Mindfulness Meditation: Pain is Real But Suffering From it is a State of Mind
A new study shows that mindfulness meditation can reduce our physical and emotional pain. But what is mindfulness and how do we practice it?
Mindfulness has become such a buzzword, it can be easy to forget just how revolutionary it is. While mindfulness meditation dates back over 2,600 years, it’s only now that we have the technology and scientific process to confirm and explore its benefits.
A new study by Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center shows that 20 minutes of daily mindfulness practice can drastically reduce our perceptions of pain, one of the latest examples extolling its effects.
The study heated participants' skin to about 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and compared groups of mindful practitioners: those doing a placebo meditation, those given a placebo jelly for the discomfort, and a control group.
The group doing the meditation reported 27 percent less intense physical pain than the control group, and 44 percent less emotional pain. The parts of the brain that were activated during the meditation were the sections that denote self-control, while it deactivated the region known as the thalamus, which basically told the pain signals they weren’t as important as they thought they were, causing them to quietly fade away.
Below, Dr. Mark Epstein reveals how mindfulness promotes a way of thinking that separates stimuli from your emotional reaction to them:
But what is mindfulness, and how can we practice it?
Mindfulness is centered around the idea that pain is unavoidable, but suffering is not. We can’t change the fact that we are burned, bruised, or just bummed, but we can change how we relate to that discomfort. While the press covering the study doesn’t go into what kind of mindfulness techniques were used, there are several different kinds of meditation that utilize this skill.
Mindfulness is centered around the idea that pain is unavoidable, but suffering is not.
One form of mindfulness meditation divides the practice in half — for the first portion, you concentrate on one specific anchor, like the breath. You watch each inhale and exhale, and the moments between. Generally the mind will start to wonder after a few breaths. That is one of the most important parts of the practice, because you have the opportunity to non-judgmentally note that you have wondered, and return back to the breath. Forgiving yourself and beginning again is huge!
The second part of the meditation opens your awareness from just your anchor to all of the other stimuli around you — sounds, physical contact with the chair or cushion, the lights flicking behind the eyelids, and of course thoughts themselves. In mindfulness meditation, you view your thoughts as just one more stimuli. They’re not personal and you don’t have to believe them. You can even label them “memory,” “fantasy,” “planning,” etc.
It’s not difficult to see how this practice can help us relate to physical and emotional pain, putting it into perspective. Once we realize that thoughts are not ourselves, and that we don’t have to identify with them, it gives us the freedom to have a more spacious awareness. And whether you’re being burned in the name of science or just trying to get through life, a more spacious awareness might just be what the doctor ordered.
PHOTO CREDIT: LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP
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- China leads the world in numerous green energy categories.
- CO2 emissions in the country totaling more than all coal emissions in the U.S. have recently emerged.
- This seems to be an administrative-induced blip on the way towards a green energy tipping point.
NASA astronomer Michelle Thaller is coming back to Big Think to answer YOUR questions! Here's all you need to know to submit your science-related inquiries.
Big Think's amazing audience has responded so well to our videos from NASA astronomer and Assistant Director for Science Communication Michelle Thaller that we couldn't wait to bring her back for more!
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Build up, tear down—new technology stirs up a cycle of progress and cynicism we've seen all throughout history.
- "Every time that there's a new technology, particularly around media, there's a set of outcries around how that media is corrupting culture or how it's destroying certain aspects of our life," says entrepreneur and author Elad Gil.
- In some cases there are real concerns, but taking a historical view can quell unnecessary panic. Progress and cynicism work in a cyclical fashion. New tech is unveiled, the media builds it up, then the media tears it down in a wave of backlash.
- Today we worry about kids and smartphones; 80 years ago we worried about kids and the radio; same cynicism, different day.
- Technology lifts the lid on human potential and quality of life, says Gil. We should be duly cautious, but optimism is more valuable (and arguably more rational) than pessimism.
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If you want to be a better and more passionate communicator, these tips are important.
If you identify as being a socially conscious person in today's age of outrage, you've likely experienced the bewildering sensation when a conversation that was once harmless, suddenly doesn't feel that way anymore. Perhaps you're out for a quick bite with family, friends, or coworkers when the conversation takes a turn. Someone's said something that doesn't sit right with you, and you're unsure of how to respond. Navigating social situations like this is inherently stressful.
Below are five expert-approved tips on how to maintain your cool and effectively communicate.
Or how I learned to stop worrying and love my tsundoku.
- Many readers buy books with every intention of reading them only to let them linger on the shelf.
- Statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb believes surrounding ourselves with unread books enriches our lives as they remind us of all we don't know.
- The Japanese call this practice tsundoku, and it may provide lasting benefits.
Money makes the world go 'round. Unfortunately, it can make both children and adults into materialists.
- Keeping a gratitude journal caused children to donate 60 percent more to charitable causes.
- Other methods suggested by researchers include daily gratitude reflection, gratitude posters, and keeping a "gratitude jar."
- Materialism has been shown to increase anxiety and depression and promote selfish attitudes and behavior.
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