Zen meditation - a centuries-old practice that
can provide mental, physical and emotional balance - may reduce
pain according to Université de Montréal researchers. A new
study in the January edition of Psychosomatic Medicine
reports that Zen meditators have lower pain sensitivity both
in and out of a meditative state compared to non-meditators.
Joshua A. Grant, a doctoral student in the Department of Physiology,
co-authored the paper with Pierre Rainville, a professor and
researcher at the Université de Montréal and it's affiliated
Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal. The main goal
of their study was to examine whether trained meditators perceived
pain differently than non-meditators.
"While previous studies have shown that teaching chronic pain
patients to meditate is beneficial, very few studies have looked
at pain processing in healthy, highly trained meditators. This
study was a first step in determining how or why meditation
might influence pain perception." says Grant.
Meditate away the pain
For this study, the scientists recruited 13 Zen meditators
with a minimum of 1,000 hours of practice to undergo a pain
test and contrasted their reaction with 13 non-meditators. Subjects
included 10 women and 16 men between the ages of 22 to 56.
The administered pain test was simple: A thermal heat source,
a computer controlled heating plate, was pressed against the
calves of subjects intermittently at varying temperatures. Heat
levels began at 43 degrees Celsius and went to a maximum of
53 degrees Celsius depending on each participant's sensitivity.
While quite a few of the meditators tolerated the maximum temperature,
all control subjects were well below 53 degrees Celsius.
Grant and Rainville noticed a marked difference in how their
two test groups reacted to pain testing - Zen meditators had
much lower pain sensitivity (even without meditating) compared
to non-meditators. During the meditation-like conditions it
appeared meditators further reduced their pain partly through
slower breathing: 12 breaths per minute versus an average of
15 breaths for non-meditators.
"Slower breathing certainly coincided with reduced pain and
may influence pain by keeping the body in a relaxed state."
says Grant. "While previous studies have found that the emotional
aspects of pain are influenced by meditation, we found that
the sensation itself, as well as the emotional response, is
different in meditators."
The ultimate result? Zen meditators experienced an 18 percent
reduction in pain intensity. "If meditation can change the way
someone feels pain, thereby reducing the amount of pain medication
required for an ailment, that would be clearly beneficial,"