Healthbeat

Meditation is going mainstream

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Your mind as medication. How you can reshape your brain to deal with pain and other problems.

It's low tech and it doesn't cost much and now meditation is going mainstream.

So forget any preconceived notions you just might have this gentle practice.

More doctors are now prescribing it almost as a medication to help with healing and more.

Tiffany Bullard is in full nesting mode. The 31-year-old costume designer and her director husband are about to welcome their first child, but it's been a difficult journey. Bullard miscarried twice.

Unsure of where she was mentally and physically she turned to meditation.

"I thought maybe this is what I need to get back on track so I can heal," she said.

She took a class at Northwestern Integrative Medicine, where doctors work meditation into their clinical care to alleviate physical and emotional symptoms.

Its gaining respect in the medical community as more research reveals this practice of calming the mind and focusing isn't just an exercise in self-indulgence. It can actually bring real changes to the brain.

"The use of meditation is based on hard-nosed science," said Dr. Melinda Ring, internist, Northwestern Integration Medicine. "It is amazing the capacity of our brain this organ has for change."

These changes seem to promote higher levels of well-being and resilience.

Imaging shows meditation can allow the brain to make new connections even grow new neurons in this state.

It's called neuroplasticity.

"It's not instead of their medication or instead of surgery its and adjunct to those it may help prevent some disease and it may help decrease the need for pain medications or sleep aids," said Dr. Ring.

Medical conditions that get worse with stress seem to respond best, but experts say any illness can benefit, including anxiety disorders, depression, cancer pain, high blood pressure, heart disease and inflammatory problems such as asthma or psoriasis.

"Paying attention to you what's happening internally your thoughts were your mind is your emotions what's happening physically to you," said Dr. Maggie Crowley, clinical psychologist, Northwestern Integration Medicine.

So how does it work?

There are many types and techniques.

This approach called guided mindful meditation consists of continuously focusing attention on the breath, bodily sensations and mental state.

"It can really I think just create change your breathing changes your temperature changes your mood changes," Bullard said.

Bullard says just six weeks into her class and she was pregnant.

She can't prove meditation was the reason but she's convinced it's making a difference in her life.

A recent government panel review of 34 meditation trials found it can reduce chronic and acute pain.

The evidence is weaker on the effects of stress and anxiety, but the committee says there still were benefits.

Meditation two times a day for 20 minutes is recommended, but experts say even taking five minutes out of a hectic day will have benefits.

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