Since the first demonstrations that mindfulness-based therapies could have a positive influence on chronic pain patients, numerous studies have been conducted with healthy individuals in an attempt to understand meditative analgesia. This review focuses explicitly on experimental pain studies of meditation and attempts to draw preliminary conclusions based on the work completed in this new field over the past 6 years. Dividing meditative practices into the broad categories of focused attention (FA) and open monitoring (OM) techniques allowed several patterns to emerge. The majority of evidence for FA practices suggests they are not particularly effective in reducing pain. OM, on the other hand, seems to influence both sensory and affective pain ratings depending on the tradition or on whether the practitioners were meditating. The neural pattern underlying pain modulation during OM suggests meditators actively focus on the noxious stimulation while inhibiting other mental processes, consistent with descriptions of mindfulness. A preliminary model is presented for explaining the influence of mindfulness practice on pain. Finally, the potential analgesic effect of the currently unexplored technique of compassion meditation is discussed.
Keywords: analgesia; cognition; emotion; meditation; mindfulness; pain.
© 2013 New York Academy of Sciences.