Mindfulness and Dealing with Pain

Diana Winston in her meditation podcast, Working with Pain, offers some suggestions on how meditation can be used to alleviate and/or manage pain better.  She highlights the fact that along with pain are the stories that we tell ourselves about the pain we are experiencing, e.g. “This pain will never go way.”, This is ruining my life.”, “I cannot cope with this pain.”  Diana suggests that the stories aggravate the suffering we experience with pain and only serve to amplify the pain through their negativity.

Pain and suffering are part of being human as we are reminded by the Buddhist tradition.  Diana quotes the often repeated saying, “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”, to remind us that we have choices in how we deal with pain.  So, we are left with the challenge of managing the pain that occurs at different points of our life, whether the pain of loss or physical pain in some part or all of our body.   Dealing with chronic pain through mindfulness has been the focus of a lot of the pioneering work of Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Meditation for working with pain

Diana provides a meditation exercise for working with pain in her podcast mentioned above.  The meditation practice involves several discrete steps and is about 20 minutes in length:

1. Grounding – feet on the ground, arms relaxed on your lap or beside you (h0wever is comfortable), eyes closed or looking downwards, a few deep breaths to relax your body.

2. Focus on your breathing – focus your attention on wherever you can feel your breathing in your body (nose, mouth, chest, stomach). Don’t try to control you breathing but just notice it, e.g. the undulations of your stomach.  Get in touch with your in-breath and out-breath and the space between.  You can rest in the space.

3. Body scan – explore your body with your attention, noting as you progress from your head to your toes any points of tightness, tingling or other sensation.  Just notice as your attention moves over your body and let go as you experience the sensation. (The art of noticing is integral to mindfulness practice.)

4. Refocus on your breathing – now return to mindful breathing (3 above).  Spend a reasonable amount of time resting in this focus – about 10 minutes say.

5. Focus on a relaxed part of your body – the aim is to locate in your body a part (e.g. arm, leg, chest) that feels secure, relaxed, at peace and pain-free.  Rest for a time in this relaxed part of your body to enable the sensation of peace and calm to spread through your body.

6. Focus on your pain – now focus on that part of your body where you are experiencing the ongoing pain.  Feel the sensation of the pain and describe the sensation to yourself.  Now focus on the stories you have developed around the pain and let them go – they are fabrications created by your fight/flight response.  If you can, bring your focus to a point outside the area of pain as a prelude to completing the next step.

7. Re-focus on the relaxed part of your body – experience the restfulness here.

8. Re-focus on your breathing – gradually bring your attention back to your breathing.  After a time of mindful breathing, resume your daily activity.

As we grow in mindfulness though meditation, we can learn ways to reduce pain or better manage pain so that we can function normally.  It is important to master our stories that aggravate our suffering from pain.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of dimitrisvetsikas1969 on Pixabay

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Tai Chi and the Mind-Body Connection

In a previous post when discussing mindfulness and neuroplasticity, I mentioned that Tai Chi actually develops the mind physically by increasing the size of the insula in the brain.

Tai Chi is one of the mind-body techniques that form part of Traditional Chinese Medicine and is based on Chinese philosophy incorporating Taoism and Confucianism.  Tai Chi involves a combination of slow movements, body postures and mindful breathing.  In Chinese philosophy terms, it facilitates the flow of Qi, “life energy”.

Tai Chi has been shown to improve muscle strength, balance and flexibility and, when used in conjunction with Western Medicine, helps patients suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, Arthritis and low bone density as well as helping people to recover from the effects of a stroke.

The real benefits of Tai Chi flow from its capacity to simultaneously develop the mind and body of the practitioner and thus enhance their mind-body connection.  Alzheimer’s disease is a clear example of the mind-body connection because as the mind deteriorates so does the body.  Tai Chi has been shown to combat Alzheimer’s.

The power of Tai Chi to develop the mind derives from the state of “relaxed concentration” achieved by focusing on the coordination of mind and body in a series of slow, balanced and rhythmic movements, while focusing on a single thought.  The focused attention develops mindfulness, improves memory and strengthens concentration.  Dr. Shin Lin, in a talk at the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine, provided research results to show that Tai Chi produces new neurons during regular practice which suppress stress and build memory.

