Mindfulness as a wellbeing practice is going from strength to strength, thanks arguably to its many perceived benefits for mental wellbeing. And now researchers have found it could also help you deal with something that’s as physical as it gets – pain.
Researchers writing in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience have found just a brief introduction to mindfulness could help you deal not just with physical pain but with negative emotions too. The trial admittedly wasn’t a big one with just 17 participants. But the results were significant, say the experts.
Volunteers took part in two tests while having their brains scanned. In the first test researchers applied both warm and painfully strong heat to the participants’ arms. Then in the second the volunteers were shown a series of neutral and negative images taken from the International Affective Picture System (standard images widely used in psychological research). In both tests they used the mindfulness techniques they’d just learned in a 20-minute introduction. Then they did the tests again while responding normally (that is, without using mindfulness).
The volunteers didn’t just say they felt less pain and fewer negative emotions while using mindfulness, but their brain scans confirmed it. Also the neurological changes didn’t happen in the prefrontal cortex – the area of the brain that controls conscious or rational decision making. This, say the researchers, suggests the volunteers’ experiences weren’t the result of conscious willpower.
“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,” says Professor Hedy Kober, one of the study’s authors
Read about how mindfulness could also help you conquer your fears.