MRI Scans of Brain of Novice Meditator with Pain MRI images of the brain of a novice meditator show signs of pain nearly disappear. (source: Robert Coghill/Wake Forest University School of Medicine)

"You might not need extensive training [in meditation] to realize pain-relief benefits. Most people don't have time to spend months in a monastery." —Fadel Zeidan, neuroscientist

On the NPR Shots blog, Adam Cole highlights a study at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center showing that even novice meditators are able to curb their pain after a few training sessions. Cole writes:

In the study, a small group of healthy medical students attended four 20-minute training sessions on "mindfulness meditation" — a technique adapted from a Tibetan Buddhist form of meditation called samatha.It's all about acknowledging and letting go of distraction.

So how did the researchers gauge the effect? They administered a very distracting bit of pain: A small, thermal stimulator heated to 120 degrees was applied to the back of each volunteer's right calf. The subjects reported both the intensity and unpleasantness of the pain. If pain were music, intensity would be volume. Unpleasantness would have more of an emotional component, kind of like how much you love or hate a song.

After meditation training, the subjects reported a 40 percent decrease in pain intensity and a 57 percent reduction in pain unpleasantness. And it wasn't just their perception of pain that changed. Brain activity changed too.

Be sure to read Cole's article for the details.

(via almaswithinalmas)

Share Your Reflection



I certainly don't consider myself a master meditator, but meditation was my main pain-coping technique during labor with my second child. Sure wish I'd had it the first time around. It made for a completely different experience.

25 years ago, although I did not know it at the time, I used prayer/mantra with my second child during labor as well, and it was a completely different experience than my first. It changed the course of how I thought about meditation and prayer.

As my teacher said, "You hear the marching band cross the bridge nearby, you don't have to get up and follow!"

The link to samatha meditation says it comes from the Thai tradition which is Theravadan not Tibetan Buddhism. I'm sure that there is a parallel in the Tibetan tradition but the article states that breath Meditation dosn't have the same effect. So it would be helpful to know more specifics about the practice taught to the beginners. Thanks

Sounds very much like the practice of centering prayer. is nearly identical to centering prayer. I practice both on a daily basis several times a day.

Very interesting, though I would be curious about the details of the experimental design - including any bias of the investigators (one of the coauthors is a long time practitioner, and taught the mediators). Is there a problem with knowing who practiced meditation and who did not?

None of the subjects had ever practiced meditation prior to enrollment in the study and were not required to practice meditation outside of meditation training / experimentation sessions.

Thank You for sharing this.

I practice this technique on a regular basis. It is well-proven that it works wonders and is not all difficult!!!! I would encourage anyone with pain and, in particular, those with chronic pain to at least try and give this method of pain relief a try. You might be very surprised at how well it works!!!

I practice this technique on a regular basis, several times a day, for relief of severe chronic pain! I guarantee that given the chance it works very, very well. You will be so surprised if you just give it a chance.

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As someone who has significant chronic pain in almost all parts of my body - external and internal - I wonder about the relatively minor pain of this heat applied to the calf. It is so discreet and is one kind of pain. Until you experience the full range of pain types and in many body regions you don't realize how diverse pain can be. I meditate. Not often enough but several times a week at least. Sometimes, my pain level does diminish significantly but it isn't a result I can depend on. I wonder if I were an "Olympic" level meditator if my pain would diminish significantly and reliably? Maybe in 8,000 more hours of meditation I will know.

I do meditation more than eat within one day. And I am glad that I still have a healthy body, mind and soul.

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I have been chastising myself for spending so much time meditating and/or doing centering prayer. your article makes me realize that both of these methods are treating my chronic pain. thank you.