Meditation Practice Linked to Less Pain Sensitivity

Experienced Zen meditators needed higher temperature stimulation to feel moderate pain
By Eric Metcalf
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Jan. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Experience in Zen meditation is associated with reduced pain sensitivity, a finding supporting the value of mindfulness-based meditation, according to research published in the January issue of Psychosomatic Medicine.

Joshua A. Grant, and Pierre Rainville, Ph.D., of the Universite de Montreal in Quebec, Canada, analyzed data from 13 experienced Zen meditators and 13 age- and gender-matched controls who were unfamiliar with meditation. All were exposed to a heating device on the calf that provided a series of episodes of non-painful warmth or moderately painful heat. In different experimental conditions, participants were told to focus all attention on the stimulation, observe the sensation in a mindful way, or were given no task.

Meditators needed significantly higher temperatures to produce moderate pain than controls (49.9 Celsius versus 48.2 Celsius), which the authors classified as a large difference. While attending mindfully, meditators had less pain, while control subjects did not, the investigators found. The analgesic effect in meditators was related to their amount of meditation experience, the report indicates.

"Overall, the meditators breathed at a slower rate than control subjects in all conditions and their mean respiratory pattern followed that of their pain ratings. In contrast, respiratory rate did not change noticeably across conditions in the control subjects. Slower breathing rates (typically meditators) were associated with less reactivity and with lower pain sensitivity," the authors write. "These relationships suggested that the meditators were in a more relaxed, non-reactive physiological state throughout the study, which culminated in the mindfulness condition and which influenced the degree to which they experienced pain."

The study was supported by a Mind and Life Institute grant.

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