Monking around with Meditation
What are our thoughts on meditation?
I picture a bald monk practicing meditation hour after hour, sitting cross-legged on a stone cold floor. He comes out of a meditative trance with an aura of lightness and bliss. But surely sitting like that on a hard floor must be excruciating and can’t be that rewarding…can it?
A 2018 study (Zeidan et al., 2018) compared mindfulness to a placebo analgesia, such as distraction, in the hope of finding out if mindfulness is linked to lower pain sensitivity. These techniques are believed to positively influence pain.
Think of that time when you were at home with flu with nothing to do. You’re not happy, you’ve got a terrible headache and stuffy nose. Then add to that picture: a good chat to a friend, your favourite meal, or watching a good movie. It helps you feel better. Time away from thinking about that pain is relieving. That’s, somewhat, placebo analgeisa. The above study used MRI – to assess the activation of parts of the brain during an experiment on 76 healthy, inexperienced meditators. Each person was given a pain free stimulation (heat of 35 degrees Celsius) and a painful stimulation (45 degrees Celsius) during an MRI.
Those who scored higher on a mindfulness questionnaire (Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory), felt less pain. They were able to deactivate regions of their brain, as shown on their MRI. This shows that mindfulness gives people the ability to switch off brain regions that support the negative pain experience.
So maybe my monk doesn’t feel the hard floor after all. And you don’t even have to be a seasoned monk-like meditator to experience the benefits! The study suggest that mindfulness meditation changes the contextual evaluation of pain and it is likely to do that dramatically over time and experience. Beginners reframe painful experiences and seasoned meditators may not assess a painful experience.
I find it incredibly powerful that by incorporating mindfulness into our lives, we can actively change our pain experiences for the better.
If you’re experiencing acute or chronic pain, science says that mindfulness meditation can help you.
Pain, sleep and meditation go hand in hand. If you want to reduce your pain, make sure you are taking care of your sleep.