Meditation is a known painkiller, easing people’s pain perception even after brief sessions. Now a study reveals why: Meditation changes the way the brain processes pain signals.
In a study presented Nov. 16 in San Diego at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, researchers reported that practicing a mindful awareness of the body and consciousness for just four days affects pain responses in the brain.
Brain activity decreases in areas devoted to the painful body part and in areas responsible for relaying sensory information. Meanwhile, regions that modulate pain get busy, and volunteers report that pain is less intense and less unpleasant.
Earlier studies suggested meditation reduces anxiety, promotes relaxation and helps people regulate their emotions, said study author Fadel Zeidan, a post-doctoral researcher at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. Also, meditation may reduce pain by essentially making the physical sensations less distressing. “It’s really all about the context of the situation, of the environment,” Zeidan told LiveScience. “Meditation seems to have an overarching sense of attenuating that type of response.”