How Meditation is Used For Pain Management

Medical News Today recently reported on a study of the effects of zen meditation on pain management. The goal of the study was to see if experienced meditators experienced pain differently than non-meditators. Joshua Grant of the Université de Montréal who was in charge of the study said, “While previous studies have shown that teaching chronic pain patients to meditate is beneficial, very few studies have looked at pain processing in healthy, highly-trained meditators. This study was a first step in determining how or why meditation might influence pain perception.”

Birds In the study, 13 zen meditators with at least 1000 hours of meditation under their belts underwent a pain sensitivity test with a control group of 13 non-meditators. A heat source was placed at varying degrees of temperature on the calf muscles of the subjects intermittently. Not surprisingly, there was an observable difference between the two groups. The meditators breathed an average of 12 breaths per minute, while the non-meditators breathed roughly 15. The meditators also reported 18% less pain than did the control group. Grant concluded, “While previous studies have found that the emotional aspects of pain are influenced by meditation, we found that the sensation itself, as well as the emotional response, is different in meditators.”

This example is just one of many reporting benefits of meditation on chronic pain levels. So how do you use meditation for pain management? A great way to begin is by thoroughly stretching out your muscles. This will help get your blood circulating. Once you are stretched out, get into a comfortable, upright, seated position in which your posture is good and your chin is up. Remove any distractions from the room. Close your eyes and begin to breathe deeply. Breathe in through your nose and exhale out through your mouth. Draw out your breaths making them long and slow. Focus your attention on your breathing.

Many chronic sufferers prefer what is called guided imagery meditations to manage their pain. The easiest way for a beginner to do a guided imagery meditation is to buy a CD for this specific purpose and listen to it. The guided imagery meditation CD will lead you through the entire process from start to finish. These meditations are called “guided” because you are listening to a voice on the CD lead you through what to do. The term “imagery” refers to the meditation asking you to visualize and create mental pictures. For example, for pain management, often meditators will visualize the area of their pain being soothed by a protective bubble of soothing energy or their tumors being flushed out of their bodies and so on.

The techniques of Shinzen Young are also highly recommended for pain management meditation. Visit to learn more about his innovative techniques. Be sure to check out the synopsis of his book Break Through Pain under the “Articles” tab.

  ~ Jillian Avey, 



image courtesy of Axel Kramer

Meditation for ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a growing epidemic in the United States. As of 2007, 5.4 million American children and teens had been diagnosed with ADHD. American parents believe that as many as 25% of their children suffer from ADHD. While just 5.4 million kids were diagnosed, only 2.7 million were actually receiving treatment. According to PBS, 2 or 3 students in every classroom are taking medication for ADHD. Not only are the side effects of Ritalin and other ADHD drugs unwelcome, but many parents fear their children will have an ever-deepening, life-long dependency on these drugs. Additionally, many adults who suffer from ADHD report no benefit from medication at all. Is there another choice?

Water In a recent study of mindfulness meditation on both teens and adults diagnosed with ADHD, 78% of the participants were able to complete the study. This in and of itself is quite a victory as meditation requires physical and mental stillness for long periods of time. There are no adverse effects to meditation, and the cost is not prohibitive. 75% of the participants in the study reported a reduction in their ADHD symptoms with the mindfulness meditation regimen. Neuropsychological measures also showed improvement in the subjects after the course of meditation. Additionally, ADHD is often accompanied by mood disorders, and this study reported that meditation lowered those reported symptoms of depression and anxiety.

The mindfulness meditation used in the study consisted of three steps. You may try these for yourself or assist your children in utilizing this method. First, focus your attention on what is known as an “attention anchor” (such as a spot on the wall, one's breathing, or a piece of fruit you hold in your hand). Then, if and when your attention drifts from time to time, be aware that a distraction has occurred. Finally, re-focus back on the “attention anchor.” In this particular study, 10 minutes of meditation was done twice a day. Over time, the subjects were asked to “pay attention to their attention.” The intention of this last bit is to teach the ADHD sufferer that it is possible to be aware of when a distraction is occurring and to consciously re-direct one's focus back to the task at hand.

What about younger children with ADHD? Can meditation work for them too? The online journal Current Issues in Education reported a study on exactly this issue. In the study, a similar meditation protocol to the one above was used, except here students focused on specific mantras (“I am calm”) or sounds (“Omm”) as they meditated. The study included children from age 11-14 and reported, “'The effect was much greater than we expected.' Improvements were found in attention, behavior regulation, memory, and organization.” 

