People may often seek to avoid or lessen their feelings of pain, but it’s not always clear how to go about working through this difficult if universal part of life. Some people may seek relief in personal habits or addictions that prove ultimately unhealthy, while others may feel trapped or doomed by chronic pain issues that seem to lack medical solutions. Meditation has been reported by many as having pain-reducing properties, though academic studies of the process involved have long been lacking. Carried out at the University of Manchester in the UK, a study aimed precisely at this inquiry recently suggested that meditation’s ability to ease the perception of pain is related to an associated decrease in the brain’s anticipation of pain itself.
The study involved a number of people experienced in meditation techniques to various degrees, all of whom were familiar with mindfulness meditation, a key concept in some types of modern therapy that include meditation practices. Control participants were not experienced in meditation. The researchers administered pain to participants via a laser device, and monitored brain activity during the experiment. They found that those participants who had the longest experience with meditation were less affected by the laser pain, an occurrence accompanied by different activity within the brain as compared to other participants. This different activity involved a decreased anticipation of pain in the brain, along with an increase in activity in the prefrontal cortex, which suggests that the long-term meditators may have had better control over their focus and attention.
Noting that meditation often encourages experiencing life in the present moment, the researchers suggest that meditation may lower the amount of anticipation of pain as participants pay less attention to expected future negative events. As a considerable number of people who suffer from chronic pain report lacking meaningful pain management programs, the study’s results will likely have a major impact on the potential well-being of clients across a broad spectrum of medical and psychological concerns.
© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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