Neuroscientists have just discovered how people have used mindfulness meditation to attempt to lessen their suffering for millennia.
The most recent of these research looked at how mindfulness influenced both brain activity and pain perception at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine. This study has been published in the journal ‘PAIN.’
The study, published in the journal PAIN on July 7 of this year, found that mindfulness meditation blocked the flow of information between brain areas responsible for pain perception and those that develop a sense of self.
Pain signals continue to pass from the body to the brain in the proposed procedure, but because the person has less control over those painful sensations, they experience less pain and suffering.
According to senior author Fadel Zeidan, PhD, associate professor of anesthesiology at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, one of the primary underpinnings of mindfulness is the idea that you are not your experiences. We can now see how this works in the brain during an extreme pain episode. “You teach yourself to notice thoughts and experiences without identifying them with your ego or sense of self.”
On the first day of the trial, 40 research volunteers endured agonising leg heating while having their brains examined.
After being subjected to a series of these heat stimuli, participants were asked to assess their average pain levels throughout the experiment.
Following that, participants were split into two groups. The participants in the programme went through four separate 20-minute mindfulness training sessions. During these sessions, they were instructed to focus on their breathing in order to reduce self-referential processing by first noticing their thoughts, feelings, and sensations before letting them go without evaluating or responding to them. In the control group, the four sessions were spent listening to an audiobook.
Individuals in the mindfulness group were now told to meditate in the sweltering heat, whilst those in the control group were told to rest with their eyes closed on the last day of the trial.
Both groups’ brain activity was assessed again.
Researchers observed that individuals who actively meditated felt pain that was 32% less acute and 33% less unpleasant.
We were ecstatic to discover that these analgesic advantages could be felt by everyone, not just seasoned meditators, explained Zeidan.
This is a genuinely significant discovery for the millions of people searching for a fast, non-drug solution to ease pain. When the researchers examined participants’ brain activity during the task, they discovered that mindfulness-induced pain relief was associated with decreased synchronisation between the thalamus (a brain region that relays incoming sensory information to the rest of the brain) and parts of the default mode network (a collection of brain areas most active while a person is mind-wandering or processing their own thoughts and feelings as opposed to the outside world).
One of these default mode regions is the precuneus, a brain region involved in basic aspects of self-awareness and one of the first regions to go offline when a person loses consciousness.
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A distinct prefrontal cortex is the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which includes a variety of subregions that work together to process how you relate to or value your experiences. As these parts were disconnected or turned off, the individual claimed to experience more pain alleviation.
Zeidan claims that for many people, the emotional suffering and frustration that come along with chronic pain can have a more detrimental effect than the pain itself. Because it becomes ingrained in who they are as individuals and something they are unable to escape, their misery increases.
By letting go of the self-referential judgement of pain, mindfulness meditation could provide a novel method for healing pain. Additionally free, anyplace may be used for mindfulness meditation.
Zeidan emphasised his wish for training to be made even more accessible and integrated into routine outpatient operations.
We think we’re on the verge of figuring out a special non-opioid pain mechanism in which the default mode network plays a key role in producing analgesia. We are enthusiastic to research the neuroscience of mindfulness and its therapeutic uses for a variety of illnesses.
Co-authors include Grace Posey from Tulane University, Youngkyoo Jung from the University of California Davis, and Youngkyoo Posey from Tulane University. Gabriel Riegner, Valeria Oliva, and William Mobley from UC San Diego are also involved.
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