Episode 96 :: Tim Gard :: Pain Attenuation Through Mindfulness

| December 23, 2011 | 12 Comments

Tim Gard

Tim Gard speaks with us about a new study just released on pain attenuation through mindfulness.

Hi, everyone. As we mentioned in last week’s episode, we’re fortunate this week in having the author of a new study just released. This study helps shed some light on what happens in the brain when we feel pain, what happens in the brain when we feel pain while in a mindfulness state, and how this is different than what we see in placebo responses to pain. We also examine some of the subtle differences between studies of this kind, and why these distinctions matter.

Again, I would like to thank the staff of Dr. Sara Lazar’s lab at Massachusetts General Hospital for their outreach and interest in timely discussion of their work. What you’re discovering is helping energize and excite us, and we’re truly grateful to you.

Tim Gard is a PhD student of neuroscience at the Bender Institute of Neuroimaging in Giessen, Germany, where he is currently finishing up his thesis on the neural correlates of mindfulness-induced analgesia. He obtained his master’s degree in psychology from Maastricht University with his thesis entitled “Regulation of Emotion and Cognition During Mathematical Problem Solving: the Effects of Yoga in an Indian Sample.” Currently, Tim is a visiting researcher and research assistant at the Lazar Lab at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he works on behavioral and neuroimaging data obtained from Kripalu Yogis. After his graduation, Tim will continue to investigate yoga as a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Lazar’s lab.

So, sit back, relax, and have a nice Coke, lots of ice. It really goes quite well in Winter.


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Music for This Episode

Shakuhachi Meditations

Shakuhachi Meditations

The music heard in the middle of the podcast is from Rodrigo Rodriguez’s CD, Shakuhachi Meditations. The tracks used in this episode are:

  • Cross of Light

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Category: The Secular Buddhist Podcast

Ted Meissner

About the Author ()

Ted Meissner is the Executive Director of the Secular Buddhist Association, host of the SBA's official podcast The Secular Buddhist, and is on the Advisory Board for the Spiritual Naturalist Society. His background is in the Zen and Theravada traditions, he is a regular speaker on interfaith panel discussions, and is interested in examining the evolution of contemplative practice in contemporary culture.

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  1. Tom Alan says:

    Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, the first mindfulness-based western therapy,has been studied since it was developed in the 1980s. It has been successful with a number of problems, but it’s greatest success has been with chronic pain.

    I was very happy to read the recent Secular Buddhist Association piece “Meditation Only?” which deals with MBSR. This treatment is often dismissed by western Buddhists who regard it as a watered-down version of their practice. Note substitution of the word “practice” for “religion.” If you read Full Catastrophe Living by the founder of MBSR, Jon Kabat-Zinn, you’ll find the Preface in which Thich Nhat Hanh,one of the most influential exponents of the Buddhist religion, endorses Kabat-Zinn’s work. I can’t help but think that Martin Luther King nominated Thich for something besides his meditation.

  2. stoky says:

    Finally had the time to listen to the episode (as a non-native english-speaker I have to concentrate to listen to the podcast).

    It’s really an interesting study. I also read the paper and realized how helpful listening to the podcast in advance was (especially because I’m not a neuro-scientist).

    One question popped into my mind during all this: If the region responsible for emotional-judgement shows lower activity, does this in any way affect the ability of the mind to make decisions? E.g. is it only emotional judgement or also rational judgement?

    Most Buddhist agree that after enlightenment you’re still able to decide what’s right and wrong, maybe even better than before, because you’re not attached to it anymore.

    But maybe that’s not investigated yet. I remember one saying “In science, every answer creates two more questions.”.

    Anyhow, thanks you very much again for the insightful podcast!

    • Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

      Hi, Stoky! Excellent question, and I’ll ask Tim to take a look here, or to answer you directly on your own site. I’ve linked your blog to the Blog Roll section on the right side of this site, too.

      Though it may not be a very good translation tool, the Google Translate widget on this site may open it up to your readers as well — that’s my hope, that they can find some value here and not a language barrier.

      • stoky says:

        Thanks for referring my question to Tim and for adding my blog to the blog roll.

        Language barrier is quite an issue sometimes, and that’s one of the reasons why I give summaries of english articles/talks/podcasts in my blog. You get the basic story without having to cross the barrier and when you’re interested in more, you’re probably willing to put the necessary effort in it.

    • Tim says:

      Dear Stoky,

      Thank you very much for your interest in our study and your question.
      We found decreased activation in lateral prefrontal cortex (lPFC) in meditators while mindfully processing painful stimuli. Increased activation in this region has been associated with pain and emotion modulation through reappraisal (a cognitive process), and with emotional and non-emotional judgment.
      Your question regarding decision making is really interesting. LPFC is involved decision making although I don’t know much about how. A recent study that investigated decision making in meditators with the ultimatum game revealed that meditators played more rationally than controls and had increased activation in the posterior insula. Highly rationally playing non-meditators on the contrary had increased activation in lPFC. These findings seem to be aligned with your idea that experienced meditators have improved decision making, and point in the direction that this improvement can be achieved in a different way than in non-meditating persons, similar to what we observed in the context of pain. Here is the link to the study: http://www.frontiersin.org/decision_neuroscience/10.3389/fnins.2011.00049/abstract

      Best,

      Tim

      • Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

        Thank you so much for answering here, Tim, I really appreciate it!

      • stoky says:

        Dear Tim,

        thank you very much for answering! Often in these times nobody cares about things that happened yesterday. I really appreciate the fact that you took time to answer my question!

        Your answer is very interesting. It does not only seem to be aligned with the idea that meditating improves the decision making ability but also with my own experience while interacting with mathematicians (people in this field often have strong opinions, presumably because they are used to things being “right” or “wrong”).

        Sometimes people call Buddhism “a training for the heart”. It’s quite interesting to see that this doesn’t interfere with rational thought, but on the contrary makes it easier to make rational decisions. I’m definetely going to read the paper!

        Again, thank you very much,
        stoky

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