Meditation is commonly thought to induce physiologically quiescent states, as evidenced by decreased autonomic parameters during the meditation practice including reduced heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, skin conductance, and increased alpha activity in the electroencephalogram. Preliminary empirical support for this idea was provided in a case report by Dimsdale and Mills (2002), where it was found that meditation seemed to regulate increased levels of cardiovascular arousal induced by bolus isoproterenol infusions. In that study, while meditating, a self-taught meditator exhibited unexpected decreases in heart rate while receiving moderate intravenous doses of the beta adrenergic agonist isoproterenol. This effect was no longer observed when the individual received isoproterenol infusions while not meditating. The current study was designed to explore this phenomenon empirically in a group of formally trained meditators. A total of 15 meditators and 15 non-meditators individually matched on age, sex, and body mass index were recruited. Participants received four series of infusions in a pseudorandomized order: isoproterenol while meditating (or during a relaxation condition for the non-meditators), isoproterenol while resting, saline while meditating (or during a relaxation condition for the non-meditators), and saline while resting. Heart rate was continuously measured throughout all infusions, and several measures of heart rate were derived from the instantaneous cardiac waveform. There was no evidence at the group or individual level suggesting that meditation reduced the cardiovascular response to isoproterenol, across all measures. These results suggest that meditation is not associated with increased regulation of elevated cardiac adrenergic tone.
Keywords: adrenergic; body; isoproterenol; meditation; parasympathetic; regulation; sympathetic.