In cultures where Buddhism, mindfulness, and meditation are regularly practiced, rates of ADHD are minimal, says Dr. John Ranseen of the University of Kentucky College of Medicine. Perhaps you can encourage your children's school to implement a meditation program like the one at Toluca Lake Elementary in Los Angeles. The Examiner reported, “Schools have been turning to mindfulness for very practical reasons that don't concern religion, and their efforts have been supported by a recent wave of scientific results.”

  ~ Jillian Avey, 





Looking For Natural Stress Relief?

Buddha famously said, “Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.” This is why meditating for stress relief is such a crucial part of anyone's plans to de-stress their life. Meditating is a way to turn off one's mind and tap into the infinite knowingness, order, and natural beauty of the universe. 

 What Is Stress?

There are good and bad kinds of stress. Since we are on the topic of relief from stress, we'll get straight to the bad kind, which is defined as a state of great anxiety, strain, or pressure–real or perceived. These physical and emotional strains are caused by our responses to pressures. Common stress reactions include inability to concentrate, irritability, headache, tension, increased blood pressure and pulse, strokes, and a weakened immune system.

Studies show that millions of Americans report being stressed at work—from 11 million reported a decade ago, the numbers continue to grow worldwide. Stress reduction is such a real problem that the US Public Health Service has officially recognized it as one of their top health priorities.

How Effective Is Meditation? Pileofstones

You may be surprised to learn that meditation and it's impact on people, places, and things has been
heavily studied. There have been at least 1500 individual studies conducted since 1930. Meditation also has wide-spread, scientifically-observable results. Some of the most commonly observed benefits include: reduced anxiety and nervousness, reduced fear of dying, production of the stress hormone Cortisol was significantly diminished, and it can even make you look and feel younger! 

Furthermore, people who have been diagnosed with heart disease then began meditating regularly saw a reduction in the disease's effects and some even reversed the disease. Medical insurance companies have even studied meditation and found that meditators were 87% less likely to be hospitalized for heart disease and 55% less likely to be hospitalized for cancer. Doctors have found that their patients who meditate regularly have more energy, more patience, and greater productivity. One chemical company in Detroit implemented a meditation program during the work day and, after a three-year study, found that absenteeism fell 85%, productivity grew 120%, injuries were reduced by 70%, and profits grew by 520%.

 Start Meditating for Stress Relief Today

If you have never meditated before, have no fear. Your first thought might be, “I have no time to mediate!” Remember what Peter McWilliams says, “Some people think that meditation takes time away from physical accomplishment. Taken to extremes, of course, that's true. Most people,
however, find that meditation creates more time than it takes.”

Stay tuned for my series on meditation techniques for stress relief.

   ~ Jillian Avey, 




Mindfulness Makes Its Way to the Wall Street Journal

Screen shot 2011-02-05 at 1.54.22 PM I read a fascinating article recently in the Wall Street Journal's Health and Wellness section. The title was “Conquering Fear” (01/04/2011) by Melinda Beck. The article discussed how the concept of mindfulness is becoming a popular tool used in Cognitive Behavior Therapy. While the word meditation was never mentioned in the article, anyone who does meditate will immediately recognize how some of the principles of meditation are being borrowed by these therapists.

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program and renowned teacher of mindfulness meditation, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” The Wild Mind Buddhist Meditation group expounds on that further saying:

“Mindfulness involves paying attention 'on purpose.' Mindfulness involves a conscious direction of our awareness. We sometimes…talk about 'mindfulness' and 'awareness' as if they were interchangeable terms, but that’s not a good habit to get into. I may be aware I’m irritable, but that wouldn’t mean I was being mindful of my irritability. In order to be mindful I have to be purposefully aware of myself, not just vaguely and habitually aware. Knowing that you are eating is not the same as eating mindfully.”

The founder of this new mindfulness-based therapy, Dr. Steven Hayes of the University of Nevada—Reno, says that his new psychology movement asks patients to focus their attention on the present. He adds that one of the key tenets of his mindfulness approach is not to say, “Stop thinking negative thoughts.” Instead, his approach asks people to simply observe negative thoughts as one would passing clouds, which as meditators know diffuses the power of the negative thoughts.

