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Meditation Can Be Better Than Pain Pills, Study Finds

in MUST READS, Thanks for the tip, YD News

Good news all ye meditaters! Not only will you have a calmer, clearer mind, you’ll have less pain. Or so a study on the effects of meditation and pain relieving suggests.

The study, conducted at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina, took 15 healthy volunteers completely new to meditation and had them attend four, 20-minute classes learning “focused attention” technique, or mindfulness. The individuals were given special brain scans (called arterial spin labeling magnetic resonance imaging – ASL MRI) to monitor brain activity before and after the training.

To test pain, these lucky volunteers were treated to a “heating device” on their legs while scientists laughed maniacally recorded the data. Fortunately, the meditation training helped! Every participant’s pain ratings were reduced, with decreases ranging from 11-93 percent. Oh, and to get even more science-y, meditation “significantly reduced brain activity in the primary somatosensory cortex” an area of your noggin with a major role in creating the sensation of where and how intense you’re feeling painful stimuli.

So how powerful was the meditation on easing pain?

“We found a big effect – about a 40 per cent reduction in pain intensity and a 57 per cent reduction in pain unpleasantness,” said [lead study author Dr. Fadel] Zeidan.

“Meditation produced a greater reduction in pain than even morphine or other pain-relieving drugs, which typically reduce pain ratings by about 25 per cent.”

Wow. If you have a meditation practice you may already recognize the effects of relieving emotional distress, but this is a whole new elbow to the ribs. Now don’t go all Little Shop of Horrors and start testing this out on people.

ps. we love when things like this make it to Gawker. tickled, really.

[Via Telegraph UK]

*PHOTO above from the YogaDork Gallery!



14 comments… add one
  • Love this! It’s about time meditation becomes mainstream. I am always shocked how hard the simple act of sitting still and quiet can be, yet the benefits are enormous. Just posted on How to Meditate Effectively (in 7 Steps) on my blog: http://zenfriend.org/how-to-meditate-effectively-2/. Enjoy! Thanks for the post.

  • Meditators. Thanks for sharing this….

  • Summer

    I have chronic illness and when the pain is so awful even the meds can’t handle it – meditation always helped. I would picture a safe, warm, comfortable place and go there in my mind.

    Absolutely the best thing – and I love that it helps long term as well. Totally passing this info along. Thanks for sharing!

  • If we have a meditation practice you may already recognize the effects of relieving emotional distress and well you can gain many things in life…

  • really liked the back-up science data

    and ““Meditation produced a greater reduction in pain than even morphine” – wow

    thanks so much, passing this along to a few folk 😉

  • We’re stronger than we think … it’s usually the mind that stops us and it’s because of an anticipation of fear more than pain itself, so this study supports that. Good read!

  • Meditation is so powerful! So easy yet so hard. Thank you for sharing such a great post!

  • Stewart J. Lawrence

    The problem?

    Small-sample studies like this don’t actually “prove” anything. It’s basically anecdotal evidence masquerading as “science.” It’s a lot of what we see in the yoga industry these days, and what in other industries is commonly referred to as “junk” science.

    If you really want to delve into these issues, you might start with the magisterial 2007 review of the literature on meditation below

    It examines over 600 studies, many of them just like this latest one, and concludes that the science – a large enough sample size, with the proper research protocols – simply isn’t there to support the case for major therapeutic benefits from meditation.

    Evid Rep Technol Assess (Full Rep). 2007 Jun;(155):1-263.
    Meditation practices for health: state of the research.
    Ospina MB, Bond K, Karkhaneh M, Tjosvold L, Vandermeer B, Liang Y, Bialy L, Hooton N, Buscemi N, Dryden DM, Klassen TP.


    To review and synthesize the state of research on a variety of meditation practices, including: the specific meditation practices examined; the research designs employed and the conditions and outcomes examined; the efficacy and effectiveness of different meditation practices for the three most studied conditions; the role of effect modifiers on outcomes; and the effects of meditation on physiological and neuropsychological outcomes.


    Comprehensive searches were conducted in 17 electronic databases of medical and psychological literature up to September 2005. Other sources of potentially relevant studies included hand searches, reference tracking, contact with experts, and gray literature searches.


    A Delphi method was used to develop a set of parameters to describe meditation practices. Included studies were comparative, on any meditation practice, had more than 10 adult participants, provided quantitative data on health-related outcomes, and published in English. Two independent reviewers assessed study relevance, extracted the data and assessed the methodological quality of the studies.


    Five broad categories of meditation practices were identified (Mantra meditation, Mindfulness meditation, Yoga, Tai Chi, and Qi Gong). Characterization of the universal or supplemental components of meditation practices was precluded by the theoretical and terminological heterogeneity among practices. Evidence on the state of research in meditation practices was provided in 813 predominantly poor-quality studies. The three most studied conditions were hypertension, other cardiovascular diseases, and substance abuse. Sixty-five intervention studies examined the therapeutic effect of meditation practices for these conditions. Meta-analyses based on low-quality studies and small numbers of hypertensive participants showed that TM(R), Qi Gong and Zen Buddhist meditation significantly reduced blood pressure. Yoga helped reduce stress. Yoga was no better than Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction at reducing anxiety in patients with cardiovascular diseases. No results from substance abuse studies could be combined. The role of effect modifiers in meditation practices has been neglected in the scientific literature. The physiological and neuropsychological effects of meditation practices have been evaluated in 312 poor-quality studies. Meta-analyses of results from 55 studies indicated that some meditation practices produced significant changes in healthy participants.


    Many uncertainties surround the practice of meditation. Scientific research on meditation practices does not appear to have a common theoretical perspective and is characterized by poor methodological quality. Firm conclusions on the effects of meditation practices in healthcare cannot be drawn based on the available evidence. Future research on meditation practices must be more rigorous in the design and execution of studies and in the analysis and reporting of results.

  • LOVE it when we get data that supports what we’ve known all along!

  • It’s always nice when science and supports the wisdom of the ages. For me, it was hard to get started, but after learning to get out of my head…..wonderful!

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