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Blacks who meditated twice a day lowered their slightly high blood pressure, say researchers at an institute devoted to Transcendental Meditation.

A study found that blood pressure dropped in blacks who meditated regardless of whether their hypertension was associated with obestiy, stress, inactivity, heavy drinking or too much salt in their diet, said Charles Alexander, lead author of the study and a psychologist at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa.The Maharishi University was founded two decades ago by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, onetime guru to the Beatles.

"We found that, at least in this African-American population, that the effects of TM were very general - in other words, it worked for people who were at high risk or low rish," Alexander said of the results published Tuesday in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension.

Blacks ages 25 to 44 are 20 times more likely than whites in the same age group to suffer from high blood pressure.

In the three-month study, doctors and researchers at California's West Oakland Health Center teamed up with researchers from the Maharishi University, a center for the study and practice of TM.

They monitored 111 blacks ages 55 to 85 from inner-city Oakland who were randomly assigned to three groups. The first group practed twice-daily, 20-minute sessions of TM, in which a mantra is repeated to induce a state of "restful alertness."

The second group used a technique called progressive muscle relaxation, or constricting and relaxing major muscle groups in a systematic manner. The third group made changes in exercise and diet - for example, eating less salt.

Participants starting blood pressure averaged 147 over 92. Blood pressure is considered to be mildly elevated if the systolic pressure - the first and larger of the two numbers - is between 140 and 159 and the diastolic pressure is between 90 and 99.

The group that changed diet and exercise habits saw no decrease in blood pressure, and the progressive muscle relaxation group had a statistically insignificant drop.

In the TM group, women reduced systolic pressure by an average of 10.4 points and diastolic pressure by 5.9 points. Among men practicing TM, systolic pressure fell by 12.9 points and diastolic by 8.1 points.

Dr. Herbert Benson, a Harvard Medical School professor and founder of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Boston's Deaconess Hospital, said he is not surprised by the findings but wondered whether TM is necessarily better than other relaxation techniques such as prayer and yoga.

"I do believe it works," Benson said of TM. "The question in my mind is whether it's preferable to other techniques that might bring for the same response."

The National Institutes of Health have awarded $3 million for two additional studies on the longer-term effects of TM, Alexander said.