Sometimes referred to as imagery or visualization, meditation refers to full concentration of the mind. The goal is not necessarily to clear the mind, but to control and discipline it so that it is not overrun with useless thoughts and fears.
Meditation has been shown to have a variety of benefits, namely that it promotes relaxation and peace. Research has also shown that meditation can reduce pain levels by 57 percent.1 (To put this in perspective, morphine and other pain relievers have been shown to reduce pain intensity by about 25 percent.) The reduction in pain was not just a placebo effect, as brain scans indicated that there was almost no activity in the somatosensory cortex—an area of the brain that senses pain intensity—during meditation. Some research has found that meditation provides pain relief by increasing brain activity in regions associated with sensory information processing, such as the posterior insula.2
Meditation has even been studied in patients with RA and been shown to reduce fatigue and stress levels in these patients.3
Mindfulness meditation refers to the ability to observe your thoughts and feelings from an objective distance, without actively trying to avoid them or judge them. Meditation doesn’t have to be formal or complicated to be effective. Most communities have meditation instructors and courses if you want to learn, but you can also try it on your own.
There are countless ways to meditate, but the simplest way to start is to assume a comfortable seated position in a quiet setting, close your eyes, and tune in to the breath. Focusing on breathing deeply and slowly helps to quiet the mind and induce a calm state. Some people find that it helps to count to ten with each inhale and each exhale, which helps slow the breath and maintain focus. Spend five minutes quietly attuned to your breath and let the peace wash over you.
Next: Guided Imagery
1 Zeidan F, Martucci KT, Kraft RA, et al. Brain Mechanisms Supporting the Modulation of Pain by Mindfulness Meditation. The Journal of Neuroscience. 2011; 31(14): 5540-5548.
2 Gard T, Holzel BK, Sack AT, et al. Pain Attenuation through Mindfulness is Associated with Decreased Cognitive Control and Increased Sensory Processing in the Brain. Cerebral Cortex. Published early online December 15, 2011: doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhr352
3 Zangi HA, Mowinckel P, Finset A, et al. A mindfulness-based group intervention to reduce psychological distress and fatigue in patients with inflammatory rheumatic joint diseases: a randomized controlled trial. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases. Published early online December 20, 2011: doi:10.1136/annrheumdis-2011-200351