How Mindful Meditation Can Relieve Chronic Pain

Mindfulness- A Buddhist Approach to Relieve Chronic Pain

It is easy for people suffering from chronic pain to develop negative feelings of anguish and helplessness. Mindfulness- a type of meditation technique gives you tools to analyze pain from a different angle and help you overcome your pain!

To understand Mindfulness we first need to understand the Buddhist perception of pain…

The Buddhist perception of pain

Any stimuli that are interpreted as damaging or troublesome, the body and nervous system respond to it as physical pain. According to the Buddhist perspective, dealing with pain is not as difficult as to deal with as the feelings that occur when you are suffering. The question is how we transform our minds to perceive pain into positive feeling rather than the negative. Is that even possible?

Yes, it is possible with Jon Kabat- Zinn, Ph. D., professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, who is a veteran of Buddhist meditation and hatha yoga practice. He has established the use of mindfulness firmly to treat chronic pain and illnesses.

The 3 dimensions of pain

Jon Kabat explains the three dimensions of pain that surface when you are suffering from pain:

  1. The physical aspect – sensing the pain and the physical limitations such as movement or carrying out daily routine associated with it.
  2. The emotional aspect – you feel upset and commonly irritated only to latch on to negative thoughts of being victimized by your illness.
  3. The cognitive aspect – the feeling of never-ending agony, as well as negative stories about how difficult your illness will be in the future.

This comes from the story of two arrows from Buddha’s teachings. He taught that physical pain is like being shot with an arrow, and the person not resisting that pain only seems to be affected by that arrow. But when a normal person in pain further becomes anguished, he also suffers emotionally. Buddha termed anguishing over pain is like being shot with another arrow. The aversion to pain adds suffering and the negative thoughts surrounding the pain affect the quality of life.

Based on the Buddhist perspective, you can change your response to pain by being more mindful. Mindfulness is a practice of purposely focusing your attention on pain and accepting it without judgment. As clinical psychologist Elisha Goldstein explains- mindfulness is a learning mindset rather than achievement oriented.

One that involves learning about the pain as opposed to focusing on ways to stop it.

How to meditate

Mindfulness techniques for chronic pain

Goldstein further suggests some mindfulness techniques below which can be effective for chronic pain relief:

  • Body Scan: This involves bringing awareness to each body part. Body scan is also included in the program Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MSBR) – founded by Kabat – Zinn in 1979.

A study published in PubMed had reported that MSBR is effective in improving the mental health of cancer patients. Today, even though MSBR helps in treating several disorders such anxiety, stress, sleep problems, high blood pressure, it was mainly created to help chronic patients.

With body scan, you are conditioning your brain to experience what the brain doesn’t want to pay attention to. It also teaches the brain to ‘live with the pain” rather than reacting to it promptly.

  • Breathing: When we experience pain, we cloud our minds with negative thoughts and expression of helplessness such as “how am I going to pull through the day?”…

Goldstein suggests the moment your mind drifts into these negative thoughts, you can pull back from them by taking deep, composed breaths, focusing when you “breathe in” and “breathe out” and asking yourself, “ what is the most important thing now that needs my attention”?

  • Distractions: Watching a game of football can make you realize the extent of injuries players must be having while playing and yet they continue to carry on with their game? How come anything as severe as having bruises or leg injuries doesn’t distract them from playing? Because the excitement to play acts as a healthy distraction for them to focus on the game rather than the pain.

Goldstein suggests picking a healthy distraction at times of severe pain can be a helpful tool. Talking to your friend, reading a book, taking a nap, playing a game or any other activity that keeps you distracted from pain.

Playing a little mind game with these Mindfulness techniques can help you get respite from chronic pain. It is natural, non-invasive and only has positive benefits as side effects!