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Augusta Study Finds Meditation Helps Black Teens' Hearts

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What do a South Carolina college junior, California celebs and an egghead from Augusta have in common?

Two letters --- TM. And the belief that the ancient practice of transcendental meditation may be the ticket to healthier, calmer American teens.

Today, at a news conference in Hollywood, a medical study rooted in Georgia is slated to get star treatment by a cast of Hollywood actresses, directors and far-flung TM teachers.

In the study conducted at several Augusta-area high schools, Medical College of Georgia scientists found African-American adolescents at risk for developing heart disease or stroke benefitted greatly from daily meditation. The TM technique --- sitting still with eyes closed for 15 minutes twice a day --- dropped the teens' daytime high blood pressure over four months and continued to lower it after the federally funded study ended.

Research findings appear today in the April issue of the American Journal of Hypertension.

"Being a scientist, you go about your research, and it gets published, and generally, no one pays much attention," said Vernon Barnes, lead researcher and Medical College of Georgia physiologist. "But I think this is getting noticed because we now understand that adolescence is a critical period for developing heart disease. We need to find ways to prevent it instead."

Experts say Barnes is the first to look at physical changes in adolescents participating in meditation.

Barnes, 53 will be joined on center stage with Nick Fitts, a 21-year old nursing student at the University of South Carolina at Aiken. Fitts participated in the study when he was a senior at Butler High School in Augusta as he juggled track, band, ROTC, two jobs and family problems.

The study followed 156 students at five high schools for eight months. All had "high-normal" blood pressure. Half of that group received the meditation sessions and the other half, a control group, were taught how to lower their blood pressure through diet and exercise. The control group experienced little or no reduction in blood pressure.

At first, Fitts said he found the concept of zoning out to better tune into his mind and body "kind of stupid." But after a few weeks, he settled down, literally.

"After I sat down with it and got serious, I could see myself sitting on the couch or my bed looking at my problems and letting go," Fitts said. "I still practice every day, morning and night, 45 minutes at a time."

Fitts said he's looking forward to meeting fellow TM believers "Jurassic Park" star Laura Dern, Oscar-nominated film director David Lynch and John Hagelin with the Maharishi University of Management in Iowa.

The event is sponsored by the L.A. Committee for Stress-Free Schools. School systems in Detroit, the Washington-area and Fairfield, Iowa, that offer the practice report kids feel better about themselves, handle problems more maturely and provide the school with a greater sense of control. A previous study by Barnes showed students who meditated also had lower rates of absenteeism, school rule violations and suspensions.

Copyright 2004 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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