To maintain a healthy career, massage therapists must maintain their own physical health. When pain strikes after a long, multi-session day, taking a moment to meditate could be more effective than taking an aspirin.

Researchers from the University of Montreal have found that Zen meditation—a centuries-old practice that can provide mental, physical and emotional balance—may reduce pain.

The study shows that Zen meditators have lower pain sensitivity both in and out of a meditative state compared to non-meditators.

For this study, the scientists recruited 13 Zen meditators with a minimum of 1,000 hours of practice to undergo a pain test and contrasted their reaction with 13 non-meditators.

A thermal heat source was pressed against the calves of subjects intermittently at varying temperatures. Heat levels began at 43 degrees Celsius and went to a maximum of 53 degrees Celsius depending on each participant’s sensitivity. While quite a few of the meditators tolerated the maximum temperature, all control subjects were well below 53 degrees Celsius.

“While previous studies have shown that teaching chronic pain patients to meditate is beneficial, very few studies have looked at pain processing in healthy, highly trained meditators. This study was a first step in determining how or why meditation might influence pain perception.” says Joshua A. Grant, a doctoral student in the Department of Physiology, who co-authored the paper.

“Slower breathing certainly coincided with reduced pain and may influence pain by keeping the body in a relaxed state.” Grant added. “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.”

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