Have you ever had to cope with pain? There are two main kinds of physical pain: chronic and acute. Chronic pain is often defined as any kind of pain that persists for 12 weeks or more, such as arthritis. Acute pain arises suddenly and is usually the result of an injury or other identifiable cause, such as toothache. Although prescription drugs can efficiently ease pain, long-term use of these drugs can cause your body to create resistance, requiring ever-higher doses to be effective. This is especially true for chronic pain, as symptoms persist over time. Addiction to painkillers is one devastating outcome of the need to escape chronic pain.
Mindfulness meditation is believed to be a viable alternative to drugs when it comes to pain management. Although research is still in the beginning phases, pilot studies focusing on the benefits of mindfulness have shown promising outcomes for patients suffering from chronic ailments such as fibromyalgia, back pain, migraines, etc. According to one study, conclusive results also showed increased tolerance of discomfort, decreased reports of depression, and improved quality of life.
Pain Relief Meditation Techniques
Constant pain interferes with our everyday lives in a number of ways. Sometimes it feels like everything hurts and there’s no escape. It’s hard to have a positive outlook when pain is present. Pain can undermine our self-confidence and make it difficult to focus. Fortunately, there are non-pharmaceutical methods that can help.
Mindfulness meditation, notably, shows us that it is possible to remain aware of what we are experiencing in the present moment without having to accept or reject it. It also teaches us that everything changes, and that even in the midst of chronic pain there are periods of emotional and physical well-being. Finally, as we begin exploring and working with our current situation, we discover that part of our problem with pain is that – quite naturally – we want to escape it. This reluctance to accept our experience causes even more suffering. But we don’t have to reject our reality. As the famous saying goes, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”
An article in Psychology Today maps this out very clearly. “For people with chronic pain, there is a direct correlation between negative thinking and the level of pain they experience. It’s a vicious circle wherein pain triggers negative thoughts and self-talk which translate to feelings that coincide with suffering, and increases muscle tension and stress, which in turn, amplify the pain signals, triggering more of them.” The author goes on to suggest that training in acceptance strategies and mindfulness-based practices can make a world of difference.
Mindfulness meditation for pain management is often based on detached observation techniques. Here, physical pain is abstracted from experiences of cognitive and emotional pain. Some studies even suggest that meditation can successfully reduce or sometimes eradicate pain without causing any unwanted side effects.
The Power of Meditation
According to meditation teacher and psychologist Maria Camara, PhD, meditation allows us to accept our deepest emotions and let go. Meditation is also a powerful tool that can help us gain a deeper awareness of our physical states. It also helps us identify which actions cause more pain so we can mindfully avoid them when possible.
Studies have shown that meditation not only improves emotional resilience and reduces tension, it also causes structural changes within the nervous system and brain. Individuals who participated in one study experienced less distress and dealt with pain more effectively by using guided spiritual meditation than those who used traditional pain-relieving techniques.
Two effective Meditation Techniques to Reduce Pain
- Walking meditation
This can be an effective meditation for pain relief. When walking, just focus your attention on the movement of your feet and legs, or on the sensations of your feet stepping one in front of the other. Be aware of your body as it moves through space. You can also concentrate on other body movements, such as your arms swinging lightly as you walk. Notice the different sensations moving through your body. A lot of hidden feelings and emotions can come to light through the simple act of walking meditation.
- Mindfulness meditation
One of the best techniques for those who suffer from chronic pain, mindfulness meditation is all about awareness and unconditional acceptance of what is being experienced in the present moment. It starts usually with watching the breath but can also be applied to regular activities and habits (such as eating, brushing one’s teeth and showering). The practice of mindfulness refreshes the mind, pacifies negative thoughts and develops the ability to focus.
You may want to check out our new course on Mind-Body Health and Harmony for more information on how to work with chronic conditions through meditation.