By Rosa Raponi Newton
Recent research clearly shows that experienced meditators feel less pain compared to those who have no previous mindfulness training. Researchers from the University of Montreal studied 13 long-term meditators who had over 1000 hours of experience and compared their pain responses to a control group of 13 people who had no prior meditation experience. A painful heat stimulus to the calf area was used to elicit a moderate pain response for all participants. The degree of heat was measured at 4 points in time: at baseline, while instructed to focus on the calf area, while instructed to engage in mindfulness meditation, and at a 2nd baseline.
Results showed many differences between experienced meditators and the control group. First, experienced meditators needed a hotter stimulus to report feeling “moderate” pain. Second, while “mindfully” attending to the pain, experienced meditators reported feeling less pain than they had at baseline while the control group reported no changes. Third, when asked to focus on the calf area, the control group reported feeling more pain than they had at baseline. Long-term meditators did not report the same.
This is encouraging news for people who live with pain. Perhaps if we stay committed to a formal meditation practice, we can feel less pain in the moment, and lower our sensitivity to pain over time, as our experience with mindfulness grows.
1. Grant, J. A., & Rainville, P. 2009. Pain sensitivity and analgesic effects of mindful states in Zen meditators: A cross-sectional study. Psychosomatic Medicine, 71, 106-114.