Patients with heart disease who practised Transcendental Meditation cut their chances of a heart attack, stroke and death by half, compared with non-meditating patients, the first study of its kind has found.
Stress is a major factor in heart disease and meditation experts say the technique can help control it.
Transcendental Meditation, practised by the Beatles and based on an ancient tradition of enlightenment in India, involves sitting quietly and concentrating to focus the mind inwards by silently repeating a mantra. The practice is said to induce inner peace by allowing thoughts to flow in and out of the mind.
The results of the research are being presented at the American Heart Association scientific meeting in Orlando, Florida.
Over nine years, 201 African American people with an average age of 59 and who had all been diagnosed with heart disease were randomly assigned to either Transcendental Meditation or health education classes about diet and exercise.
Both groups continued with their normal medication.
The researchers from the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee in collaboration with the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, calculated heart attacks, strokes and deaths as one result and found a 47 per cent reduction in meditating patients.
They also had lower blood pressure and significant reductions in their stress levels, the researchers said.
Dr Robert Schneider, lead author and director of the Center for Natural Medicine and Prevention, said: "Previous research on Transcendental Meditation has shown reductions in blood pressure, psychological stress, and other risk factors for heart disease, irrespective of ethnicity.
"But this is the first controlled clinical trial to show that long-term practice of this particular stress reduction program reduces the incidence of clinical cardiovascular events, that is heart attacks, strokes and mortality."
Dr Theodore Kotchen, co-author of the study, professor of medicine, and associate dean for clinical research at the Medical College, said: "This study is an example of the contribution of a lifestyle intervention—stress management—to the prevention of cardiovascular disease in high-risk patients."
Dr Schneider said that the effect of Transcendental Meditation in the trial was like a newly discovered medicine for the prevention of heart disease.
"In this case, the new medications are derived from the body's own internal pharmacy stimulated by the Transcendental Meditation practice," he said.