What if we could replace morphine and other pain-relieving drugs with meditation?
Fadal Zeidan, PhD from the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center recently conducted a study in which he found that a form of mindfulness meditation, known as focused attention, drastically diminished subjects’ experience of pain. In previous findings morphine has been shown to reduce pain by about 25%. In this study, meditation lessened pain by about 40%.
Dr. Zeidan’s study was published in the Journal of Neuroscience. He took 15 healthy volunteers, who had no meditation experience, and had them attend four, 20 minute sessions where they learned the technique.
Before and after learning the mindfulness technique, the subjects had a small heat pad placed on their right leg. The heat on their skin was increased to 120 degrees Fahrenheit for 5 minutes. Directly after their legs were cooked, brain scans were taken.
What these scans revealed was that once the subjects learned to meditate, the activity in their primary somatosensory cortex, an area of the brain involved in detecting where and how intense a painful stimulus is, was greatly reduced. Subjects reported a drop in pain anywhere from 11% to 93%.
What was interesting was that meditation also brought about an increased level of activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, anterior insula, and the orbito-frontal cortex. All of these areas shape how we experience pain. Meditation didn’t just affect one part of the pain process, but influenced the brain in many sections. What is so great about these findings is that we now have scientific evidence that shows what short periods of meditation instruction can do for pain management. As more people catch onto these ideas, we will see mindfulness and other meditation practices being integrated into clinical work.
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