Meditation may bring more than peace, according to the results of a study at Wake Forest University. Researchers there found that individuals who were subjected to mild burns before and after a crash course in meditation reported a 40 percent decrease in pain after the mediation course.
This perception went far beyond the placebo effect, as brain scans indicated that there was almost no activity in the somatosensory cortex—an area of the brain that senses pain intensity—during meditation. The meditation blocked brain activity and reduced pain intensity by 40 percent and pain unpleasantness by 57 percent.
To put this in perspective, morphine and other pain relievers have been shown to reduce pain intensity by about 25 percent. The researchers theorized that one reason why meditation might be so effective is that it addresses multiple levels of processing, rather than just one area of the brain.
The results of the study could have a powerful impact on pain management, possibly reducing the need for potentially addictive painkillers that come with a whole range of side effects. The brain scans showed what meditation devotees have long suspected: meditation changes brain activity.
Once the purview of only yogis and monks, meditation has become mainstream. The simple technique is available to anyone with a willingness to learn. Sometimes referred to as imagery or visualization, meditation refers to full concentration of the mind. The goal is not necessarily to clear the mind but to control and discipline it so that it is not overrun with useless thoughts and fears. Meditation promotes a sense of peace and calm.
There are countless ways to meditate, but the simplest way to start is to assume a comfortable seated position in a quiet setting, close your eyes, and tune in to the breath. Focusing on the breath quiets the mind and induces a calm state. Some people find that it helps to count to 10 with each inhale and each exhale, which helps slow the breath and maintain focus. Spend five minutes quietly attuned to your breath and let the peace wash over you.
Mindfulness and Menopause
Mindfulness training may help reduce the effects of hot flashes.
Need help with hot flashes? Try using mind over matter. It may sound too simple to be true, but new research published in the journal Menopause indicates that mindfulness might be an effective approach to coping with hot flashes.
Hot flashes are annoying and uncomfortable. About 40 percent of women say that hot flashes and night sweats disrupt their lives during and after menopause, affecting sleep and stress levels.
Researchers gathered a group of women who were experiencing regular hot flashes. Half of them took an eight-week course in mindfulness training. During the course the women learned mindfulness-based stress-relief techniques and were taught to observe their thoughts and feelings rather than react to them.
At the end of the study, the women who received mindfulness training reported being less bothered by hot flashes than the women who did not undergo training. Furthermore these women experienced improved quality of life, improved sleep, and reduced stress levels.
The conclusion? While mindfulness won’t eliminate hot flashes, it may help women cope with them. Mindfulness—sometimes referred to as meditation—is a technique available to everyone. There are many different methods of mindfulness and meditation, all with the same goal: inner peace. Mindfulness training is widely available in classes and workshops around the world.
Source: Carmody JF, Crawford S, Salmoirago-Blotcher E, Leung K, Churchill L, Olendzki N. Mindfulness training for coping with hot flashes: results of a randomized trial. Menopause. 2011;18(6):611-20.
Kindness Is Contagious
A little kindness goes a long way in creating a ripple effect.
On some deep level, we have always known it, but now there is research to back it up: kindness is contagious. A pair of researchers from Harvard University and the University of California, San Diego conducted a study in which subjects were randomly assigned to a sequence of different groups to play a series of “public goods” games with strangers.
Participants were divided into groups of four and given 20 credits each. They had to secretly decide how much to keep for themselves and how much to contribute to a common fund, which at the end of the game would be multiplied by two-fifths and then divided equally among the group. At the end of each round, participants learned how much other players had given; then the groups were mixed, and a new round of play would begin.
The results were startling and showed that cooperative behavior can spread from person to person. When one person was generous, other people tended to be generous during the next two rounds of play. Furthermore this behavior was not the result of perceived odds and rewards but was actually pure behavioral mimicry. When one person was irrationally generous, others imitated that behavior.
The best part? The impact of generosity is exponential. One kind act can influence dozens more. The researchers found that the influence of generosity extended to three degrees of separation. So, the next time you extend an act of kindness, just think—you’ll influence three people, each of whom will influence three people, and on and on. A cascade of kindness has the potential to change the world.