Mindfulness is not just popping up in psychology treatments, but it is now being used in schools to help children with ADHD. It is appearing in hospitals to help with anxiety and panic attacks. While some may disagree with the westernization of this deeply Eastern concept, it is clear to see that mindfulness can play a very important role for improving many people's lives.

The Wall Street Journal article also stressed the importance of acceptance rather than resistance. For  example, Dr. Katherine Muller of the Center for Integrative Psychotherapy in Allentown, PA, who uses the mindfulness concept in her practice, says, “The idea is, 'These [negative] feelings are going to come. What are you going to do about them?' You don't have to react to them at all. Just allowing them to exist takes away their power.”

 Although the Wall Street Journal article didn't dive too deeply into the “art and science” behind mindfulness, an in-depth article in The Psychotherapy Networker from the movement's founder Dr. Steven Hayes explains, in my opinion, how his technique has essentially overlapped the ideas and concepts of meditation with therapy…without the actual practice of it. One wonders how truly effective this can be. For example, Dr. Hayes says in the article that one of the three basic premises in his treatment is “acquiring a transcendent sense of self.” The exercises described sound like guided meditations, yet, as I said, the word “meditation” (perhaps to hokey for the Wall Street Journal and scientific journals) is excluded from anything associated with this new therapy.

  ~ Jillian Avey, 


Additional Sources:

What is Mindfulness?

Hello darkness: Discovering our values by confronting our fears.


Meditation Myth #2 – You Can’t Change Your Brain

A popular myth about meditation is that it's just something to do for stress relief or to gain a higher spiritual connection, but few people actually realize that meditating can actually change your brain. There is an emerging new field of brain science in fact called “Contemplative Neuroscience,” or the study of meditation's effect on the brain.

One of the pioneers in the Contemplative Neuroscience field is Dr. Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin—Madison has been personally involved with meditation since the 1970s and studying it for 10 years. Davidson has scanned the brains of almost 100 Buddhist monks and other regular meditators during this time. He says, “We all know that if you engage in certain kinds of exercise on a regular basis you can strengthen certain muscle groups in predictable ways. Strengthening neural systems is not fundamentally different. It’s basically replacing certain habits of mind with other habits.” 

Neuron cell Contemplative Neuroscience has also shown that habitual meditation strengthens brain circuits that help us concentrate and express empathy. A study Davidson recently finished looked at how meditation effected those who had never done it before. He found that the beginners stimulated their limbic systems during meditation–the limbic system is the brain's so-called “emotional network.” On the same token, expert meditators (monks with over 10,000 hours of meditation experience) showed markedly higher limbic system activity across the board. Davidson's conclusion? The monks had changed their brains to be more empathetic! 

So meditation can effect your brain while you meditate, but what about when the meditation is over? The answer is yes. There have been observable changes to the baseline brain functioning for meditators outside of meditation. These changes are thought to be linked to generating positive emotions. While Contemplative Neuroscience is in its infancy, this is largely due to the fact that live MRIs (allowing doctors to observe a brain in real time) have only recently become available. 

   ~ Jillian Avey, 


More Information/Sources:

The Science of How Meditation Changes Your Brain

Can meditation change your brain? Contemplative neuroscientists believe it can

Pick Yourself Up With Meditation

Is meditation effective at treating depression? According to a recent study done by Oxford University, the answer is yes. Depression is an overwhelming feeling of unhappiness or sadness. If feelings of sadness and unhappiness last for a week or less, it is unlikely to be depression. This is just “the blues.“ On an interesting side note, in the past, doctors thought meditation could lead to schizophrenia for those who are depressed. Of course, there is no medical evidence to back up this absurd claim.

Dandelion In Oxford's study, a group of 28 people who had been diagnosed with clinical depression were
broken up into two groups. One group received traditional therapy while the other group did meditation and therapy. Nobody in the therapy group was able to beat their depression, while some in the meditation group did. Professor Mark Williams who was in charge of the study said, "Our aim is to help people to find long-term freedom from the daily battle with their moods. One way that the treatment benefits people is helping them to live more in the moment, rather than be caught up in upsettling memories from the past or worries about the future.”

