Zen meditation may block pain2nd March 2010
Practising Zen meditation may help people reduce pain sensitivity, according to a recent Canadian study.
The reduced pain sensitivity appears to relate to a thickening of certain areas of the central brain, particularly the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC).
The ACC is a bundle of fibres located in the region that helps the right and left sides of the brain to communicate.
It appears to help the body regulate blood pressure, heart rate, rational thinking, empathy, and decision making.
For the purposes of the study, the researchers made brain scans of 17 Zen meditators and 18 people who did not meditate, had never practiced yoga, and did not suffer from chronic pain or mental illness.
In order to simulate pain, the researchers applied heat directly to the calves of study subjects.
In the brain scans, the researchers noticed differences in the ways the Zen meditators' brains reacted to pain.
Joshua Grant, a doctoral student in the Université de Montréal department of physiology, said that Zen meditators appeared to thicken certain areas of their cortex.
He said he believed the thickened cortexes helped lower the Zen meditators' sensitivity to pain, and that this supported his team's previous study on how Zen meditation regulates pain.
Previous studies have shown that the ACC regulates learning, behaviour, and thinking.
In a 2008 study, brain damaged adults who had suffered lead poisoning as children had the highest levels of brain shrinkage in the ACC.
Other studies have also linked the ACC with functions people usually describe as being part of conscious experience, such as emotional awareness.
In a study on women, emotional reactions were tied to increased activation of the ACC.
In two other studies, low ACC activation was associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and depression.
Grant said that the often painful posture associated with Zen meditation may lead to a thicker cortex and lower pain sensitivity.
He said that people might use meditative practices to manage their pain, or for buffering any loss of grey matter due to age or stroke.
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