What Zen meditators don't think about won't hurt them

Dec 08, 2010

Zen meditation has many health benefits, including a reduced sensitivity to pain. According to new research from the Universite de Montreal, meditators do feel pain but they simply don't dwell on it as much. These findings, published in the month's issue of Pain, may have implications for chronic pain sufferers, such as those with arthritis, back pain or cancer.

"Our previous research found that Zen meditators have lower . The aim of the current study was to determine how they are achieving this," says senior author Pierre Rainville, researcher at the Université de Montréal and the Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal. "Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we demonstrated that although the meditators were aware of the pain, this sensation wasn't processed in the part of their brains responsible for appraisal, reasoning or memory formation. We think that they feel the sensations, but cut the process short, refraining from interpretation or labelling of the stimuli as painful."

Training the brain

Rainville and his colleagues compared the response of 13 Zen meditators to 13 non-meditators to a painful heat stimulus. Pain perception was measured and compared with functional MRI data. The most experienced Zen practitioners showed lower pain responses and decreased activity in the brain areas responsible for cognition, emotion and memory (the prefrontal cortex, amygdala and hippocampus). In addition, there was a decrease in the communication between a part of the brain that senses the pain and the prefrontal cortex.

"Our findings lead to new insights into mind/brain function," says first author, Joshua Grant, a doctoral student at the Université de Montréal. "These results challenge current concepts of mental control, which is thought to be achieved by increasing cognitive activity or effort. Instead, we suggest it is possible to self-regulate in a more passive manner, by 'turning off' certain areas of the brain, which in this case are normally involved in processing pain."

"The results suggest that Zen meditators may have a training-related ability to disengage some higher-order brain processes, while still experiencing the stimulus," says Rainville. "Such an ability could have widespread and profound implications for pain and emotion regulation and cognitive control. This behaviour is consistent with the mindset of Zen and with the notion of mindfulness."

Explore further: Demi Lovato gets vocal about mental illness

More information: www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/03043959

Related Stories

Zen meditation fends off pain

Feb 24, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- People can reduce their sensitivity to pain by thickening their brain, according to a new study published in a special issue of the American Psychological Association journal, Emotion. Resear ...

Study finds Zen meditation alleviates pain

Feb 03, 2009

Zen meditation - a centuries-old practice that can provide mental, physical and emotional balance - may reduce pain according to Université de Montréal researchers. A new study in the January edition of Psychosomatic Me ...

'Emotions increase or decrease pain': researchers

Nov 10, 2009

Getting a flu shot this fall? Canadians scientists have found that focusing on a pretty image could alleviate the sting of that vaccine. According to a new Université de Montréal study, published in the latest ...

Pain automatically activates facial muscle groups

Oct 27, 2008

A study has found that people who facially express pain in a more intense way are not exaggerating if their perception of a painful stimulation is controlled. The study conducted by Miriam Kunz is published in the November ...

Recommended for you

The new normal? Addressing gun violence in America

1 hour ago

Article Spotlight features summaries written in collaboration with authors of recently published articles by the Journals Program of the American Psychological Association. The articles are nominated by the editors as noteworthy ...

Demi Lovato gets vocal about mental illness

4 hours ago

(HealthDay)—Demi Lovato huddled in the back of her tour bus, eyes wet with tears as she watched a horde of fans streaming into the venue where she was about to play.

Acquiring 'perfect' pitch may be possible for some adults

4 hours ago

If you're a musician, this sounds too good to be true: University of Chicago psychologists have been able to train some adults to develop the prized musical ability of absolute pitch, and the training's effects ...

How men and women see each other when online dating

6 hours ago

In the world of online dating, nothing is as it seems. But that doesn't stop many of us from leaping to the wrong conclusions about people. A recent paper presented at the Annual Conference of the International ...

We trust kids to know what gender they are

7 hours ago

I will start by asking two questions: at what age did you know your gender, and do you think someone else had to tell you what it was? I'm director of mental health at a leading gender clinic in the US. Our clinic is a half-decade old – and in that short pe ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.