Mindful Breathing Helps with Pain Control

Side view of young female with closed eyes breathing deeply while doing respiration exercise during yoga session in gymIt has long been known that specific breathing techniques can help with various health conditions, including pain management. But a new study from the researchers at the University of Michigan set out to compare two types of meditative breathing to find their effect on pain.

Researchers looked at two meditative breathing types, the first was traditional mindful breathing and virtual reality, and the second was 3D guided mindful breathing to reduce pain.


In the traditional breathing group, it was found that the functional connection with the brain’s frontal regions had increased. This was due to the body’s focus on internal sensory details called interoception.

This focus competed with the external pain signals and inhibited the ability of the brain to process pain. These findings outline the common assumption that mindful breathing helps to refocus the mind’s attention to the physical sensation of an internal function.

Participants wore special glasses for the virtual reality group and watched a pair of virtual reality 3D lungs while breathing mindfully. This provided an audio and visual external stimulus. It was found that pain decreased when the brain’s sensory regions engaged with the virtual reality sound and image stimulations. This process is called exteroception and can weaken the pain process function in the brain.

“I was surprised that both meditative breathing methods decreased pain sensitivity, but oppositely in the brain, like yin and yang,” said professor Alexandre DaSilva. “One by engaging the brain in an immersive exterior 3D experience of our own breathing, or exteroception–yang, and the other by focusing on our interior world, interoception–yin.”

No Learning Curve


Although both approaches decreased pain sensitivity, traditional mindful breathing showed that it may require long-time attention and focus on an abstract experience. Virtual reality breathing on the other hand might be more accessible, especially for beginners, because it lends an immersive auditory and visual guide for the meditation experience. In other words, there is no learning curve with the virtual experience.

Many regions process pain in the brain. This research helps physicians to understand some of these regions that can be externally targeted. DaSilva’s research group is now working on options to deliver this virtual reality breathing experience to patients beyond the lab space.

By creating a virtual reality breathing experience via mobile application, researchers believe they can provide pain relief to many patients who are struggling. The goal with mindfulness experiences is to help those who suffer from chronic pain without the use of medication.

Author Bio

Sarah began her interest in nutritional healing at an early age. After going through health problems and becoming frustrated with the conventional ways doctors wanted to treat her illness (which were not working), she took it upon herself to find alternative treatments. This led her to revolutionize her own diet to help her get healthier and tackle her health problems. She began treating her illness by living a more balanced lifestyle through healthy food choices, exercise and other alternative medicine such as meditation. This total positive lifestyle change led her to earn a diploma in Nutritional Therapy from Health Sciences Academy in London, England. Today, Sarah enjoys helping others by teaching healthy lifestyle changes through her personal consultations and with her regular contributions to the Doctors Health Press. Also, passionate about following her dreams in life, Sarah moved to France and lived in Paris for over 5 years where she earned a certification in beadwork and embroidery from Lesage (an atelier owned by Chanel). She then went on to be a familiar face sitting front row and reporting from Paris Fashion Week. Sarah continues to practice some of the cultural ways of life she learned while in Europe. They enjoy their food, and take the time to relax and enjoy many of life’s little moments. These are life lessons she is glad to have brought back home with her.