16 April 2012

Ian Gawler Blog: How long before you are paid to meditate?

1.Meditation is associated with 30% health cost reductions over 5 years.

2. GPs strongly support the use of meditation

3. Over 6,000 research articles support the use of meditation

4. Meditation produces physical changes in the brain

Thought for the week

At the end of the talk someone from the audience asked the Dalai Lama, "Why didn't you fight back against the Chinese?" The Dalai Lama looked down, swung his feet just a bit, then looked back up at us and said with a gentle smile, "Well, war is obsolete, you know " Then, after a few moments, his face grave, he said, "Of course the mind can rationalize fighting back...but the heart, the heart would never understand. Then you would be divided in yourself, the heart and the mind, and the war would be inside you."

There is not one but four delightful, fresh roses on the table. They are glorious buds; a superb pink, and they smell divine. I am sitting having lunch at my old place of work and marveling once again at the attention to detail. Ruth and are leading a meditation retreat at The Gawler Foundation’s Yarra Valley Living Centre and my mind turns to wondering how long it will be before people are paid to come to these programs?

At the moment our participants have paid their own way; a relatively modest amount and one hopes they receive good value for their money. But think of this. If the Government wanted to save significantly on the health budget; if the health funds wanted to be more profitable or be able to afford better services, paying people to meditate may be one of the most cost effective things they could do!

Results of a large 5 year study published last year in the American Journal of Health Promotion (see ref 1 below) compared meditators who were matched for age, sex and place of residence with an equal number of non-meditators.

The results? After the first year, the TM meditators’ expenditure on doctors had decreased by 11%. After 5 years, the regular meditators (about 20 mins twice daily) had reduced their cumulative health costs by nearly 30%. That is quite a reduction. As you might expect for people getting older, over the 5 years the non-meditating group’s expenditure rose.

This study’s findings were similar to earlier ones. In a previous Canadian study, the meditation group exhibited reduced medical expenses between 5% and 13% relative to comparison subjects each year for 6 consecutive years. In a subsequent Canadian study of senior citizens, the meditators’ five-year cumulative reduction for people aged 65 years and older relative to comparison subjects was 70%.

In a sample of American health insurance enrollees, TM participants had reduced rates of illness in all disease categories. An eleven-year, cross-sectional study in Iowa found that subjects age 45 and over who practiced the TM technique had 88% fewer hospital days compared with controls. Their medical expenditures were 60% below the norm.

“This latest article has major policy significance for saving Medicare and Medicaid without cutting benefits or raising taxes,” said Robert Herron, Ph.D., the study’s author. The study suggests that it may be possible to make significant health cost savings, and to increase the health and wellbeing of the whole community by making meditation available for Medicare and health Fund rebates.

But would doctors support meditation being used more widely? Based on the widespread acceptance of meditation by General Practitioners we can be reasonably confident they would. A survey of nearly 500 GPs published in the Medical Journal of Australia (see link below – ref 2) found that over 80% had referred patients to meditation practitioners and 34% had actually trained in meditation.

The authors of this research concluded that these findings generate an urgent need for evidence of these therapies' effectiveness. That was 12 years ago and things have certainly moved on.

In 2012, over 6,000 studies in the scientific literature (ref 3) demonstrate how powerfully meditation enhances our health, prevents illness, facilitates healing and leads to a heightened sense of wellbeing.

But is there evidence that meditation leads to physically detectable changes? Well yes, there is that too. Another recent break-through study has indicated that an 8 week meditation program can change brain structure!

Participating in an 8-week mindfulness meditation program appears to make measurable changes in areas of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. The study, published in the journal of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, (ref 4 ) is the first to document meditation-produced changes over time in the brain's grey matter. The meditators in this study averaged 27 minutes of practice each day.

"Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day," says Sara Lazar, PhD, the study's senior author. "This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing."

The analysis of MRI images, which focused on areas where meditation-associated differences were seen in earlier studies, found increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection.

Participant-reported reductions in stress also were correlated with decreased grey-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress.

None of these changes were seen in the control group, indicating that they had not resulted merely from the passage of time.

So posting this blog was delayed due to last week’s A Current Affair report. Ruth and I did relish the retreat. The participants seemed happy enough to have paid, but I wonder how long it will be before Government and/or the health funds begin to provide incentives for meditation?

There is a great deal of evidence to support the notion that meditation may well be the best self help measure any of us can practise. Actually, meditation is worth paying for; in fact, it is a bargain!


1. Herron, RE: Changes in Physician Costs Among High-Cost Transcendental Meditation Practitioners Compared With High-Cost Non-practitioners Over 5 Years;
American Journal of Health Promotion Sep 2011, Vol. 26, No. 1 pp. 56-60

2. Pirotta MV et al; Complementary Therapies: Have they become accepted in general practice? MJA 2000; 172(3): 105-109

3. A complete bibliography on published meditation research is kept up-to-date and publicly available at:

4. Hölzel B K et al; Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain grey matter density. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 2011; 191 (1): 36

BREAKING NEWS - The Age again!

What is going on at The Age? There is another article in today's paper 16/4/12, questioning my cancer diagnosis. Anyone who feels to respond with a letter to the paper would be welcome. 


1. Women’s retreat in Bali:  “Opening New Horizons” with Robyn Jones.

June 18th-22nd in Ubud, Bali.

Robyn is an old colleague – well not that old; just we worked together for many years and I have a lot of respect for her; she is an experienced Gawler Foundation group leader of many years standing.

Robyn is leading this retreat that is specifically designed to help develop and practise meditation, refocus, move forward and honour your potential with daily relaxation, Qi Gong and yoga; to feel nurtured and to experience Balinese massage and body therapies in the supportive company of like-minded women.

Enquiries: roblj@tpg.com.au; 03 59671116

2. Bookings now open for Brisbane - 14-17 June at the Relaxation Centre

I will be presenting a series of talks and workshops at the Relaxation Centre from the 14 – 17th June. There is a special day workshop for health professionals and others on “Understanding death and helping the dying” on Friday 15th – similar to the one I presented at the Happiness conference – a day all about dying well!  Thursday night on food and nutrition, the weekend on “The mind that changes everything “, with mindfulness, meditation and the power of the mind. Link here for bookings.



BOOK    Meditation - an In-depth Guide: Ian Gawler and Paul Bedson

CD   Meditation - A complete guide

DVD  Meditation live:  Ian Gawler


  1. If health funds gave a refund for meditation courses it would allow more people to participate and would definitely be beneficial. I think that if the millions spent on research every year to find a cure for cancer was instead spent on educating people in changing their lifestyle to prevent it, that would also greatly reduce health costs. It's not in the drug companies best interests to prevent illness and there seems to be a collaboration between the government and the medical profession to try to stop people seeking out natural healthy alternatives.

  2. It is interesting that neuro scientific findings of people who meditate are starting to converge with with the "experienced" results of people who meditate. I think into the future neuro science is going to be huge. Eventually, on a basic level, neuro science will probabaly be able to explain the effects of mediatation on the brain and therefore legitimise into the mainstream the practise of meditation and the benefits therein. Will neuro science or science generally ever explain the extra- ordinary spiritual dimension to meditation? - will science ever meet what is currently termed the "metaphysical"? - now there's a thought!