Zen Meditation Eases Pain

February 6, 2009
Shivani Parmar, MPH

Researchers have determined that the ancient practice of Zen meditation may have pain reducing qualities.

Researchers from the Université de Montréal have determined that the ancient practice of Zen meditation may have pain reducing qualities. Published in the January issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, their new study shows that “Zen meditators have lower pain sensitivity both in and out of a meditative state compared to non-meditators.”

Joshua A. Grant, co-author of the study, stated that while “previous studies have shown that teaching chronic pain patients to meditate is beneficial, very few studies have looked at pain processing in healthy, highly trained meditators. This study was a first step in determining how or why meditation might influence pain perception.”

The study examined the reactions during a pain test of 13 Zen meditators who had at least 1,000 hours of practice against the reactions of 13 non-meditators. Participants were between the ages of 22 and 56. For the pain test, a “thermal heat source, a computer-controlled heating plate, was pressed against the calves of subjects intermittently at varying temperatures. Heat levels began at 43 degrees Celsius and went to a maximum of 53 degrees Celsius depending on each participant’s sensitivity.” Several of the meditators were able to cope with the maximum temperature. All of the non-meditators however bowed out below the maximum temperature.

There was a major difference between the reactions of the two groups during the pain testing. The sensitivity of Zen meditators was considerably lower, even when they were not meditating. Through slower breathing meant to simulate meditation conditions, meditators further reduced their pain sensitivity. Zen meditators ultimately reduced their pain intensity by 18%.

Grant noted that “Slower breathing certainly coincided with reduced pain and may influence pain by keeping the body in a relaxed state…While previous studies have found that the emotional aspects of pain are influenced by meditation, we found that the sensation itself, as well as the emotional response, is different in meditators.”

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More on Zen training, meditation, and related healthcare benefit:

Zen Training Speeds the Mind's Return After Distraction, Brain Scans Reveal

Compassion Meditation Changes the Brain

Patients Do Better with Psychotherapist Who Practice Zen Meditation, Study Suggests

specialty: pain management; primary care