To Ease Pain, Try Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness — the act of staying focused on the present moment — has long held value as an approach to pain relief. Now, results of a recent study offer insight into how and why this type of meditation may work. Researchers at UC San Diego School of Medicine asked 40 volunteers to undergo brain scans while painful heat was applied their legs. The participants then rated their levels of pain during the experiment.
Next, the researchers divided the volunteers into two groups: One group completed four 20-minute sessions of mindfulness training; the other listened to an audio book. The mindfulness training involved focusing on breath and acknowledging passing thoughts without judging or reacting to them. At the end of the sessions, the researchers repeated the initial experiment but asked the people in the mindfulness group to meditate when the painful heat was applied.
The researchers found that the participants who actively meditated during the painful event reported a 32 percent reduction in pain intensity and a 33 percent reduction in “unpleasantness” of pain compared to their initial experience. In addition, the brain scans revealed that mindfulness-induced pain relief was associated with changes in brain activity that indicate people who meditate may be able to view pain as separate from, rather than part of, themselves, suggesting that meditators can influence the way they experience pain.
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