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Even a short introduction to meditation can alleviate pain

New research has found that a 30-minute introduction to awareness can significantly reduce negative emotions and alleviate physical pain—even for those who have never previously practiced it.

Even people new to mindfulness meditation can reap the benefits after only a short introduction.
Even people new to mindfulness meditation can reap the benefits after only a short introduction.

Research has shown that there are multiple benefits to physical and emotional health from being mindful and being aware of them.

There are two other areas where awareness can be of help with: regulation of discomfort and emotion.

Neuroscientific studies showed that participants experienced less physical pain as a result of practicing attentiveness, and researchers proposed that this may have consequences for chronic pain management.

Further studies using brain scans have shown that awareness helps control emotions which can help people overcome addiction or lower their levels of stress.

Is it possible, though, that someone who has never meditated before might reap these benefits? This is what a research group— led by Hedy Kober, an associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at Yale University in New Haven, CT, has set out to investigate.

In particular, Kober and colleagues wanted to see whether or not people with no prior experience of mindfulness could benefit from a 30-minute introduction to the technique.

The results — now published in the journal Social, Cognitive, and Affective Neuroscience — do seem to suggest that a brief introduction to mindfulness can help relieve pain and reduce negative emotions.

Mindfulness, pain, and negative emotions

Within two experimental conditions, Kober and team tested 17 “meditation-naïve” participants, aged 18–45.

Participants have had to look at 30 negative images vs. 30 neutral images in one condition. In the other, painful vs. warm-temperature stimuli were experienced 30 times each.

The researchers trained the participants in mindfulness and how to complete the tasks over a period of 30 minutes prior to the experiments.

During this time, the researchers instructed the participants to “react naturally in the control condition whatever[ their] response might be,” so that the scientists could establish a baseline measure of the emotional response.

This was achieved by the researchers doing the participants ‘ brain imaging scans as they were completing the tasks.

Then, they asked the participants “to attend and accept their experience as it is.” This was the mindset of acceptance, which consisted of two components: “attention to present moment sensation” and “non-judgmental acceptance of sensation as it is, allowing it to exist without trying to avoid or react to it.”

For example, the researchers instructed them to accept the sensation in a non-judgmental manner in the experiments that involved the physical application of heat to the forearms of the participants.

“[ P]participants were told’ if you feel a feeling of warmth on your forearm, you should just attend to what’s felt, without making any judgment of the’ goodness’ or’ badness’ of that feeling,” the study authors explained in their paper.

The effect of 30 minutes of mindfulness

The tests showed less physical pain and negative emotions recorded by the participants in the state of mindfulness.

This coincided with changes in their brains. According to the study authors, “Emotion regulation using mindful acceptance was associated with reductions in reported pain and negative affect, reduced amygdala responses to negative images, and reduced heat-evoked responses in medial and lateral pain systems.”

Referring to the physical pain experiments, Kober explains, “It’s as if the brain was responding to warm temperature, not very high heat.”

“It’s as if the brain responds to warm temperatures, not very high heaven.

“The ability to stay in the moment when experiencing pain or negative emotions suggests there may be clinical benefits to mindfulness practice in chronic conditions as well — even without long meditation practice.”

– Hedy Kober

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