The first three articles in this series on mindfulness, applied as a clinical tool and based on peer-reviewed studies, showed that mindfulness meditation may have a significant effect in the prevention and treatment of the first three leading causes of death, cardiovascular disease, cancer and accidents.
In the future, I will proceed to show that mindfulness can also greatly benefit those who suffer from chronic lower respiratory disease (#4 in mortality), stroke and cerebrovascular diseases (#5), Alzheimer's disease (#6), diabetes(#7) and influenza/ pneumonia (#8 cause of death). Every so often in these weekly presentations, I will break out of the series to present a related topic, and since last week’s was accidents, this week I will address one of the sequelae of accidents, chronic pain.
In a publication in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Zeidan and Vago showed how mindfulness relieves pain.
“Pain is a multidimensional experience that involves sensory, cognitive, and affective factors. The constellation of interactions between these factors renders the treatment of chronic pain challenging and financially burdensome. Further, the widespread use of opioids to treat chronic pain has led to an opioid epidemic characterized by exponential growth in opioid misuse and addiction. The staggering statistics related to opioid use highlight the importance of developing, testing, and validating fast-acting non-pharmacological approaches to treat pain. Mindfulness meditation is a technique that has been found to significantly reduce pain in experimental and clinical settings. The present review delineates findings from recent studies demonstrating that mindfulness meditation significantly attenuates pain through multiple, unique mechanisms—an important consideration for the millions of chronic pain patients seeking narcotic-free, self-facilitated pain therapy.”
Over 40 years ago, I discovered how mindfulness meditation could relieve the pain of my sports injuries and having familiarized myself with its pain-relieving effects in my clinical practice, I was compelled to define the exact neurological mechanism as to how this effect occurs and discuss that in my PhD thesis (Figure 13, p. 50) even based on the rudimentary research available decades ago. The primary mechanism involved is a feed-forward and feed-back loop between the neurons in the prefrontal cortex and the thalamus. When the prefrontal cortex (PFC), the part of our brain which is primarily responsible for conferring the faculty of mindfulness, makes contact with pain that is being processed in the thalamus, the PFC “gates” the medial thalamic nuclei and simply does not allow the pain to enter consciousness. The PFC shuts pain off.
That relationship can now be observed through brain imagery as published in the Zeidan and Vago article referenced above. I was not permitted to republish the lovely picture in Figure 2 from this article, which shows real time activity between the PFC and the thalamus, however you can find this article in Google and scroll down to Figure 2 (p. 21 in the PDF downloaded version). A quote from the Figure 2 caption describes this:
“Mindfulness meditation also activated the right inferior frontal gyrus and produced deactivation of the bilateral thalamus.”
The neurophysiological mechanisms by which mindfulness causes “deactivation” of pain are well-known. The experiential exercise to abolish pain is well described in my latest book and page 271.
Learn Mindfulness Exercises
This week in the Mindfulness and Healing Group we will return to practicing this exercise.
Even if you are not dealing with a pain syndrome currently, come anyway, because eventually some serious pain will show up in your life and learning how to “attenuate” it with this mindfulness skill can be very useful. In part, this is exactly the mechanism used by women who apply the “natural childbirth” methods taught to them in Lamaze classes.
Pain management via mindfulness is available to everyone because we all have these neurophysiological mechanisms hard-wired into our brains. All we need to do is wake them up and use them.
Everyone invited. Mindfulness Meditation and Healing Group
every Sunday evening at 7 PM.
To enter the group, simply call 712-770-4340 and when prompted,
enter the code 566853# (pound)
Charles Gant MD, PhD, is a physician, author and teacher and has practiced Integrative and Functional Medicine for over three decades. He specializes in getting to the root cause of health issues to support healing at the molecular level. Areas of interest include ADHD, chronic diseases, metabolic, hormonal and immune disorders, infectious disease (Lyme and co-infections), genetic testing and more. He is an expert in interpretation of functional medicine testing to diagnose precisely what is deficient in each patient, and then replenish those missing, essential items.
 Zeidan, F., & Vago, D. R. (2016). Mindfulness meditation-based pain relief: a mechanistic account. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1373(1), 114–127. https://doi.org/10.1111/nyas.13153
 Gant c (1984) A Neurological Model of the Transformational Psychologies. Copies available at University Microfilms International (UMI) Dissertation Abstracts database, 300 N Zeeb Rd., Ann Arbor, Michigan 48106.
 Gant C (2020) Awaken Your Godly Brain, Liberty Hill Publishing.
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