In her article How to Treat Depression with Meditation, Mary Gevara claims that, “Meditation can give someone a sense of control in their life, which many people with depression so desperately need.” Likewise, in her article Natural Cures for Depression, Andrea Waggener wrote, “Meditation is a natural cure for depression that can help you effect a happiness-inducing change in the way you think and perceive the world.” Research has also shown that meditating can help prevent future bouts of depression. As you can see on a number of levels, meditation has many benefits to offer someone who is depressed.

Another reason meditation is a crucial holistic therapy to look at for the treatment of depression is because antidepressants have a number of unwanted side effects. Meditation is, of course, free and doesn't damage the body or mind in any way—it does quite the opposite! Selective Seratonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) lead to sexual dysfunction, insomnia, nausea, and nervousness. Prozac, the most widely prescribed antidepressant in the world (also an SSRI), is associated with dry mouth, constipation, urinary retention, sedation, weight gain, skin rashes, headaches, tremors, dizziness, behavioral changes, excessive sweating, bronchitis, an inflammation of the nasal mucous membranes, yawning, muscle pain, back pain, joint pain, painful menstruation, and urinary tract infections.

Whether you believe depression is caused by external circumstances or a chemical imbalance in the brain or both, meditation has many strengths as a holistic treatment option., an exhaustive meditation website, specifically recommends the Metta Bhavana practice (the development of what is known in the East as “lovingkindness”) for those with depression. It has been scientifically shown to be effective. It has no side effects, and it is easy and affordable.

   ~ Jillian Avey, 


More Information/Sources:

How to Treat Depression with Meditation

Natural Cure For Depression–The Best Scientifically Proven At Home Depression Treatment

 List of antidepressants and their side effects

 Some Prozac (fluoxetine) Side Effects might not be side effects at all; they may be symptoms of your underlying anxiety.

 Meditation and depression

The Best Natural Treatments for Depression

Relieve Anxiety Without Medication

The ancient art and science of meditation, as it has made its way from the East to the West, has been transformed from its Buddhist roots. In the modern world of the West, meditation is used to help eliminate medical problems, bring people greater prosperity, and reduce anxiety.

Fountain Anxiety is a state of uneasiness, of apprehension—often about future events that one is anticipating with negative or positive associations. Meditation relieves uneasiness and apprehensiveness in a number of ways. First of all, anxiety is generally brought on by the incessant stream of thoughts running through one's mind whether it's the to-do list or what to cook for dinner. Meditation's #1 purpose is to turn off that never-ending voice in the head, in order to experience calmness and stillness—even for just a few precious minutes. For example, many people can understand how taking an afternoon power nap can be rejuvenating to the mind and body. Meditation takes that same state of mental relaxation to another level. While, of course, you'll know that your “problems” are waiting for you when you come out of the meditation, you'll have a renewed sense of being, peace, and tranquility in approaching them.

Blogger Shivani Wells analyzed data from four empirical studies done on the effectiveness of meditation at reducing anxiety. She looked at studies of different kinds of meditation and found that, despite some conflicting evidence:

It is clear that a number of different approaches to meditation are affective, and it also seems that many approaches share overlapping methods outside of simple seated meditation, which strengthen the evidence of the effectiveness of those elements, such as breath work and mantra repetition. I believe that the studies here clearly defend my hypothesis that meditation is an effective treatment in significantly reducing anxiety and perceived stress.”

On the other hand, studies also show that people with anxiety disorders have a hard time sticking with meditation regimens. Because of this, if you suffer from anxiety, it may be easier for you to do regular meditations in a meditation group, to learn from an expert offering meditation lessons, or at the minimum to rely on guided mediation CDs for assistance.

As you meditate, you may try any of these specific techniques to lower anxiety:

  • Do a mental scan of each part of your body from head to toe at the beginning of the meditation to see if you are holding on to stress or anxiety in that part of your body. If so, lovingly release that tension.
  • If your thoughts drift, pull your awareness back to “here” and “now.”
  • During the meditation, feel the serenity and peace that is you at the moment. Visualize carrying that tranquility with you as you sit in rush-hour traffic, referee the screaming kids, and face your demanding boss. Wherever you go or whatever you do that causes you anxiety, see yourself in that situation with the awesome power of the meditation in your being. 
  • At the end of your meditation, say a prayer or affirmation to the universe for everything you are grateful for (Family? Sunshine? A compliment? Good night of sleep? Being alive?)

  ~ Jillian Avey, 


More Information/Sources:

Best Ways to Ease Anxiety Disorders

Meditation for Stress Reduction