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‘Mindful People’ Feel Less Pain; MRI Imaging Pinpoints Supporting Brain Activity

A study analyzing data on mindfulness meditation has found that an individual’s capability of practicing mindfulness — whether consciously or innately — has a profound effect on how you feel pain. Mindfulness is an ability to be “aware of the present moment without too much emotional reaction or judgment,” one study author told MedicalXpress, and the results of being able to do that apparently make you feel less pain. The researchers used MRIs to determine which part of the brain is affected by mindfulness.

I believe meditation practice can be an important part of health and well-being. Practicing mindfulness through meditation not only is a powerful means of relaxing, but also useful for addressing anxiety, managing pain, preventing disease and relieving stress. What’s important to understand is that this isn’t about practicing a religion of some sort, but simply a demonstration of how connected your mind is to the rest of your body.

On the flip side, for example, research suggests a persistent negative state of mind is a risk factor for heart disease. Conversely, happiness, optimism, life satisfaction and other positive psychological states are associated with a lower risk of heart disease.

There are specific physiological processes that go on inside you that make this happen, and such findings are consistent with a downregulation of your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and sympathetic nervous system, both of which are overactivated by stress. Stress is also a well-known risk factor for heart disease, making meditation all the more important.

All told, practicing meditation can be considered a form of “mental exercise” for your brain. Right along with exercises and movement designed for keeping your body fit, long-term meditation helps keep your mind working with your body. Over time with consistent practice, you not only can experience less pain, but enhanced joy, empathy and kindness, greater emotional resilience and increased gray matter in brain regions related to memory and emotional processing.

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