Demystifying Meditation – Brain Imaging Illustrates How Meditation Reduces Pain

Meditation produces powerful pain-relieving effects in the brain, according to new research published in the April 6 edition of the Journal of Neuroscience. “This is the first study to show that only a little over an hour of meditation training can dramatically reduce both the experience of pain and pain-related brain activation,” said Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., lead author of the study and post-doctoral research fellow at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. “We found a big effect – about a 40 percent reduction in pain intensity and a 57 percent reduction in pain unpleasantness. Meditation produced a greater reduction in pain than even morphine or other pain-relieving drugs, which typically reduce pain ratings by about 25 percent.” For the study, 15 healthy volunteers who had never meditated attended four, 20-minute classes to learn a meditation technique known as focused attention. Focused attention is a form of mindfulness meditation

where people are taught to attend to the breath and let go of distracting thoughts and emotions.Both before and after meditation training, study participants’ brain activity was examined using a special type of imaging — arterial spin labeling magnetic resonance imaging (ASL MRI) — that captures longer duration brain processes, such as meditation, better than a standard MRI scan of brain function. During these scans, a pain-inducing heat device was placed on the participants’ right legs. This device heated a small area of their skin to 120° Fahrenheit, a temperature that most people find painful, over a 5-minute period. The scans taken after meditation training showed that every participant’s pain ratings were reduced, with decreases ranging from 11 to 93 percent, Zeidan said. At the same time, meditation significantly reduced brain activity in the primary somatosensory cortex, an area that is crucially involved in creating the feeling of where and how intense a painful stimulus is. The scans taken before meditation training showed activity in this area was very high. However, when participants were meditating during the scans, activity in this important pain-processing region could not be detected.The research also showed that meditation increased brain activity in areas including the anterior cingulate cortex, anterior insula and the orbito-frontal cortex. “These areas all shape how the brain builds an experience of pain from nerve signals that are coming in from the body,” said Robert C. Coghill, Ph.D., senior author of the study and associate professor of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist. “Consistent with this function, the more that these areas were activated by meditation the more that pain was reduced. One of the reasons that meditation

may have been so effective in blocking pain was that it did not work at just one place in the brain, but instead reduced pain at multiple levels of processing.” Zeidan and colleagues believe that meditation has great potential for clinical use because so little training was required to produce such dramatic pain-relieving effects. “This study shows that meditation produces real effects in the brain and can provide an effective way for people to substantially reduce their pain without medications,” Zeidan said.Funding for the study was provided by the Mind and Life Institute in Boulder, Colo., and the Center for Biomolecular Imaging at Wake Forest Baptist. News from: Wake Forest University School of Medicine.  ~  Meditation refers to any of a family of practices in which the practitioner trains his or her mind or self-induces a mode of consciousness in order to realize some benefit. Meditation is generally an internal, personal practice and done without any external involvement, except perhaps prayer beads to count prayers, though many practitioners of meditation may rely on external objects such as candle flames as points on which to focus their attention as an aid to the process. Meditation often involves invoking or cultivating a feeling or internal state, such as compassion, or attending to a specific focal point. The term can refer to the state itself, as well as to practices or techniques employed to cultivate the

state.There are dozens or more specific styles of meditation practice.People may mean different things when they use the word, ‘meditation’. Meditation has been practiced since antiquity as a component of numerous religious traditions, especially, in Western countries, in monastic settings. In the Eastern spiritual traditions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, meditation is more commonly a practice engaged in by many if not most believers.A 2007 study by the U.S. government found that nearly 9.4% of U.S. adults (over 20 million) had practiced meditation within the past 12 months, up from 7.6% (more than 15 million people) in 2002 Since the 1960s, meditation has been the focus of increasing scientific research of uneven rigor and quality.In over 1,000 published research studies, various methods of meditation have been linked to changes in metabolism, blood pressure, brain activation, and other bodily processes.Meditation has been used in clinical settings as a method of stress and pain reduction.Over 1,000 publications on meditation have appeared to date. Many of the early studies lack a theoretically unified perspective, often resulting in poor methodological quality, as discussed in Meditation Definitions and scope.A review of scientific studies identified relaxation, concentration, an altered state of awareness, a suspension of logical thought and the maintenance of a self-observing attitude as the behavioral components of meditation;it is accompanied by a host of

biochemical and physical changes in the body that alter metabolism, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure and brain activation. Meditation has been used in clinical settings as a method of stress and pain reduction. Meditation has also been studied specifically for its effects on stress.In June, 2007 the United States National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine published an independent, peer-reviewed, meta-analysis of the state of research on meditation and health outcomes. The report reviewed 813 studies in five broad categories of meditation: mantra meditation, mindfulness meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, and Qi Gong. The result was mixed. The report concluded that “firm conclusions on the effects of meditation practices in healthcare cannot be drawn based on the available evidence. However, the results analyzed from methodologically stronger research include findings sufficiently favorable to emphasize the value of further research in this field.” More rigor in future studies was called for. More recent research suggests that meditation may increase attention spans. A recent randomized study published in Psychological Science reported that practicing meditation led to doing better on a task related to sustained attention. GoodNews International

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