, it was stressful trying to get done by a certain time, but I had not really noticed.  I just had become so accustomed to “getting the job done”.   

It was quite a shock to hear that my hives were from stress, but it was even more shocking to realize that I had been completely unaware of it. 

Medications or Meditation?

I was prescribed four medications.  Somewhere deep inside I knew that taking these medications was not the right answer.  I’m not quite sure how I stumbled on to the idea of meditation. But when I read about a “Meditation as Medicine “ seminar, I decided  on a whim to go.   I wasn’t sure what to expect – lectures, sitting in lotus position on a mat with an empty mind? 

It was not what I expected. Remarkably, my hives disappeared during the weekend and for several weeks afterwards – for the first time in over a year and a half – I had no hives.  I was astounded.  I attributed this remarkable effect to meditation, but how could this be? It was so dramatic – one and half years of hives, and then no hives and no medication.  Shortly thereafter,  I started to practice mind body techniques and the hives never recurred.  In addition, my blood pressure normalized with right choices about diet, exercise and stress.  I never had to take antihypertensive medication.

Health, Happiness is a Choice

That experience set me on a course of learning more about meditation and mind body medicine.   I learned three important lessons:  first, you can have significant amounts of stress and unhappiness and be unaware of it; second, the choices I was making were directly responsible for status of my life; and finally, meditation had real physiologic effects as evidence by the disappearance of my hives and normalization of my blood pressure. I look back and think that I could have been on 4 medications and hive free with normal blood pressure but those medications would have side effects and be lifelong.   More importantly, with my symptoms masked on medications, I would have never explored the relationship between my choices and my health.

Meditation provided a means of making better choices that led to health and happiness; initially for me, but later for my patients as I incorporated mind body techniques in my treatment plans.  That experience led me to reevaluate how I see myself, patients, and healthcare. 


In an outpatient setting, I see many patients with chronic fatigue, sleep issues, depression, anxiety and pain, often costing them jobs and relationships.  Many of them have no diagnosable illness but nevertheless their suffering, the unhappiness and the lost potential of their lives is very real.  What happened here? 

Life and Death, the Beginning and the End

In hospital settting, I see critically ill patients on life support often wonder how did they come to this point in their lives.  What were the choices and circumstances that eventually led to this – artificial life support, invasive lines, tubes, monitors.  What drove this young man to drink so much alcohol to now be in shock with necrotizing pancreatitis.  How did this elderly woman have such severe disease requiring bilateral leg amputations and still smoke?  Perhaps the most haunting was the young man who tried unsuccessfully to kill himself.  He was handsome, tall with angelic face – a beautiful person.  What on earth could have led him to this? What happened to these people in the course of their lives for this to be their final destination?

It  became apparent that what I am doing is treating disease at the end of its spectrum – treating the late manifestations of poor choices. They are like the weakened branches of a sick tree – with the dying leaves representing entities such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity, mental health issues and their complications etc.  They are only suboptimally treated and partially preventable by our standard approaches.   Bariatric centers for obese adolescents, naloxone for overdoses, pills for sleep, more pills for anxiety/depression and pain are not the answer.    

“The aim of medicine is to prevent disease and prolong life, the ideal of medicine is to eliminate the need of a physician.” 

Medicine is doing exactly the opposite by making patients dependent on medications, procedures, devices etc.  We are prolonging life in some cases but with poor quality. Despite some remarkable advances, we as physicians are failing the fundamental goal of our profession and our patients. 

The Answer

So, what is the answer? How can we shift the course of our health?  How can we empower people to make better choices about their lives and their health?

Our standard technique is education, but it’s clearly not enough. Astoundingly, over 34 million Americans have diabetes, 88 million have prediabetes, and approximately 50% of the adult population has hypertension. What we are doing is not working and we need another perspective for health - another perspective for happiness. A perspective that requires a different way of thinking.

The Whole

The COVID pandemic highlights that our best defense against any illness is the foundation of good health.  COVID-19 pandemic and climate change are  teaching us that the artificial boundaries we create by governments, borders, politics and cultural differences are not respected by natural forces of the universe.  The world just does not work like this despite our efforts or protests.  It functions as a whole.  Similarly the body does not function as cardiovascular system, hormonal system, immune system etc.  It does not operate as brain separate from heart and gut etc.  It functions as a whole dynamic interrelated system that has an intelligence that is beyond our abilities – we do not think or direct our heart, brain etc.  Interventions that affect the whole system such as diet, exercise, sleep, stress reduction, positive thinking improve the very foundations of health. 

Why Meditation ?

Why meditation? Physiologically, meditation can improve blood pressure, insomnia, mood disorders, and may change brain and behavioral systems.  But more importantly, it empowers people to make better choices. In a national survey of 35,000 patients who practiced mind-body techniques, 60% reported motivation to exercise, 40% ate healthier, 12% cut back or stopped smoking, and 80% reported reduced stress levels. Interventions like meditation that can affect the whole system through choices on diet, exercise, sleep, stress reduction, and positive thinking can improve the foundations of health, reducing our dependence on complicated late stage interventions.

Better choices change the trajectory of lives, as I’ve discovered both personally and in my practice of medicine.  Meditation profoundly influenced my own health, and I’ve seen it help numerous patients. We need to shift our focus from the end of the disease spectrum to the beginning – from the diseased leaves to the roots, from the flood ruins to the dam. Is meditation the only way? No, but it is one way – one we should explore as healthcare providers, patients and society. Mind over matter. Meditation over more medications.  


1 comment

1 Comment

Apr 03

Great article!

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