Meditation and the brain

by Christina on February 26, 2010

This study just came out showing that Zen meditators had thicker areas of the brain associated with pain sensitivity (the anterior cingulate) when compared with non-meditators.

One of the researchers explained: “The often painful posture associated with Zen meditation may lead to thicker cortex and lower pain sensitivity.”

He suggests that it’s the posture that may lead to this brain change.

I’m wondering what vigorous exercise does to this part of the brain, and especially what the combination of meditation with exercise (i.e. Ashtanga yoga) might have on the brain. Maybe having a certain amount of regular voluntary pain increases our threshold, enabling us to withstand higher levels (back to the hormesis idea).

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Grimmly February 26, 2010 at 7:25 am

Interesting, good news for the Ashtangi's ; ) wonder if we can read that as voluntary discomfort rather than full on pain, doesn't sound so bad. Ties in with some Vipassana techniques perhaps, that shift the focus of the meditation to the pain/discomfort, or is it something about the Zen approach of totally disregarding the pain along with any other thought or emotion that comes up during practice.

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roberto February 26, 2010 at 10:51 am

I love reading your blog. It's fun learning about new medical discoveries related to our practice every day. Good job!

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Christina February 26, 2010 at 11:53 am

Hey Grimmly, great questions and yes I think voluntary discomfort rather than pain is a good way of thinking about this. I wonder if the type of meditation (Vipassana vs Zen) matters, or if it's simply the practice of withstanding long and repeated periods of discomfort.

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adam February 26, 2010 at 2:19 pm
kmcoco February 26, 2010 at 3:46 pm

or expecting a bit of discomfort

Perhaps it is not having an expectation of painlessness that is salutary.

Pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.

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