For the study, researchers mildly burned 15 men and women in a lab on two separate occasions, before and after the volunteers attended four 20-minute meditation training sessions over the course of four days.
During the second round, when the participants were instructed to meditate, they rated the exact same pain stimulus – a 120-degree heat on their calves — as being 57 percent less unpleasant and 40 percent less intense, on average.
“This is the first study to show that only a little over an hour of meditation training can dramatically reduce both the experience of pain and pain-related brain activation,” said Fadel Zeidan, lead author of the study and a post-doctoral research fellow at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina.
The reduction in pain ratings was substantially greater than those seen in similar studies involving placebo pills, hypnosis, and even morphine and other painkilling drugs, he added.
Past researches have found that Buddhist-style meditation — also known as mindfulness meditation — can help people cope with pain, anxiety, and a number of other physical and mental health problems. But in most cases the training takes weeks, not days as in this study.