Can Meditation Reduce Pain Symptoms?

One of the newest focuses for pain management has been around for thousands of years: Meditation. No longer considered a fringe practice, meditation has found its way into science labs and medical practice because of its proven results in reducing pain. How does meditation reduce pain? It's as simple and natural as breathing.

Ever since 1975, when Dr. Herbert Benson, MD, cardiologist and Director Emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, pioneered mind-body research in Western medicine; doctors have acknowledged that meditation plays a significant role in reducing stress responses. Increased stress and anxiety are associated with increased perceptions of pain. Over the last few decades, the benefits of meditation, especially in patients with chronic conditions, has gotten a lot of attention.

Experiencing meditation's many benefits doesn't require years of training either. A recent study performed at the University of North Carolina found that relatively short and simple mindfulness meditation training has a significant positive effect on pain management. Mindfulness meditation reduces pain awareness and sensitivity because it trains patients to pay attention to sensations at the present moment rather than anticipating or dwelling on future pain. This reduced anxiety and resulted in less pain. Research subjects acknowledged the pain and then let it go and brought their attention back to the present.

A study, released by scientists at The University of Manchester confirms that meditation trains the brain to be more present-focused and spend less time anticipating future negative events. This may be why meditation is effective at reducing the recurrence of depression, which makes chronic pain considerably worse.

Mindfulness meditation involves any activity that focuses your awareness on present-moment experiences. It could be washing your hands, knitting or even walking but simple breath awareness is probably the most studied and easily accessible form of meditation. Sharon Ward, a meditation instructor at The Movement Center (a yoga and meditation center) in Portland, OR says, "Learning to meditate is easy and free. The benefits quickly expand from your health to your life."
How do you start meditating? Ward suggests starting a daily practice of just ten minutes a day and building from there. Sit quietly in a comfortable spot, with your body relaxed and your back straight. Close your eyes and follow your breath as it comes in and goes out. Then, focus on the four distinct parts of each breath; inhale, pause, exhale, pause. Give this your full attention. When you're ready for more, find a meditation teacher."


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