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    Even Beginners Can Curb Pain With Meditation

    by Adam Cole

    Meditation has long been touted as a holistic approach to pain relief. And studies show that long-time meditators can tolerate quite a bit of pain.

    Now researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have found you don’t have to be a lifelong Buddhist monk to pull it off. Novices were able to tame pain after just a few training sessions.

    Sounds a bit mystical, we know, but researchers using a special type of brain imaging were also able to see changes in the brain activity of newbies. Their conclusion? “A little over an hour of meditation training can dramatically reduce both the experience of pain and pain-related brain activation,” Fadel Zeidan, a neuroscientist and the study’s lead author, tells Shots. That finding’s a first, Zeidan says.

    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.

    “You are trying to sustain attention in the present moment — everything is momentary so you don’t need to react,” Zeidan explains. “What that does healthwise is it reduces the stress response. The feeling of pain is a very blatant 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.

    Every part of the body is mapped to a specific part of the brain called the primary somatosensory cortex. “If I touch you on your left hand right above your left knuckle, there is an area in the brain that corresponds to that specific area in your hand that will be activated,” Zeidan explains. “When you are in pain it is much more activated — more intense and more widespread.”

    This activation shows up on MRI brain scans. When subjects experienced the heat stimulus under normal conditions, the “right calf” part of the primary somatosensory cortex lit up. But after the subjects were trained in meditation, the activity in this region was not even detectable.

    Brain images also show that meditation increased activation in areas of the brain related to cognitive control and emotion — areas where the experience of pain is built. What’s more, better meditators (those who scored higher on a standard scale of mindfulness) tended to have more activation in these areas and a lower experience of pain.

    But can you achieve similar results by just approximating meditation, or believing you are in control of your pain tolerance? Zeidan says probably not. In this study, subjects who paid attention to their breathing to mimic meditation saw no significant change in pain. And, in a previous study, subjects given fake training failed to see meditation’s effects, even though they believed they were actually performing mindfulness meditation.

    Zeidan says he will run some more studies to get at how meditation relieves pain. He hopes meditation can soon be applied clinically, perhaps to help patients cope with pain after surgery or chemotherapy.

    “You might not need extensive training to realize pain-relief benefits,” Zeidan says. “Most people don’t have time to spend months in a monastery.”


    This is interesting. I wonder what they meant by ‘fake meditation training’ though.  I think that might be very beneficial to know, as it would clarify the important aspects of meditation as well.

    Has anyone had success in reducing pain during meditation?  I see my wife do it at times, but I’m not often in pain to test it. 


    I’d be very interested in reading the actual journal article, but the Journal of Neuroscience wants $30 to read the article.  I’ll wait until I can get to a library that has the journal.


    I miss having free access to all these journals when I was in school.  If you do get a hold of it, please let us know. 

    Brandel Valico

    I’ve used it once or twice (more times then I can count) to lessen pain and aid in speeding up healing. There are certain techniques  to lessen pain or ignore pain until a later time to allow you to finish what needs to be done. I once took a blow from a beam swung on ropes to the throat. (Never get distracted by the small things when the big beam your meant to dodge is swinging at your chest.) I dropped to my knees and reflexively began applying it to keep from passing out from the pain of breathing. After a few minutes I was able to reach an acceptable level of pain to force my breathing back to the point I was able to finish the course and find time to heal up. I couldn’t talk well for a few days after that and eating and drinking were painful. But it does work.

    Mind you thats an extreme case. But I often use it to remove small headaches and pains when I must finish something. Otherwise I prefer not to do so. 


    I completely believe in the use of “active meditation” – in particular learning breathing – to help in times of physical challenge.

    Actually – it was at the old Jedi Academy site in winter of 2007 that I was first learning meditation and I came down with a very bad flu.  At that time I had two stores I had to deliver-to and a warehouse I was overseeing and it was record cold temperatures.  Yet – I HAD to make the deliveries.  It was awfull!  LOLOL…  I mean really bad…

    So – I began to use some of the zazen breathing as I worked.  Lifting, hauling, docksides, sick as a dawg!  Below zero…  Pipes were freezing in houses… 

    It worked.  It got me through 3 days of the worst work experience I ever had.  I did journal about it at the old Jedi Academy especially because I was just learning meditation.  It showed me how incredibly powerful a tool it can be!

    “Active” meditation is not as often discussed – yet I think I use it more than passive meditation. :meditate


    As I already have used it, I can say that I do believe in it.
    At the Jedi Creed side, I guess it was there, I found a kind of mantra which I use when I’m at the dentist and she has to work on my teeth.
    The “mantra” is as follows:

    Compare your pain with your self and see how small it is.
    Compare yourself with the world and see how small it is.
    Compare the world with the universe and see how small it is.
    Now compare your pain with the universe and see that it is negligible.

    For me this works out very well and for normal/standart operation I wouldn’t need a local narcotic at the dentist.
    What I also already have done with success is a kind of separation of your core self from your physical body. In this I “project” myself out of my body and see it from outside. In this stage I the notice the pain, accept it and let it go.


    That’s an interesting mantra or process.  I’ll have to try that.  I find it very hard to stay present yet separate from the pain and my body.  Perhaps it just takes more practice?  When I was getting my tattoo I tried to circulate energy around my body since it felt like it was pooling everywhere in my body (the adrenaline).  It didn’t work well as my attention was constantly brought back to the pain from the gun.  I could have simply distracted myself.  Getting lost in thought made it easier for me to lose track of the pain, but I wanted to remain present as this tattoo means a lot to me.  However, the dentist is a place where I don’t want to feel anything so trying to get out of my body more would be idea. ;-)

    Kol Drake

    Medical News Today — MRI Shows Mind Over Matter May Really Diminish Pain
    08 Apr 2011 

    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 unpleasant 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
    Copyright: Medical News Today


    Reminds me of something I read a bazillion years ago.

    Pain cannot be outright destroyed, not though natural means, but, the “secret” lies in putting pain in its place.

    The gist was — Imagine taking your pain and making it into a burning ball, like a miniature sun, blazing with the ‘heat’ of your pain.  Now imagine compressing that ball, making it burn even hotter as it gets smaller — shrinking it down from a basketball to a baseball to an orange to a marble to something as small as a tiny BB pellet (if possible… sometimes it hurts where it ‘only’ goes down to an orange).

    Now, mentally imagine that tiny blazing sphere moving out of your body and pushed away until it is a good three or four feet away.    Once outside yourself, it can again be compressed to a tiny pinprick of ‘light’ left to float away into the sky or sink down into the ground.    With proper imaging, calm breathing and those darn “Jedi Mind tricks” ,  you have the power to place your pain outside the body and basically ‘push’ it away. 

    Sometimes pain is pain and it is hard to ‘get all centered and focused and in any ‘right frame of mind’ to even think about trying this…. basically it takes time to suppress and master according to the amount of power said pain has over subject. However, training to suppress and accept one form of pain can lead to becoming less overtaken by its lesser forms. But the key lesson to learn from this is that if one can suppress, one can control… to a degree.

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