Many people have extolled the values of meditation. Several religious traditions include meditation in their religious practice. Now, medical researchers are embracing the practice as it has proven to be an actual antidote to pain.
First, what is mindful meditation?
Short answer, it is taking time to sit, breathe and think. The basic steps:
- Choose a location where you can sit, undistracted for at least 10 minutes. No screens in the space! Some people like choosing a wall to look at, and many adorn the wall with significant images for them to focus on, whether these are religious symbols, family pictures of even a nature photograph that brings you peace and tranquility.
- Sit on the floor, on a cushion, or in a flat chair that allows your feet to reach the ground at a 90 degree angle. Make sure that you sit up, that you are not in a position to “wiggle” too much.
- Keep your eyes open. Mindful meditation is not a “shutting out” but a “tuning in”.
- Breathe naturally, but without trying to control your breath. Just be aware.
- Let the thoughts come. Don’t try to force your thinking; rather allow the thoughts to wash over you. You may process some of the thoughts or allow others to just be fleeting ideas.
- At the end, say to yourself, “I have sat. I have breathed. I have thought”.
- Try to do this for ten to fifteen minutes and build up to 30 or even 45 minutes.
The Journal of Neuroscience has published a research study conducted by Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist. The researchers delivered minor pain (120 degree heat) to people who do not report regularly feeling pain. The group was divided into four subsets: one group practiced mindful meditation, one practiced fake mindful meditation, another group applied a fake “pain cream” which was petroleum jelly on their skin, and a fourth group had no treatment.
All participants were then asked to rate their pain’s intensity and their emotional response to it. In addition, the participants received a brain MRI before and after the pain experiments.
The result: the mindful meditation group reported that pain intensity was reduced by 27 percent and by 44 percent for the emotional aspect of pain, much better results than any of the other subsets.
The authors believe mindfulness meditation reduced pain by activating brain regions that are associated with the self-control of pain while deactivating the thalamus, which can serve as an entry point, “telling” the brain about sensory information.
If you are struggling with pain, see if mindful meditation can be of benefit to you. We would like to hear your results and your suggestions as well.