If meditating changes the way the brain functions, does this then mean meditation for pain relief is possible?

Are you someone who tends to worry and/or resist thoughts before a dental appointment?

Do you feel tense when you’re sat in ‘that’ chair having treatment or indeed whilst sitting in the often silent waiting room beforehand?

Many of those who do suffer from this pre-dental dread can actually feel weak and shaky after an hour in ‘that chair’.

is meditation for pain management a good idea I can remember feeling just like that when I was younger and it felt truly overwhelming and stressful. What we now know of course is the importance of relaxing, because feelings of anxiousness or fearfulness causes adrenaline and cortisol to flood into your body causing it to become tense.

The following excerpt is from an article about a midwife clarifying how you can evoke your own natural relaxation response to relieve pain.

When Subhana Barzaghi was a midwife she taught breathing techniques and meditation for pain caused by contractions.

“Most of us have a habitual reaction to pain – an aversion that we react against,”

Subhana, who is now a meditation teacher at North Sydney’s Bluegum Sangha, explains.

“Meditation teaches us to observe rather than get caught up in the strong sensations we are experiencing. We learn to stop labeling and therefore stop reacting. In this way, instead of tightening up against it and resisting, which causes further tension, we start to soften into it. As we do this, the pain can begin to soften and subside.”

In recent years, the 5000 year old intuitive teachings of meditation were given the backing of science.

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Here’s why the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center believe meditation can be more effective than morphine…

This is the first study to show that only a little over an hour of meditation training can dramatically reduce both the experience of pain and pain-related brain activation”

… said Fadel Zeidan, PhD, lead author of the study and post-doctoral research fellow at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

“We found a big effect – about a 40 per cent reduction in pain intensity and a 57 per cent reduction in pain unpleasantness. 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.”

In the study, 15 volunteers, who had never previously meditated, were taught mindfulness meditation techniques over four 20-minute sessions.

Mindfulness meditation teaches the individual to focus the attention on an object, such as the breath.

try breathing meditation for pain

“This concentration brings the awareness to the present moment, allowing the individual to experience what’s going on at a subtle level” Subhana explains.

“As the mind stops jumping around like a 24-hour TV channel, we develop our sense of calm and begin to cultivate equanimity and serenity. In this way, we enhance our own natural relaxation response.”

During the study, participants had their brain activity measured, with an arterial spin labeling magnetic resonance imaging (ASL MRI), both before and after meditation, while they were subjected to a pain-inducing heating device – heated to 120 Fahrenheit (or almost 50 degrees Celsius) – over five-minute periods.

The scans found that after meditation, participant’s pain was reduced by as much as 93 per cent. They also showed that activity in the somatosensory cortex – the region of the brain associated with pain response – which was rapid prior to meditation, was significantly diminished afterwards.

Movement in the anterior cingulate cortex, anterior insula and the orbito-frontal cortex however, was increased after meditation. All of which proves that if you’re considering practicing meditation for pain relief, stay focused… It can be a very powerful and natural pain killer!

“These areas all shape how the brain builds an experience of pain from nerve signals that are coming in from the body,”

… says Robert C Coghill, PhD, senior author of the study and associate professor of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist.

“Consistent with this function, the more that these areas were activated by meditation the more that pain was reduced.

One of the reasons that meditation may have been so effective in blocking pain was that it did not work at just one place in the brain, but instead reduced pain at multiple levels of processing.”

As a result of the study, Wake Forest recommended that meditation for pain be used as standard clinical practice.

This scientific endorsement came as a welcome, but not unexpected result for those in the profession.

“Meditation allows you to achieve a level of focus and concentration where you are deeply calm and even blissful,”

Subhana says.

“Certainly, this shifting of mind and body state at times of intense stress has the power to be stronger than drugs.”

I hope you are getting the most from your little daily meditation, whichever technique you’re practicing.

If you haven’t currently adopted a preferred method, find out how best to begin here.

We’d love to know if you’ve used meditation as form of pain relief before and how you found it, just let us know in the comments section below 🙂

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