A 3-day mindfulness meditation program reduced pain ratings and anxiety scores for young adults with no prior meditation training, according to a small study published in The Journal of Pain (2009; doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2009.07.015). What is important about this study is that researchers showed improvements in mindfulness and pain reduction after only three consecutive 20-minute training sessions.
Researchers from the department of psychology at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, wanted to determine whether the beneficial effects of mindfulness meditation could be realized through brief training in an experimental setting. Investigators conducted experiments with subject pools ranging in size from 21 to 27 participants who were recruited from college students aged 18–30 with no prior meditation experience. Before and after each experiment, investigators measured participants’ pain ratings in response to three harmless electrical shocks.
One group of subjects participated in meditation training for 20 minutes on 3 consecutive days. Their post-training responses to pain stimulation were compared with their own baseline measures and with the pain responses of two other groups: subjects who did a math distraction task to take their mind off the pain and subjects instructed to relax between the pain stimulation tests.
Analysis of the data showed that people who participated in the total of 1 hour of mindfulness meditation training experienced significantly less subjective pain, pain sensitivity and state anxiety during pain stimulation and experienced higher levels of mindfulness. Those who participated in the meditation training experienced less pain than those who engaged in a math distraction task or simple relaxation.
Limitations of the study included the fact that subjects were college-aged students and that the mindfulness meditation training was limited to just 20 minutes per day for 3 days. The effectiveness of the technique to reduce pain sensitivity may be greater with more training. Researchers recommended studying the technique’s effect on patients with chronic pain.