Pain regulation during mindfulness meditation: phenomenological fingerprints in novices and experts practitioners.

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The way people respond to pain is based on psychological mechanisms, beliefs and expectations. Mindfulness meditation (MM) has been shown to regulate pain and mental suffering through different mechanisms such as positive reappraisal, attentional and emotional regulation. Yet, subjective experience and meaning of pain in connection with MM are still largely unexplored.The present mixed-methods study combined an interpretative-phenomenological qualitative approach with an experimental thermal pain paradigm to explore and compare the meaning of experiencing pain in 32 novices who received short meditation training and 30 experts in meditation practice (more than 10, 000 hours in life). We collected the qualitative data during in-depth semi-structured interviews where we probed participants’ response strategies. During the pain task, we collected self-reports of intensity and unpleasantness, while after the task we collected self-reports of avoidance, openness, vividness and blissfulness.Five phenomenological clusters (PhC) emerged from the interviews, including three which described pain as an unpleasant sensation calling for: 1) experiential avoidance-suppression, 2) volitional agency-distanciation, or 3) a positive cognitive reappraisal and flexibility. Two additional clusters (4-5), containing mostly expert meditators, thematized pain sensation as an opportunity to gain metacognitive insights about mental processes, and to deconstruct one’s suffering through these insights. PhC5 further integrates these insights with the recognition that suffering is part of the shared human experience and with the aspiration to relieve others from suffering. Each PhC was correlated to a unique profile of self-reports during the pain paradigm.These findings need to be replicated in patients with severe and chronic pain and practicing MM. They also warrant the integration of this mixed-method approach with brain imaging data to refine the experiential neuroscience of pain.

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Authors: S Poletti, O Abdoun, J Zorn, A Lutz