Brain and Behavior, Mindfulness

How and Why Mindfulness Alleviates Pain

Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present in the current moment, acknowledging physical and cognitive perceptions without judgement or analysis. While this may sound simple, for many of us the art of just breathing and noticing internal energy and perceptions without agenda or evaluation can seem impossible to attain. New research published in the July 2018 journal of Pain describes an innate propensity for such meditative processes, called trait mindfulness.

Medical News Today also reported on these research findings spearheaded by Fadel Zeidan, PhD, with the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina. Based on prior research from the National Institutes of Health, Zeidan sought to explore how and why mindfulness alleviates pain. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), scientists examined 76 ‘mindfulness newbies’ when exposed to warm (95 degrees Fahrenheit) or potentially painful (120 degrees Fahrenheit) heat stimulation. Participants with higher baseline scores on the Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory reported less pain perception and had better resting-state connectivity fMRI outcomes.

In other words, those with more innate trait mindfulness were better able to maintain a state of peacefulness despite negative external stimulus. Does that mean I’m doomed to chronic pain and irritation if I can’t sit still and feel myself breathe for more than ten seconds? Decidedly not: with a will to pursue it, mindfulness meditation training is available and effective to help increase internal peace and decrease the perception of pain.

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