I’m a great believer in the power of the mind. And while I don’t practice meditation (in the formal sense) myself, I have always been impressed at how often regular meditators tell me what a difference it has made to their lives. Their testimonies usually report a sense of improved physical and emotional well-being, a bit like the things I hear from individuals who practice yoga.
For me, meditation (just like yoga) is not something that requires scientific validation. But I also believe that if a piece of science occasionally pops up that has attempted to assess its effects more formally, then why not look at it?
Such a study recently surfaced in the journal Pain . Here, the effects of an 8-week programme of mindfulness-based meditation was tried in a group of elderly individuals (average age 75) suffering from chronic low back pain. The results in meditators was compared to a group of individuals who just remained on a waiting-list for assessment/treatment of their pain. Meditation was practiced an average of 4.3 days each week, for about half an hour each time.
At the end of the programme, mediators (compared to the ‘control’ group) saw significant improvement in their ‘pain acceptance’ score (which basically meant they found it easier to live to with their pain). They also so a significant improvement in physical function too.
This study has considerable relevance in that chronic (i.e. long-term) pain is a big problem, and its management using conventional means is notoriously hit-and-miss. This study does offer some indication that meditation may have some role to play in pain management. And let’s not forget, this practice is self-administered, cheap (usually free) and safe. It might also have more global benefits for individuals who practice it too in terms of general physical and mental wellbeing.
1. Morone NE, et al. Mindfulness meditation for the treatment of chronic low back pain in older adults: A randomized controlled pilot study. Pain 2007 May 31;[Epub ahead of print]