Study: Even a Cram Course in Meditation Helps Reduce Pain
Meditation might beat morphine as a painkiller, new research suggests. In a small study, healthy medical students attended four 20-minute sessions to train them in "mindfulness meditation," based on techniques such as focusing on breathing and banishing of distracting thoughts. Before and after the training, participants underwent brain scans with a pad heated to a painful 120 degrees attached to the back of their leg. They reported a 40 percent decrease in pain intensity and a 57 percent reduction in pain unpleasantness following their training. Morphine and similar drugs typically reduce pain by about 25 percent. Meditation reduced activity in key pain-processing regions of the brain, according to findings published Wednesday in the Journal of Neuroscience. "We found a big effect," study author Fadel Zeidan, a research fellow at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, said in a press statement. "This study shows that meditation produces real effects in the brain and can provide an effective way for people to substantially reduce their pain without medications."
Want to Be Happier? Keep Your Focus
Nearly half the time we're awake, our thoughts drift to topics unrelated to whatever we're doing, U.S. News reports. We think about a fight with our spouse when we're driving, or replay events from a friend's wild party while brushing our teeth in the morning. We text incessantly while watching TV, and phone mom during laundry-folding time. And while our minds wander—even when we're having pleasant daydreams—we're not very happy, according to a study published last year in the journal Science. "How often peoples' minds wander is definitely a big predictor of who's happy and who's not happy," says study author Matthew Killingsworth, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Harvard University, because the more often they take themselves out of the present moment, the less happy they are.
The study found that happiness falls when folks aren't focused on the task at hand, even an unenjoyable one, like doing errands. The researchers used a novel approach to get real-time snapshots of what the 2,250 study participants were thinking and how they felt throughout the day. They developed a free iPhone app that buzzed volunteers, whose average age was 34, several times a day asking them how they were feeling right before they were contacted, what they were doing and whether they were thinking about something other than what they were doing. Except during sex, participants recorded their minds wandering during every activity; most frequently, minds drifted off during personal grooming like taking a shower, shaving, and putting on makeup. [Read more: Want to Be Happier? Keep Your Focus.]
Can Mindful Eating Help You Lose Weight?
If you're anything like the average American, your meals are rarely a contemplative experience. But being more mindful about your eating—in other words, paying close attention to what you are putting in your mouth and how it makes you feel—may be a method that can help with weight loss, U.S. News reports.
Mindfulness wasn't developed in a psych lab but instead traces its origins to Buddhism. In the medical and behavioral realm, it's been looked at as a way to promote better health in general, lower stress, decrease anxiety, and alter unwanted behaviors, like drinking too much—or overeating. Brian Shelley, wellness director for First Choice Community Healthcare in Albuquerque, N.M., noticed its potential application to eating behaviors while teaching workshops on mindfulness as a stress reduction technique. When it came time for a midday break, "people had a mindful lunch in silence for an hour. They enjoyed the food, didn't overeat, didn't rush, and were very aware and meditative when they sat down to start the meal." [Read more: Can Mindful Eating Help You Lose Weight?]