Dr. Lin indicated that Tai Chi, besides producing stress release, also improves immunity and eases chronic pain and fatigue.  Professor Michael R. Irwin, Medical Doctor and Director of the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at UCLA, has demonstrated in his research that Tai Chi “promotes improvements in health functioning, viral specific immunity, and inflammation”.  His area of research and practice is focused on the mind-body connection – “Psychoneuroimmunology” involves the “study of the interaction between the psychological processes and the nervous and immunity systems of the human body”.

I have found from personal experience that Taoist Tai Chi helps both my mind (concentration, focus and creativity) and my body (energy, balance and fitness). I use the evidence of the mind-body benefits of Tai Chi to motivate my daily practice.

Karl Romain, in discussing how Tai Chi trains the brain, suggests that if you cannot find time for meditation and Tai Chi, practise your Tai Chi because it has a meditation element, as well as provides benefits for your mind-body connection.  I think the two practices, meditation and Tai Chi, are highly complementary and my personal goal is to achieve daily mindfulness practices that include both traditions.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and/or Tai Chi, we develop improved health and wellness, develop our minds and deepen our mind-body connection.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of johnhain on Pixabay

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Persistence with Mindfulness Creates its Own Reward

In previous posts, I discussed how mindfulness meditation can provide pain relief in situations of chronic pain and alleviate the symptoms of psoriasis.

From my personal experience, I can confirm that being mindful in the midst of pain or the relentless itch from psoriasis is not easy.  However, I have found in both situations that mindful meditation has been extremely helpful.

In 1997, my back collapsed and I could not stand for more than two minutes or walk more than 10 metres without experiencing excruciating sciatic pain that travelled down to my ankles.  On top of this, I had pneumonia which aggravated the pain whenever I coughed.

I spent 18 months having all kinds of treatment – chiropractic, hydrotherapy, physiotherapy and osteopathy.  There were times when I had to lie on my back on the floor, alternating one hour on and one hour off.  When you are lying on the floor, there is not much you can do except meditate – which is what I did to achieve some degree of pain management.

More recently, I have found that mindful breathing focused on the part of my body that is itchy, has provided some relief.  This is difficult to do because the temptation is to seek distraction rather than focus on the source of discomfort.  However, as I mentioned in my previous post on psoriasis, research has demonstrated that mindful meditation can actually enhance the healing benefit of whatever form of treatment for psoriasis you are undertaking.

We know from experience that conscious breathing can help us manage pain when, for instance, we are undertaking painful physiotherapy or remedial massage.  Research shows that conscious breathing, combined with focused attention, actually speeds up the healing process.

While the pain or itching discomfort can remind you, and motivate you, to undertake mindfulness meditation, this practice in turn helps you to grow in mindfulness – with all its attendant benefits. So, there is a two-way dynamic operating – pain and discomfort precipitate mindful practice and the latter reinforces other forms of mindfulness that you have developed through different techniques.  Also, as you grow in mindfulness, it gets easier to be mindful when experiencing chronic pain or discomfort from psoriasis.

What I found helpful too is to visualise a future state where you are healed – in my case, visualising returning to playing tennis again on a weekly basis, a state which I eventually achieved after mindfulness meditation in concert with multiple treatments for my back problems.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: Courtesy of illustrade on Pixabay

Mindful Meditation to Reduce the Symptoms of Psoriasis

In an earlier post, I discussed how mindfulness meditation can help the management of chronic pain.  In this post, I will focus on the beneficial effects of mindful meditation for the management of psoriasis.

Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that can last for weeks, months and even years and can recur at anytime.  This skin condition is thought to be an autoimmune disease that typically manifests as a rash or skin lesion that can be exceptionally itchy and results in dry, cracking skin that can be painful.  The skin problem is exacerbated because people with psoriasis, consciously or unconsciously, scratch the itching skin which intensifies the itch and increases inflammation of the skin.

This vicious cycle can contribute to emotional and psychological problems.  People who suffer from this skin condition may feel embarrassed to be seen out in public and may withdraw emotionally leading to depression. The negative emotional effects are aggravated by the difficulty experienced in attempting to heal this persistent skin condition – a debilitating disease experienced by 450,000 Australians and over 125 million people world-wide according to the Skin & Cancer Foundation.

