If you haven't already, it's time to hop on the "breathe in, breathe out" bandwagon — because, well, there are really no downsides.
So far, meditation has proven effective at improving athletic performance, bedroom game, and kid's test scores, among much more. And now, a new study reported on by TIME found that it can reduce physical pain by up to 27% — while the opioid morphine reduces physical pain by only 22%. Seriously.
For the study, researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center used a 120-degree thermal probe to inflict pain on the 75 healthy, pain-free participants, scanning their brains with an MRI throughout to see how they were reacting to the pain. (Ouch, indeed.)
Then, the participants were broken into four groups: the first group was given a placebo cream that they were told would reduce their pain; the second was taught a fake meditation technique in which they were just told to breathe deeply for 20 minutes; the third was taught actual mindfulness meditation techniques, like following their breath as it traveled through their bodies; and the fourth, a control group, listened to a book on tape for 20 minutes.
All of the groups were told that the remedy they'd received would lessen their pain the next time they would be subjected to the heat probe. (Lies. All lies.) Then, after a few days of “training” with their specific techniques, the 120-degree probe returned, and the participants were told to employ the technique they'd practice.
Here's what they found: a burning hot probe doesn't feel good.
But seriously: those who were in the mindfulness meditation group actually benefitted from the technique. The intensity of their physical pain dropped by 27% and their emotional pain dropped by a whopping 44%.
These declines in pain were much more dramatic than they were for any of the other three groups in the study. Plus, as mentioned previously, past research has shown morphine only reduces pain by 22%.
Of course, more research needs to be done, but the researchers are pretty confident in these results. Got pain but no prescription? No problem. Meditation, apparently, beats morphine.