A Moment of Science

Samatha Meditation Could Reduce Pain

Scientists have found that mindfulness meditation, known as "Samatha Meditation," could be reducing the pain that people experience.

monk meditating

Photo: echiner1 (Flickr)

Meditating can help ease pain.

Scientists have found that mindfulness meditation, known as “Samatha Meditation,” could be reducing the pain that people experience.

Measuring Pain Relief

Fifteen research subjects given 120 degrees Fahrenheit heat pulses found the pain fifty-seven percent less unpleasant and forty percent less intense after just four twenty minute meditation sessions.

Isn’t it hard to measure what people are feeling?

Brain Activity

The researchers didn’t just asking people how they felt. They used an MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, machine to measure their brain activity.

The MRI detects how much oxygen brain cells use. The more oxygen the cells use, the more active they are. As pain goes up, activity changes in certain areas of the brain.

Three of those areas are in the frontal cortex, or thinking part of the brain. The anterior cingulate cortex controls blood pressure and heart rate, anticipates reward, and is used in decision making. The anterior insula senses heat, cold, and pain. The orbitofrontal cortex is used in decision making and emotional responses. Activity increased in all three.

Activity And Pain

So, more activity meant they had less pain. Yes. And that wasn’t all.

In a fourth brain area, the thalamus, activity decreased. The thalamus is in charge of routing sensory signals from the body to the brain. So, the people who meditated seemed to be getting fewer pain signals.

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