Meditation for Pain

Transcendental meditation may change the brain’s reaction to pain, according to a study in the August issue of the journal NeuroReport. The study compared the brain scans of people who had practiced transcendental meditation for 30 years to 12 participants who had only an introductory course in the technique. The brain scans of long-time meditators showed 40-50% less activity in response to acute pain than did the scans of newbies’ brains.

However, both groups rated their pain levels the same. Maybe I’m missing some bigger picture thing here, but I don’t care how my brain responds to pain if it still feels the same.

Before I go any further, you should know that transcendental meditation is a specific technique. It is only taught be certified experts and, oh yeah, a four-day course costs $2,500.

This isn’t to say that meditation isn’t effective for pain control, just that I’m skeptical that this is the best technique for it. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (only a government agency could have such an outrageously long name) provides a comprehensive look at meditation for health. Although the article doesn’t discuss headache specifically, the information is still relevant.

NCCAM describes two approaches to meditation; transcendental and mindfulness mediations. Mindfulness meditation is what’s taught all over the place, including yoga studios, on CDs and tapes, and even online (Google learn mindfulness meditation for links).

In any case, it’s certainly worth a try. No bodily harm can come of it, and, even if it doesn’t reduce perceived pain, it can help calm you down during a severe headache and possibly reduce your baseline stress level.

Meditation is something I’ve been thinking about trying for a long time, but attempts are easily thwarted (what a great word). I think am in-person class might be the right choice for me. Are any of you meditators? What benefits do you gain from it?