In a recent study, scientists at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine examined how mindfulness affected both brain activity and perception of pain. This research has been published in a journal called ‘PAIN’. The study, which was released on July 7 this year in PAIN, demonstrated that mindfulness meditation cut off the flow of information between brain regions responsible for pain perception and those that generate a feeling of self. In the suggested process, pain signals still travel from the body to the brain, but because the person has less control over those painful feelings, they experience less pain and suffering.
The notion that you are not your experiences is one of the fundamental foundations of mindfulness, according to senior author Fadel Zeidan, PhD, associate professor of anesthesiology at the UC San Diego School of Medicine. We’re now able to observe how this works in the brain during the experience of intense pain. “You train yourself to perceive ideas and sensations without attaching your ego or sense of self to them.” 40 study volunteers underwent excruciating leg heating while having their brains scanned on the first day of the experiment. Participants were required to rate their average pain levels throughout the experiment after being exposed to a series of these heat stimuli.
After that, participants were divided into two groups. The group’s participants went through four distinct 20-minute mindfulness training sessions. They were told to pay attention to their breathing during these sessions in order to lessen self-referential processing by first noting their thoughts, feelings, and sensations before letting them go without analysing or reacting to them. The four sessions in the control group were spent listening to an audiobook. The individuals in the mindfulness group were now directed to meditate amid the excruciating heat, whereas those in the control group were instructed to relax with their eyes closed on the study’s last day. Both groups had their brain activity examined again.
Researchers discovered that those who were actively meditating experienced pain that was 32 per cent less intense and 33 per cent less unpleasant. We were thrilled to establish that these analgesic benefits may be felt by everyone, not just experienced meditators, said Zeidan. For the millions of individuals looking for a quick, non-drug way to relieve pain, this is a truly significant discovery.
The team discovered that mindfulness-induced pain relief was linked to 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 when they examined participants’ brain activity during the task (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). 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, is one of these default mode regions. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is a different one; it has a number of subregions that cooperate to process how you relate to or value your experiences. The subject reported feeling higher pain relief as these sections were disconnected or deactivated.
According to Zeidan, the emotional anguish and frustration that accompany chronic pain frequently have a greater negative impact on many people than the actual pain itself. Their suffering intensifies because it becomes a part of who they are as people, something they can’t escape. Mindfulness meditation may offer a new approach to treating pain by letting go of the self-referential appraisal of pain. Additionally cost-free, mindfulness meditation can be done anywhere. Zeidan expressed his desire that training may be integrated into common outpatient procedures and made even more accessible.
We believe we are close to identifying a unique non-opioid pain mechanism in which the default mode network is crucial in generating analgesia. We are eager to investigate mindfulness’s neuroscience and possible therapeutic applications for a range of diseases. Gabriel Riegner, Valeria Oliva, and William Mobley from UC San Diego are co-authors, as are Grace Posey from Tulane University, Youngkyoo Jung from the University of California Davis, and Youngkyoo Posey from Tulane.