There are numerous triggers to cause psoriasis in an individual – stress and infection being two of the major triggers.  The inability to isolate the primary trigger for an individual adds to the anxiety experienced by the psoriasis sufferer.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, a renowned mindfulness expert, undertook research in support of an approach to curing psoriasis using meditation as a means to heighten the effect of the treatment.  His research involved two groups of people receiving treatment for psoriasis, one group practising meditation during the treatment and the other group, the non-meditators, taking the treatment as normal.  He found that “the meditators skin cleared at four times the rate of the non-meditators”.

In discussing these results (which have been confirmed by other researchers), Kabat-Zinn suggested that the positive effect of meditation on the rate of healing of psoriasis is related to the connection between the body and the mind:

And it is a beautiful example of the mind/body connection because you’re doing something with your mind and something is happening in the skin.  So it just doesn’t get any better than that.

The Psoriasis & Skin Clinic offers a number of meditation methods to reduce the stress associated with psoriasis and to build emotional resilience while suffering from this skin condition.  They suggest a form of body scan meditation which involves concentrating on a specific part of the body where itching or pain is experienced., breathing deeply and focusing your mind on that itching or pain to reduce or alleviate the discomfort.

They also suggest another meditation/relaxation technique which involves experiencing, or thinking about, a peaceful or inspiring location and using this focus to release any troubles or worries that may be causing you stress.  Their instruction for this exercise is reminiscent of Kabat-Zinn’s book, Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness:

If you are sitting on the sand on the beach, feel the setting sun warm your face, feel the breeze on your skin, smell the ocean air, taste the salty tang on the breeze, hear the waves washing right up to you and as you hear each and every wave, release all of your stress and throw it onto the waves to wash out into the ocean.

As you grow in mindfulness through mindful practices such as these meditations, you will be better able to manage the discomfort of psoriasis and assist your healing process, whatever treatment method you adopt.  The experience of itching or pain can even become a catalyst to mindful meditation to relieve the discomfort.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

 

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Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Relief

As we grow in mindfulness we start to learn the many ways that mindfulness can improve the quality of our lives.

The quality of life of many chronic pain sufferers has been improved through mindfulness meditation for pain relief, pioneered by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

This resource which is available in CD format or audio download, provides an insight into how mindfulness can help you manage chronic pain as well as mindfulness meditations that can be used for pain relief.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), maintains that current neuroscience research supports the idea that the more we become aware of the pain in our body and mind, the better we are able to manage pain and improve the quality of our life.  The research shows that awareness of the body-in-pain compared to distraction from pain, has a greater benefit and provides a more sustainable release from the physical and emotional impact of chronic pain.

We all experience the unwanted parts of life, pain and suffering, at some time in our lives – some people for longer than others through the experience of chronic pain.  Mindfulness meditation can help us relieve not only the physical aspects of pain but also the emotional impacts which can take the form of frustration, depression, annoyance, anger and the inability to concentrate.  We can expend so much of our energy and focus just managing the pain that we are quickly exhausted and unable to concentrate.

Jon Kabat-Zinn provides an introduction to his mindfulness meditation for pain relief and this free resource, which includes meditation practice, can help you realise the potential benefits of this approach for improving the quality of your life:

Jon Kabat-Zinn assures us that through mindfulness meditation we can come to realise:

  1. we are not alone in experiencing pain; and
  2. learning to live with pain is possible.

He makes the salient point that managing pain is part of the work of mindfulness itself and that by participating in mindfulness meditation for pain relief, we are immersing ourselves in the global mindfulness movement that is raising global consciousness – people all around the world are becoming more mindful and we are contributing to this movement that promotes peace, harmony, loving kindness and awareness of others and nature.   Our self-compassion through pain management is contributing to compassion for others.

We can grow in mindfulness in many ways.  The drivers for our motivation to practice mindfulness can also be many and varied.  If you are a chronic pain sufferer, this experience could provide the motivation to develop mindfulness for pain relief.

 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: Courtesy of Sae Kawaii on Pixabay