Meditation: Addressing Pain

Meditation: Addressing Pain


The following video about meditation includes
clips from an interview between Dr. Josephine Briggs, Director of the National Center for
Complementary and Integrative Health at the National Institutes of Health and Dr. Richard
J. Davidson, Founder of the Center for Healthy Minds, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Practicing meditation has been show to cause
some changes in the body. New, emerging pain research shows that focusing
on pain, as opposed to being distracted, may change how a person responds to that pain. Many forms of meditation invite the practitioner
to actually focus their attention on the pain itself, and not to turn attention away from
the pain, not to ignore it. And the findings suggest that being able to focus on the pain
does change a person’s subjective responses to the pain, and it also changes the brain
response. One of the regions in the brain that shows
a change in response is the somatosensory cortex. This region processes the different sensory
experiences of an individual, including pain. So, one way that, and this is a surprising
finding, and there are now at least two published studies that have found the same thing, that
during mindfulness meditation many of us thought that all aspects of the neural response to
pain would actually be attenuated. And it turns out that, really not surprisingly in
retrospect, but when you actually focus on the pain itself certain regions of the brain
actually show accentuated response, not diminished response, and those regions of the brain tend
to be the regions that represent the more sensory aspects of the pain. So, for example,
somatosensory cortex. Individuals who focus on pain begin to break
it down into its distinct sensations, such as pressure, tingling, or heat. While this helps a person to cope with pain,
paradoxically, the somatosensory cortex—the area of the brain responsible for processing
pain—shows heightened activity. What you see is that pain is not all that
it’s sort of made up to be, if you will. And you can begin to attend to the more elementary
constituents of the pain. You might feel pressure, you might feel tingling, you might feel heat
sensations, and so you can actually, by carefully attending to the stimulus, you can represent
the information in a more granular way. And what happens, at least by people’s reports
when they do that, is that the affective component, the emotional suffering if you will, or the
fear, begins to subside while the sensory representation paradoxically is actually accentuated. For more information, please visit nccih.nih.gov/meditation