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Compared with an equal number of non-meditating study participants, the researchers found that highly experienced meditators reported lower pain responses, as well as less activity in those parts of the brain (the prefrontal cortex, amygdala and hippocampus) that are linked to cognitive processes, emotion and memory.
"Our findings lead to new insights into mind/brain function," study first author Joshua Grant, a doctoral student at the university, said in the same news release. "These results challenge current concepts of mental control, which is thought to be achieved by increasing cognitive activity or effort. Instead, we suggest it is possible to self-regulate in a more passive manner, by turning off certain areas of the brain, which in this case are normally involved in processing pain."
"The results suggest that Zen meditators may have a training-related ability to disengage some higher-order brain processes, while still experiencing the stimulus," added Rainville. "Such an ability could have widespread and profound implications for pain and emotion regulation and cognitive control. This behavior is consistent with the mindset of Zen and with the notion of mindfulness."