The Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine reported in its January, 2009, issue that a group of Zen meditators had a higher threshold for pain—whether meditating or not—compared with a group of non-meditators.
The study was carried out at the Université de Montréal by Joshua Grant, a doctoral student in the department of physiology, and Pierre Rainville, a professor and researcher. They recruited thirteen Zen meditators who had done a minimum of 1,000 hours of practice and a control group of thirteen non-meditators.
To test for pain sensitivity, the researchers pressed a computer-controlled heating plate against the calves of subjects at heat levels ranging from 43° to 53° Celsius (109° to 127° Fahrenheit). While many of the meditators tolerated the highest temperature, no one in the control group did. The study concluded that the meditators experienced an 18-percent reduction in pain, attributed in part to their 20-percent slower breathing rate. Slower breathing “may influence pain by keeping the body in a relaxed state,” Grant says. “If meditation can change the way someone feels pain, thereby reducing the amount of pain medication needed for an ailment, that would clearly be beneficial.”