A new brain imaging study has shown that meditation, even a brief instruction, helps to reduce the intensity of pain. Most of the participants of the study reported to have a reduction in pain after four 20-minute sessions of mindfulness meditation instructions.
The study showed that prior to learning the technique, there was intense brain activity when the individuals were exposed to heat. The activity in the brain decreased considerably when they were meditating. Researcher Fadel Zeidan, PhD, who is a postdoctoral fellow at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, says that this study is the first of its kind to show the effect of a short period of meditation for pain management.
In this study, young adults who did not have any experience with meditation were recruited. The participants went through four, 20-minute instructional sessions on focused attention, in which they were asked to pay close attention to the breathing patterns while disallowing distracting thought patterns. The brain activity of the participants was measured before and after the instructional session using a special type of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Robert C. Coghill, associate professor of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest, feels that the study confirms the belief that meditation can have a real impact on reducing the intensity of pain. According to Coghill, meditation would be helpful in controlling the post-operative pain and other chronic pain. Researcher Ziedan says that meditation also reduces the emotional response to pain.
During the instructional phase each of the participants were asked to close their eyes and focus on the breathing pattern. A wandering mind is normal during the first few minutes of meditation, especially for those who do not have any formal training. The goal of mindfulness meditation is to acknowledge the distractions that take away the focus, accept it and then try to bring back the attention to breathing.