When it comes to relaxing, meditation has long been considered one of the best natural ways to clear your mind. But in terms of the actual power of sitting quietly and breathing deeply, it’s always been hard to say just what kind of impact meditation has. Until now.
Dr. Fadel Zeidan of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, who has been studying mindfulness for 15 years, has some valuable new information about the effects of meditation. He recently conducted a study that found that meditation can reduce pain by up to 44%. Yes, that’s a very specific figure. So, how exactly did he figure that out? Let’s talk it out.
Dr. Zeidan recruited a group of 75 relatively pain-free participants for his study. Each participant was administered a small burn with a 120-degree thermal probe — in the name of science. If you’re thinking that burning participants is a little (or a lot) extreme, don’t worry: It was large enough to cause pain and discomfort (which were required for the study to work), but small enough to not cause any long-term damage. All of this went down while participants were in an MRI machine.
Next, the participants were sorted into three groups, all with different techniques for assuaging the pain of those mostly-harmless burns. The first was given a placebo cream, the second was taught non-mindful meditation (and, oddly enough, made to listen to a boring book on tape during 20 minute sessions), and the third was given training on how to properly meditate, and asked to sit up straight for 20 minutes with their eyes closed and practice some mindful meditation.
“Our subjects are taught to focus on the changing sensations of breath and to follow the breath with the mind’s eye as it goes down the chest and abdomen,” Zeidan told Time.
Four days later, everyone came back and was touched with the probe again in the MRI machine, and told to use the method they had been given. They also were given a lever to indicate their own level of pain.
Researchers found that meditation provided more relief than both the cream and the faux meditation, with the intensity of the physical pain cut by 27% and the emotional pain cut by 44%. The study also found that different parts of the brain are used during mindful meditation, which could be part of why the treatment worked so well.
What this means for treatment is yet to be seen, as the study is still very new and preliminary. But next time you’re feeling achy or bummed, maybe give meditation a shot! It could make a pretty significant difference.
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