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. Now, meditation has been used in clinical settings as a method of stress and pain reduction. A recent study shows that only a little over an hour of meditation training can dramatically reduce both the experience of pain and pain-related brain activation.
Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., lead author of the study and post-doctoral research fellow at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, was quoted as saying. “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.”
According to David E. Yocum, MD, director of the Arizona Arthritis Center in Tucson. “Relaxing and quieting your mind by focusing on your breathing can reduce stress – even the stress that comes with arthritis flares”
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 degree Fahrenheit, a temperature that most people find painful, over a 5-minute period.
The scans taken after meditation training demonstrated that each participant’s pain ratings were reduced, with decreases ranging from 11 to 93 percent, Zeidan said. At the same time, meditation drastically reduced brain activity in the primary somatosensory cortex — an area that is significantly involved in creating the feeling of where and how extreme a painful stimulus is. The scans taken before meditation training showed activity in this area was exceedingly high. Nevertheless, when participants were meditating during the scans, activity in this vital pain-processing region could not be detected.
The research moreover illustrated that meditation improved brain activity in areas including the anterior cingulate cortex, anterior insula and the orbitofrontal cortex.
Suggesting Some Meditation Techniques
- Each morning and evening, start and end your day with a two-minute session of focused breathing. Sit in a comfortable chair that supports your back, relax, inhale for four seconds and then exhale for six seconds.
- Concentrate intently on your body movement while walking or doing any physical activity.
- Visualize your “helper” cells healing your joints. Focus on a word, phrase, prayer, sound or piece of music. Meditate for a few minutes but aim to work up to 20 minutes per session and two sessions per day.
- Love is the one element that heals all things. If you are looking to heal your mind and restore yourself to that quiet place within, relate to yourself, your mind, and everything you become aware of with Love, and watch the miracles unfold.
- Practice Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Begin by tensing all the muscles in your face. Make a tight grimace, close your eyes as tightly as possible, clench your teeth, even move your ears up if you can. Hold this for the count of eight as you inhale. Exhale and relax completely. Let your face go completely relax, as though you were sleeping. Feel the tension seep from your facial muscles, and enjoy the feeling. Next, completely tense your neck and shoulders, again inhaling and counting to eight. Then exhale and relax. Continue down your body, repeating the procedure.
The more that these areas in the brain are 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.