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Mindfulness meditation can provide pain relief, say researchers

16 Apr 2013
Mindfulness meditation can provide pain relief, say researchers News image

There is a growing body of medical research to suggest that people suffering pain can breathe their way out of it. A recent study has found that mindfulness meditation significantly reduces the psychological stress associated with inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, bowel disease and asthma. 

Originally a Buddhist technique, mindfulness meditation involves continuously focusing attention on the present moment using the breath. It invites a person to calmly observe their sensory feelings, mental content and surrounding environment. 

The study, conducted by the Centre for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin in the US, compared mindfulness meditation with other relaxation methods such as physical exercise and music therapy. 

It observed that not only was the former more effective in reducing the psychological stress associated with the inflammatory conditions but also resulted in a reduction in stress-induced inflammation in the body. 

Whilst the authors of the study insist that mindfulness meditation is not a magic cure-all solution, the benefits are clear to see. 

Brisbane psychologist and co-ordinator of the Mount Gravatt Mental Health Professionals Network, Amanda White, agrees. 

“Mindfulness meditation can encourage better emotional regulation. It reduces stress and distractive ruminative thoughts. It reallocates the tension so you are not focused on the negative experience of pain but can contemplate positive things, or simply engage in a more realistic appraisal and thus limit the filter of pain,” she said.  

White forms part of Mindfulness Meditation Brisbane and has used the method throughout her extensive background in chronic pain treatment, particularly for patients suffering traumatic brain injuries. 

“Pain can come and go, it is not always consistent. If pain is escalating, mindfulness meditation is a practice to create space around the pain so that it does not overwhelm the person experiencing it,” she said. 

Psychological stress often plays a significant role in intensifying physiological pain. The Centre for Mind and Brain at the University of California recently found that mindfulness meditation techniques directly reduce stress hormone cortisol levels in people. 

White says that in the multicultural context of Australia, mindfulness meditation appears to be increasingly accepted as beneficial.

She finds that, whilst Buddhist in origin, mindfulness meditation is a focussed strategy that is independent of religious practices. 

“Effectiveness of the practice depends on the client’s willingness to participate. It is not considered a primary treatment model and would be used to complement a broader treatment plan,” said White.

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