A simple practice such as The Art of Ascension retrains the brain, teaches non-judgement and acceptance and develops the skills for directing attention, all which assist in changing our relationship to pain.
Over the last 10 years, over many tests, researchers found that when meditators are stimulated with pain, which is compared before vs. during meditation, meditators typically report either a drop in pain intensity (how strong the pain is), pain unpleasantness (how bothersome the pain is), or both.
Dr. May has been on a mission to discover how meditation reduces pain. She designed a test with experienced meditators involving the administration of naloxone which inhibits opioid pathways. In 2014, Mind and Life funded her study as well as a similar study by Dr. Fadel using novice meditators.
The 2 separate studies of experienced and non-experienced meditators achieved the same result when opioid pathways were blocked. The results were completely unexpected!
Researchers set up a pain test. After testing and determining that the meditators received at least 15% reduction in pain through meditation, they gave them a second test and administered naloxone, which blocks opioid pathways. Researchers expected either less reduction in pain or no change. However, they were amazed to find naloxone produced significantly greater reductions in pain intensity and unpleasantness than the control groups. Naloxone has been used in pain research for over 30 years and has never been shown to improve pain.
The results suggests that endogenous opioids are clearly not the chemical the brain uses to reduce pain during meditation. Therefore, the treatment of chronic pain may be more effective with meditation due to a lack of cross-tolerance with opiate-based medications. This seems to be good news and indicative of more success for patients with PTSD as well as patients with previous opioid addictions in using meditation for pain reduction.