Meditation for pain relief, is it really achievable? Or is it a lot of nonsense?
To find out we must first address some common questions that arise when discussing meditation for pain management:
- What is chronic pain?
- What is meditation?
- How does meditation relieve pain?
- How do I meditate?
Within this article we will answer each of the questions above in turn. So without further ado lets get started:
What is Chronic Pain
Before we look at whether meditation for pain relief is effective we must first look at what chronic pain is.
Chronic Pain vs Acute pain?
Pain can be classified as acute pain or chronic pain. But which is which?
This type of pain is usually sharp and sudden in nature and is caused by events or circumstances, including:
- Broken bone
Acute pain might be mild and short lived, or it might be severe and last for weeks or months. In most cases, once the cause of pain has healed or treated, it does not last longer than six months. Acute pain, however, might lead to chronic pain.
Chronic pain is pain is an unpleasant sense of discomfort that persists or progresses over a long period of time, typically longer than six months.
Pain levels can range from mild to very intense and can be continuous or episodic. Dependant on the intensity of the pain, the effects of chronic pain, can range from an inconvenience to totally incapacitating.
Chronic pain may begin with an initial injury or infection. The pain may also be caused by a hereditary condition such as arthritis.
Signals of pain can remain active in the nervous system for months or even years. This can take both a physical and emotional toll.
Some of the physical effects include:
- Joint pain
- Tense muscles
- Limited mobility
- Lack of energy
- Changes in appetite
Due to the prolonged nature of chronic pain there can also be emotional effects that include:
- Fear of re-injury
What is meditation?
Meditation is a technique for resting the mind and attaining a state of consciousness that is totally different from the normal waking state.
The excerpt below from wikipedia elaborates:
The term meditation refers to a broad variety of practices that includes techniques designed to promote relaxation, build internal energy or life force (qi, ki, prana, etc.) and develop compassion, love, patience, generosity, and forgiveness. A particularly ambitious form of meditation aims at effortlessly sustained single-pointed concentration meant to enable its practitioner to enjoy an indestructible sense of well-being while engaging in any life activity. Read more…
In meditation, the mind is clear, relaxed, and inwardly focused. When you meditate, you are fully awake and alert, but your mind is not focused on the external world or on the events taking place around you.
How does meditation relieve pain?
There will come a point in time when most chronic pain sufferers are told they will have to learn to “live with their pain”.
Through meditation skills can be learned to do just that.
Meditation distracts the mind and reduces the emotional response to pain.
A technique that involves focusing on your breath or a mantra to calm your body and your mind, meditation can help someone who suffers from chronic pain to control and lessen it.
Meditation, a form of mindfulness, can change the way the mind perceives pain making it more bearable. It is a natural and effective way to ease physical pain.
How do I meditate?
Meditation can be as simple as sitting comfortably in a quiet place and letting yourself become aware of your breathing. Become mindful. Focus on each breath and nothing else.
It is natural for your mind to wander when you begin meditating. If thoughts start to drift into your mind refocus on your breathing.
Melli O’Brien over at mrsmindfulness.com outlines a fantastic 5 step pain management technique:
The Body Scan: A Mindfulness Pain Management Technique
One popular method of mindfulness-based pain management is the “body scan.” The technique is basically five steps and can take about 20-30 minutes to complete. With practice, this or other mindfulness techniques like it, have been beneficial to many chronic pain sufferers.
Step 1 Preparation
The first step involves setting yourself up for your practice. Choose a quiet and comfortable place you can lie down. You don’t want to be distracted so let others know not to disturb you for the duration of your meditation. Turn off your phone or turn it to silent. Maybe even hang a ‘do not disturb’ sign on your door.
Step 2 Grounding
After you are comfortable turn your awareness to your body. Feel the parts of your body that are in contact with the surface on which you’re laying. Also notice the position your body is in. Mentally examine your body for any areas where there may be tension—the shoulders, the jaw, the stomach. See if you can consciously release or soften those areas of the body so that you can be totally relaxed.
Step 3 Present Moment Awareness
The third step is a decision to let go of the past and the future, let go of thoughts, and to be fully engaged in the present moment. Here you focus your awareness only on your body and let everything else drop away. You make the decision that whatever you do encounter while examining your body will be met with a sense of ‘friendliness’.
Basically, what that means is that you allow whatever you encounter to be as it is. You aim to meet it with equanimity and not to judge or label certain parts of the body or treat painful body parts as an enemy.
Step 4 The Body Scan
The fourth step is the actual “scan” part. With your mind, you scan—or turn your attention—to each part of your body, one at a time. You may start with one foot and give it all your attention. Feel into the whole foot. Notice any sensation of temperature. Be aware of any fabrics that may be in touch with the skin or the point where the air meets the skin. Any sensations are welcome. Does it feel heavy or tired?
Don’t start engaging in thinking about it though- Simply aim to be aware of the sensations here. Continue the scan, moving your attention progressively up one leg and then the other, then to the torso, back arms, head and neck, focusing on part by part, one at a time.
Step 5 Whole Body Awareness
The fifth and final step is to become aware of the entire body as a connected whole. Bring awareness to your entire physical body and maintain that awareness for a few minutes. Feel the body from within. Again, aim to stay fully present. There is no need to think about the body. Simply feel into it.
Many people who have used mindfulness–based pain relief techniques – like the body scan – report that it works very well for them.
Their ability to cope with pain improves which, in turn, improves their quality of life. It also has the wonderful side benefit of alleviating much of the mental and emotional strain associated with chronic pain.
And most importantly, it does this with no risks or negative side effects— being completely natural, the only side effects are positive ones. Read more…
Meditation for Pain Relief – Conclusion
If you are in the unfortunate position suffering with chronic pain, meditation or some form of mindfulness is an avenue worth exploring explore.
Medication may alleviate the pain but many drugs come with their own side effects, drowsiness, Stomach upset, heartburn, nausea etc. If you are seeking an effective natural way to manage pain mindfulness techniques could be the answer.
You should seek out a good teacher for one on one tuition. Although there is plenty of information and many videos online, being taught in person will help you learn to keep focus and become much more effective at controlling the pain yourself.
Once the technique is mastered being in control, rather than “living with the pain”, can be empowering and restore confidence.
Although meditation for pain relief has proven to be effective(1) always speak to a medical professional before considering it as an alternative to any medication you may already be taking.