About to Get Hurt? Meditate.

Researchers have shown that meditation produces a 40 percent reduction in pain intensity and a 57 percent reduction in pain unpleasantness.

Fifteen healthy volunteers (who had never meditated) attended four 20-minute classes to learn a meditation technique known as “focused attention.” This is a form of mindfulness meditation where people are taught to attend to the breath and let go of distracting thoughts and emotions.

They actually caused people pain after the meditation (or non-meditation). Cool. 

Not that it makes any difference in the result, but I like when they can correlate brain scan differences with outcome differences:

meditation significantly reduced brain activity in the primary somatosensory cortex, an area that is crucially involved in creating the feeling of where and how intense a painful stimulus is.

The research also showed that meditation increased brain activity in areas including the anterior cingulate cortex, anterior insula and the orbito-frontal cortex, which shape how the brain builds an experience of pain from nerve signals from the body. The more these areas were activated by meditation, the more that pain was reduced.

I didn’t notice what, if anything, they did to control for placebo effects. They should also test whether just breathing deeply, without any long meditation practice, explains some of the effect.