February 4, 2009

Zen’s slower breathing may lower pain

Canadian researchers found those trained in Zen meditation less sensitive to pain than non-meditators.

The study, published in Psychosomatic Medicine, not only found 18 percent pain reduction in meditators but suggests people who meditate seem to lower pain sensitivity 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, study co-author Joshua Grant of the University of Montreal said in a statement. 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.

When study participants ages 22-56 years -- 13 Zen meditators with a minimum of 1,000 hours of practice and 13 non-meditators -- underwent a pain test using thermal heat, a number of meditators tolerated the maximum temperature, but all control subjects stayed well below that level.

Very few studies have looked at pain processing in healthy, highly trained meditators, said Grant.

If meditation can change the way someone feels pain, he explains, it may be possible to lower the amount of pain medication.