Meditation has become increasingly popular, and also increasingly available, to the average consumer in the past five to 10 years. While anyone who practices meditation on a regular basis can attest to its positive benefits — reduced stress and anxiety — going “om” may also lessen physical pain and provide other benefits.
This month in The Journal of Neuroscience, researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina published a paper showing that meditation reduced pain intensity in a group of adults with no previous meditation experience.
In this study, 15 healthy adults were taught to meditate in four 20-minute classes. Prior to and at the end of the study, the participants underwent a special kind of MRI that measures activity in the part of the brain responsible for the perception of pain. While they were getting the scans done, a device that produces painful heat was placed on each participant’s leg for five minutes.
At the end of the study, all participants noted a reduction in their pain ratings, some by as much as 93 percent — this is more than the pain reduction seen with narcotic and other pain-relieving drugs.
The MRI scans also changed at the end of the study — meditation reduced activity in the part of the brain that perceives pain-ful stimuli, and it also increased activation of areas that reduce the sensation of pain.
Another recent study done at Massachusetts General Hospital showed that participation in an eight-week mindfulness meditation training program also produced measurable changes in the areas of the brain associated with empathy, stress, memory and learning. Participants in this study meditated an average of 27 minutes per day over eight weeks and reported significant reductions in stress at the end of the study.