Patrick Slavens often found himself caught up with the rush of everyday life. His ADHD and smoking habit didn't help. Then the former Marine tried meditation.
"I never thought I would end up to being the warm, fuzzy, meditating kind of guy," said Slavens.
Dr. Richard J. Davidson, a psychology and psychiatry professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, 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 and even grow new neurons in this state. It's called neuroplasticity.
Davidson believes that 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 3,000 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.
Slaven says thanks to meditation, he has quit smoking and is off his ADHD meds.
Davidson 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 said his studies show neuroplasticity can occur in as little as two weeks if you meditate every day for 30 minutes.