Meditation is gaining support for relieving stress and easing symptoms.
More and more people are adding meditation to their healthy lifestyle checklist.
June Pittleman of Louisville did just that when she started experiencing nausea, headaches and dizziness but regular medical diagnostic tests didn't reveal any source of the problem.
Gradually, as she practiced meditation, the symptoms abated.
Now her physicians know meditation is part of her daily life. So recently, when she was at the hospital for an outpatient procedure and her blood pressure shot up and a nurse asked Pittleman's doctor what to do, she told the nurse to have Pittleman meditate for 30 minutes.
In a half-hour, Pittleman's blood pressure went from 200/120 to 120/80, she said, and she could be discharged.
"The nurse had a strange expression on her face when she came back to tell me my doctor wanted me to meditate," said Pittleman, who recently related the story at the Siddha Yoga Meditation Center in the Highlands, one of the local places where people can learn meditation.
Erin Delaney, who practices meditation at the center, said she and her artist-husband, Dionisio Ceballos, feel meditation helps them deal with the stresses of life, including the stress of raising a young child.
While the Siddha Yoga Meditation Center has a decidedly spiritual aspect, other settings where people learn and practice meditation are more secular in nature.
Patti Metten, a physical therapist who works out of her home on Eastern Parkway, is also a transcendental meditation instructor who leads classes in her living room.
Ben Perry, a restaurant manager in Louisville, helps a group of friends meditate together as they sit in chairs in the basement of his Clarksville home two nights a week. Perry, 35, who started learning about meditation as a teenager, uses a technique called guided imagery.
Rita Hayes, communications manager for Norton Healthcare, participates in Perry's meditation group. She uses meditation to control the symptoms of her multiple sclerosis and said her neurologist is supportive.
Hayes believes her combination of traditional medicine and meditation is a winning one. "I was diagnosed when I was 23," said Hayes, now 36, "and I'm still ambulatory and don't use any walking aids."
"The mind is far more powerful than we could ever imagine," she said.
One of her techniques is to visualize her immune system and imagine repairing it.
Indeed, a University of Wisconsin-Madison study released last year showed, for the first time, that meditation can produce lasting beneficial changes in immune-system function and brain electrical activity.
In recent years, a new medical field - psychoneuroimmunology - has emerged, and a growing number of scientists are studying the mind-body connection.
Following a particular spiritual path to seek inner peace has led many people to meditation, but many others learn and practice meditation as a stress reducer and health benefit and detach it from any religious belief system.
Felicia Ray, 57, decided to learn meditation after discussing it with her physical therapist, Metten, who treated her for a back injury.
Ray, who lives in Valley Station and works as a substitute teacher in the Jefferson County Public Schools, said, "I tend to be tense, so I thought it could help me to focus myself and give me a little inner peace."
She said her goal is to maintain her health as she ages and avoid numerous doctor's office visits. So far, so good, she said.
"It's very simple, very easy. I do it for 20 minutes before breakfast and before dinner," she said.
Louisville psychiatrist Gary Weinstein said meditation can take many forms. "Some people repeat a chant or mantra; some people concentrate on their breath. Usually people just sit quietly, but for others there is moving meditation, such as tai chi."
He said he is finding people more open to meditation as a treatment tool, "particularly those who want to participate in their own treatment and take responsibility."
He uses meditation selectively with patients to treat a variety of conditions. Among those who can benefit are people who are obsessive worriers, and people who have trouble focusing on the present and instead worry about the past or the future, he said.
Alice Cash, who has a doctorate in musicology, leads chemical-dependency recovery patients at Baptist Hospital East in a form of "sound" meditation called toning.
"Vocal toning is a way to quiet the chatter that the mind produces," she explained.
While doing their toning, patients sit in a chair with their feet flat on the floor, stand or lie down. Participants make a long vowel sound with an exhaled breath.
"At SMU (Southern Methodist University) in Dallas, they found that 10 minutes of toning equaled five to 10 milligrams of Valium," said Cash, who developed her techniques in sound meditation as former director of music and medicine at the University of Louisville School of Medicine.
She also works with patients who are depressed, anxious, pregnant or recovering from cancer. This Saturday, she will lead a workshop on toning and chanting for a Man to Man-Louisville prostate cancer support group offered by Baptist Hospital East.
Jewish Hospital's Garon Lifestyle Center Cardiac Rehab Program offers some meditation instruction to patients. Nurse coordinator Pam Oshana is finding patients and their physicians more accepting of the idea that meditation can help control stress, a major risk factor for heart disease.
During the last 20 minutes of any visit to Garon, the patients are encouraged to go into a quiet room with big easy chairs and dimmed lights and participate in visualization, progressive muscle relaxation and deep-breathing exercises.
Some people are reluctant or feel awkward, Oshana said, but she is finding more people are open to the idea of doing meditation for stress management than once was the case.
Some of that may be because of media attention that has been given to such figures as Dr. Dean Ornish, a nationally recognized heart-disease specialist, who has long made meditation an essential part of his program for reversing heart disease.
Trudy Ray, a 20-year meditator who moved back to Louisville in recent years to care for one of her parents, said she saw signs of greater local acceptance of secular meditation as a tool for health management when she brought in a meditation expert for a weekend workshop last year and attracted 298 participants.
She plans to do it again in June.
Contrary to popular belief, not everyone who grows up in Asia learns meditation.
Dr. Shiela Thyparambil Mathew, who recently retired from her Louisville anesthesiology practice, grew up in southern India in a Christian family and didn't have any exposure to the Eastern philosophies that support meditation as a practice.
But in the late 1990s, she decided to see what she could learn and studied with Dr. James S. Gordon, a psychiatrist who directs the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, D.C.
Eventually, she led meditation training sessions for Norton Healthcare employees and for patients of the Norton Cancer Resource Center.
She has come to believe that a variety of meditation techniques, including guided imagery, movement to music or sitting and looking at something beautiful, can be helpful and healthful.