Focus, zen, meditate and your pain may go away or diminish. A new MRI brain image study shows that just after a short period of meditation, pain intensity is weakened when subjected to unpleasent stimuli such as extreme heat.

The study participants were taught a meditation technique known as focused attention, which involves paying close attention to breathing patterns while acknowledging and letting go of thoughts that distract you.

Fadel Zeidan, PhD, who is a postdoctoral fellow at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, says:

"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."

Prior to learning the meditation technique, brain imaging showed significant activity in a key area of the brain when the participants were subjected to intense heat, but this activity was reduced when they were meditating.

Zeidan explains:

"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."

Many feel that where you put your attention, you put your energy. Where you put your attention, you put your consciousness. You draw into your life the things to which you give your attention, whether you want them or not.

While the MRIs were being performed, a device was placed on each participant's right calf that delivered 120 degrees of heat, a temperature that most people find painful. The heat was kept on the skin for 12 seconds and then taken off the skin for the same amount of time over a total of 5 minutes.

Even though the MRI was very loud, most of the participants were able to successfully block out the noise and the pain from the heat source and focus on their breathing.

Zeidan continues:

"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."

A pain scale measures a patient's pain intensity or other features. Pain scales are based on self-report, observational (behavioral), or physiological data. Self-report is considered primary and should be obtained if possible. Pain scales are available for neonates, infants, children, adolescents, adults, seniors, and persons whose communication is impaired. Pain scores are sometimes regarded as "the Fifth Vital Sign."

The type of meditation that was used in the study is known as Shamatha. Like other forms of mindfulness meditation, it entails learning how to observe what's going on in one's mind and body without judging, and while maintaining focus on one's breathing or a chanted mantra.

Source: Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center News Release

Written by Sy Kraft