The University of Montreal issued the following news release about a
study published in *Psychosomatic Medicine* and funded by the Canadian
Institutes of Health Research, the Mind and Life Institute Varela Grant
(J.A.G.), & the Fonds de la recherche en sante du Quebec:
Study finds Zen meditation alleviates pain
University of Montreal pain management study in Psychosomatic Medicine
This release is available in French.
Montreal, February 3, 2009 – Zen meditation – a centuries-old practice
that can provide mental, physical and emotional balance – may reduce
pain according to Universite de Montreal researchers. A new study in the
January edition of Psychosomatic Medicine reports that Zen meditators
have lower pain sensitivity both in and out of a meditative state
compared to non-meditators.
Joshua A. Grant, a doctoral student in the Department of Physiology, co-
authored the paper with Pierre Rainville, a professor and researcher at
the Universite de Montreal and it’s affiliated Institut universitaire de
geriatrie de Montreal. The main goal of their study was to examine
whether trained meditators perceived pain differently than non-meditators.
“While previous studies have shown that teaching chronic pain patients
to meditate is beneficial, very few studies have looked at pain
processing in healthy, highly trained meditators. This study was a first
step in determining how or why meditation might influence pain
perception.” says Grant.
Meditate away the pain
For this study, the scientists recruited 13 Zen meditators with a
minimum of 1,000 hours of practice to undergo a pain test and contrasted
their reaction with 13 non-meditators. Subjects included 10 women and 16
men between the ages of 22 to 56.
The administered pain test was simple: A thermal heat source, a computer
controlled heating plate, was pressed against the calves of subjects
intermittently at varying temperatures. Heat levels began at 43 degrees
Celsius and went to a maximum of 53 degrees Celsius depending on each
participant’s sensitivity. While quite a few of the meditators tolerated
the maximum temperature, all control subjects were well below 53 degrees
Grant and Rainville noticed a marked difference in how their two test
groups reacted to pain testing – Zen meditators had much lower pain
sensitivity (even without meditating) compared to non-meditators. During
the meditation-like conditions it appeared meditators further reduced
their pain partly through slower breathing: 12 breaths per minute versus
an average of 15 breaths for non-meditators.
“Slower breathing certainly coincided with reduced pain and may
influence pain by keeping the body in a relaxed state.” says Grant.
“While previous studies have found that the emotional aspects of pain
are influenced by meditation, we found that the sensation itself, as
well as the emotional response, is different in meditators.”
The ultimate result? Zen meditators experienced an 18 percent reduction
in pain intensity. “If meditation can change the way someone feels pain,
thereby reducing the amount of pain medication required for an ailment,
that would be clearly beneficial,” says Grant.