Can you use meditation as medication? A federal panel recently released a report with results that might surprise you.
Patrick Slavens says he often found himself caught up with everyday life. His ADHD and smoking habit didn't help. Then the former marine tried this.
"I never thought I'd end up to be the warm, fuzzy, meditating kinda guy," Slavens said.
"It's the kind of thing that has very, very few downsides," said Dr. Richard J. Davidson, Psychology and Psychiatry Professor at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Davidson has been studying meditation for decades. A friend of the Dalai Lama, he's scanned the brains of Buddhist monks as they meditated. He tells us the brain can actually make new connections; even grow new neurons in this state. It's called neuroplasticity.
He believes with practice, meditation can improve symptoms of social anxiety, phobias, and inflammatory problems like asthma or psoriasis.
"My own view is that it's best considered as an adjunct, it shouldn't be thought of as a replacement for conventional treatment," said Davidson.
A government panel just reviewed 34 meditation trials with three thousand participants and found it can reduce chronic and acute pain. The evidence is weaker on mediation's effects on stress and anxiety, but the committee found there were benefits.
"Find a quiet place," Slavens explained.
Patrick says thanks to meditation, he's quit smoking and is off his ADHD meds.
"It really does work," Slavens said.
Davidson, whose research has been published in several peer-reviewed journals, is currently conducting a study comparing the effects of meditation versus yogic breathing on war vets with PTSD. The ongoing project will take several years. Meditation's power to change the brain doesn't take that long. In fact, Davidson says his studies show neuroplasticity can occur in as little as two weeks, if you meditate every day for 30 minutes.
BACKGROUND: Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years. It was originally meant to deepen the understanding of the sacred and mystical forces of life. Meditation is used most commonly for stress reduction and relaxation. It is considered a type of mind-body complementary medicine. Meditation allows the person to focus attention and eliminate the nonsense thoughts that crowd the mind and cause stress, while benefitting the mind as well as the body. It creates a sense of calm, balance, and peace that benefits a person's well-being and overall health. Meditation calms throughout the day. (Source: www.mayoclinic.com)
MEDITATION AND ILLNESS: Meditation can help with medical conditions, especially the ones that get worse with stress. Research shows that it can help with anxiety disorders, binge eating, asthma, depression, fatigue, cancer, pain, high blood pressure, heart disease, sleep problems, and substance abuse. Mediation has many types and techniques. Guided meditation is one. This method allows for the mental images of situations and places that are relaxing. Mindfulness meditation is based on having an increased acceptance of living in the present. Conscious awareness is broadened when this type is practiced. Mantra meditation is silently repeating a calming word or thought to keep from getting distracted. Qi gong (a traditional Chinese medicine) is the type that combines mediation, physical movement, breathing, and relaxation to restore balance. Tai chi is another Chinese form (from the Chinese martial arts). Tai chi requires a self-paced series of movements and postures in slow motion while breathing deeply. Transcendental meditation uses mantra (a sound, word, or phrase) to narrow conscious awareness by focusing only on the mantra. Lastly, there is yoga. Yoga is a series of postures and controlled breathing exercises that focuses on calming the mind and a flexible body. (Source: www.mayoclinic.com)
NEUROPLASTICITY: Different types of meditation incite different changes in the brain, but they all have similar effects. Neuroplasticity refers to the brain changes that occur in response to experience. There are many different mechanisms ranging from the growth of new connections to the creation of neurons. Researchers now believe that meditation can alter patterns of brain function. Recent studies find evidence that meditation can harness the brain's ability to change through relaxation and attention training. When neuroplasticity is applied to meditation, doctors believe that the mental training involved with mediation is no different than other forms that can induce plastic changes in the brain. A recent study found that attention is a trainable skill that can be enhanced through the mental practices of meditation. One implication of the research is that meditation could help reduce "neural noise," thus enhancing signal-to-noise ratios in certain types of tasks. Future studies aim to better understand how different circuits are used during meditation to produce the mental and behavioral changes that occur as a result of such practices, including the promotion of increased well-being.
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