Living with an illness that there is no cure for means “treatments” focus on disease management. For many, living with chronic pain, management means using a combination of western medicine and complementary therapies to feel better. Over the past two years I have been using meditation techniques to help me deal with my fibromyalgia.
You can’t really “think away” the primary causes of pain. However, meditation works in a variety of ways to help reduce the effects that pain causes. Here are 3 ways meditation helps to reduce chronic pain.
Relaxing The Body
When you take a moment to meditate, you relax your body. Relaxing helps to reduce chronic pain. Wether you have prepared a comfortable meditation space for an extended session, or simply sit up straight in your chair to take a few deep breaths, you are sending signals to your body to relax. According to Dr. Herbert Benson, MD, founder of the Harvard Medical School Mind Body Institute “relaxation response helps decrease metabolism, lowers blood pressure, improves heart rate, breathing, and brain waves.”
Here are a few tips to help your settle in and relax your body:
- As you begin to settle in for meditation arrange your body by correcting bad posture; sit up straight, lengthen your spine, relax your shoulders and breathe.
2. Take a few deep steady breaths inhaling to a count of three, and exhaling to a count of four. With each breath settle your body into a more comfortable position. As you continue to relax, return your breathing to a regular pattern, focusing on your inhale and exhale.
3. Scan the areas of your body moving from head to toe. As you cross each major group of muscles in your scan feel the tension and whatever pain your may find there and hold it. Then as you exhale, release all of that tension and stress relaxing that the group of muscles before moving on to the next. Continue through your body until you’ve release the stress from head to toe.
Put Your Mind Monkeys In A Cage
Being in constant pain doesn’t just hurt in a physical sense, it also causes out minds to go into overdrive trying to relieve it. Our brains are constantly searching for ways to reduce chronic pain, and make it stop. When we can’t, we often start to question our limits, and our future living with constant pain. This cycle of zooming in on the pain puts it forefront of our minds, amplifying its existence. This creates a so called “secondary pain” and as that intensifies, so does pain related anxiety and depression.
When you can’t stop focusing on your pain, the brain turns it up even more. Turning down that pain dial is where meditation can be used to manage things. This doesn’t mean the original pain is gone (it’s not that easy) but through meditation one can sooth the neural pathways that have gone into overdrive, and reduce our overall perception of chronic pain. What we can do is remove the secondary pain, the amplification. By focusing in on that pain, acknowledging the pain, and then moving on from it to focus on other things; we can teach our minds to accept the original pain is there, yet still function. The technique of mentally acknowledging your pain (such as in the body scan above) and then moving on to focus on other tasks reduces pain related anxiety by giving us back some of the control.
Focus Your Intent
During meditation it can help to focus your intent. You do not have to clear your mind, instead think of meditation as a way to focus your intent. The breath is a wonderful place to start to learn, however that can be too quiet for some people beginning with meditation. This is why I suggest using a body scan for beginners wanting to use meditation for pain management.
The body scan meditation keeps your mind moving. As you scan each part you become more familiar with the specific pains and problems of each section of your body. Focusing in on that pain and really understanding it before you release it to move on to something else. Eventually after working with the body scan, it will be easier to acknowledge your pain and then move on to get more things done in a day. The body scan can help you learn to focus your intent on any number of things and be successful in whatever you accomplish.
When you deal with chronic pain every day knowing how to move on from the sensations to focus on something else for a time can be a useful and important skill. I DO NOT believe that pain is all in your head, or that you can think yourself better (because trust me, I have tried). However – I do think that meditation is a great way to help you manage the mental and physical stress that pain causes. For me, dialing down the pain from – say – a 7 to a 4 makes all the difference between me being in bed all day or still being able to get some tasks done.
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This post was featured in the Fibro Friday Link-up