Can Quieting the Mind Help Relieve Pain?

Our minds are a powerful tool in impacting the status of our health and wellbeing. We know that quieting the mind through meditation and other mindfulness exercises can effect our psychological health and improve anxiety, depression and other psychological conditions. But what other effects does meditation have on our bodies? 

Meditation is the practice of training the mind that has been around for many centuries. The process of meditating causes an involuntary relaxation response that produces a decrease in the activity of the sympathetic nervous system. The process of training the mind through meditation has a measureable physical effect on the body as well. Some of these effects include impacting pathways in the nervous system that control pain perception as well as the release of cortisol and these effects can have a powerful impact on pain levels overall. 

Cortisol is known as the stress hormone in our bodies and is released whenever we encounter a stressful situation. Chronic, prolonged stress can cause an elevation in cortisol levels throughout our body and elevated cortisol can cause in increased inflammatory response. These higher levels of inflammation can definitely contribute to chronic pain conditions as well. Research has shown that cortisol levels may decrease in individuals that practice mindfullness. A regular meditation practice can help to regulate inflammation and pain in the body by affecting cortisol levels. 

The other way that mindfulness meditation can help to improve pain is by changing the way that our mind processes pain signals from the body. Chronic pain can cause the pathways in the brain that perceive pain to be even more amplified and brain scans even show that those suffering from chronic pain have more brain tissue that is dedicated to sensing pain. The pain signals become amplified over time and the brain essentially "turns up the volume" to sensing pain. Mindfulness can help individuals gain control over these amplified pain signals by increasing levels of neurotransmitters that work to dampen the brain's response to pain. 

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