Mind over matter: can zen meditation help you forget about pain?

Living without pain may not require potent drugs, according to a new study published in the medical journal Pain — all you need is a cushion, a quiet corner and maybe a mantra.

Previous research has found that people who practice Zen meditation are less sensitive to pain. For the new study, researchers at the University of Montreal aimed to figure out why. They exposed 13 Zen masters and 13 comparable non-practitioners to equal degrees of painful heat while measuring their brain activity in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner.

The meditators reported feeling less pain than the control group did. What’s more, the Zen group reported feelings of pain at levels below what their neurological output from the fMRI indicated. In other words, their brains were receiving pain signals, but they weren’t translating them to actual feelings of pain.

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