—by Jeff Jurmain, MA
A new study has found that people who meditate on a regular basis can handle pain more than those who don’t. They tend to find pain less unpleasant because their brains anticipate the pain less.
This is potentially big news for anyone who lives with a health condition that brings with it chronic pain. Meditation can teach your brain to think about pain in a different way, and it is entirely believable when you consider that pain is entirely rooted in your mind.
UK scientists recruited people into the study who had a diverse range of experience with meditation, spanning anything from months to decades. They found that it was the more practiced meditators who were able to anticipate and experience pain in a way different from those who didn’t meditate. It means that it will take some practice, but it is well worth it in the end.
People in the study were practicing different sorts of meditation, but a common one was “mindfulness meditation” practices, which are recommended for those who suffer depression. Until now, it was the depression that exists in chronic pain patients that was getting most of the focus with meditation. But now science is looking at how the ancient practice could reduce the impact of pain itself.
The study found that certain areas of the brain were less active as meditators anticipated pain. Those with greater meditation experience (up to 35 years) showed the least anticipation of the pain (caused in the study by a laser).It also found that meditators showed unusual activity in the prefrontal cortex when anticipating pain. This region helps control attention and thought processes when potential threats are perceived.
In essence, meditation trains the brain to focus on the present and spend less time anticipating future negative events. This may be why meditation is effective at reducing the recurrence of depression, which makes chronic pain considerably worse. Those who experience chronic pain may want to know that meditation helps them anticipate pain less and find pain less unpleasant.
Researchers are still unclear as to how that happens exactly, but undoubtedly will be hot on the trail to figuring it out. How meditation works could open the door for a bundle of new medical therapies or even drugs. For now, the ancient art of meditation itself is something those with pain would do well to seriously consider.