Pain, per se, is not bad. We have been hardwired to react to pain and for good reason, it is our body’s protective warning system. The symptoms of pain can be viewed as messengers. Don’t try to deny or get rid of a symptom because you don’t like what it is telling you, because usually it is giving you important information about your health. We feel pain therefore we need to respond so we can then get treatment. It is our body’s way of telling us that something needs attention.
Most pain resolves itself quickly once the painful stimulus is removed and the body has healed, however sometimes pain persists despite the removal of the stimulus and the apparent healing of the body. If you have been plagued with the ongoing unpleasant sensory and emotional experience of pain you would by now be experiencing one or more of the following impacts:
• Erosion of the quality of life.
• Feeling helpless, hopeless, and alone.
• Loss of control over the body.
• Irritability and frustration.
• Impact on the cognitive functions.
• Loss of the ability to earn a living.
• Poor sleep, unable to exercise therefore loss of appetite.
• Impacts relationships in a negative way.
How Mindfulness Can Help You Manage Your Pain and Give You Relief.
Mindfulness is a non-invasive approach to achieving relief of physical pain. Having personally experienced on-going extreme pain in my body for nine years (fibromyalgia and back injuries) and exhausting every avenue available for pain-relief, it was and still is my ‘go to’ pain reliever. The greatest benefit of this practise is that it opens up your mind to a far more expanded perspective of your situation, which in of itself brings deep calm, peace and relief.
It is important that you have had a thorough medical assessment of your condition as this technique for pain management does not substitute for medical treatment, it is a supplement. Listening to your pain involves making intelligent decisions about getting proper medical treatment.
About Mindfulness and Pain:
• Mindfulness calms the mind that can become agitated in reaction to pain. When the mind is calm it will gain insight.
• Mindfulness is not a practise to alleviate pain although pain reduction may be a side benefit.
• Mindfulness is about attending to the experience of pain with “wise attention”.
• This practise is about cultivating awareness.
Seeing Pain as an Opportunity:
• We need to cultivate a deep respect for the experience of pain.
• We need to ask the question “what is this pain trying to tell me?”
• What is the pain trying to teach me?
• We can learn from the pain and approach it as an opportunity.
• Honour your body and listen to the message it is telling you.
The Mindfulness Method:
• Bring yourself into the present and live in the moment. By staying in the present moment it is possible to reduce the fearful anticipation of pain.
• Set the intention to do the practise willingly and gladly (included at the end).
• Cultivate an acceptance of what is. It will dissolve the conflict of what should be. Conflict = Contracted and Closed. Acceptance = Allowing and Being.
• Observe your reactions to the pain in a patient, loving, non-judgmental way. Be with the immediacy of the experience of what is happening now. It will teach you how your beliefs, values and attitudes shape your experience and your life. They are only thoughts but most of the time we think of them as truth, which keeps us living in a very narrow band.
• Often with pain there is an experience of conflict or closing in and tensing up. This contraction can obstruct us from insight and distance us from others. Just be with the experience of contraction as it can shift it into one of openness and a more relaxed state.
• Let go of unhelpful thoughts and worries about the past and the future.
• The body can tense up in reaction to pain relax it using the Mindfulness of Breath and Body technique included here.
• Put the “welcome mat” out to your pain rather than resisting it which causes more stress and tension. Welcome it with curiosity to understand more about it. Befriend your pain and explore options for being in a wiser relationship to it.
• There are three dimensional experiences of pain. They are the sensory, emotional and cognitive. Uncoupling is to separate the experience from the sensory, emotional and the cognitive as distinct phenomena and realise that we can change these experiences independent of the other experience e.g. we can change emotional and cognitive experiences independent of the sensory experience. For example a needle pierce is the primary pain. The anxiety and fear that result are the secondary pain.
• Suffering is only one of many possible responses to pain. Suffering involves our thoughts and emotions and how they frame the meaning of our experiences. A low level of pain sensation can cause a lot of suffering if we believe it to be a tumour. We have a choice.
• Suffering is caused by aversion (not wanting something) and craving (wanting something).
• Pain is the physical experience arising and suffering is our reaction to the pain. When we have an aversion to an experience it causes suffering. When we crave for a different experience than the one we are having it causes suffering. It is the conflict that causes suffering.
• Understand that pain is not permanent. Cultivate a curiosity towards it. From doing this practise you may be able to view your experience from a different perspective.
• Focus on your breath and breathe into the pain.
• Use the breath to bathe and embrace the region of the pain and invite it to soften and relax.
• Go into the pain as opposed to distracting yourself from it. Experiments have been done that suggest that tuning into your pain will tend to reduce it more than distraction, however sometimes distraction can be used to benefit and take the mind away from the pain.
• Give wise attention to the symptoms rather than judging or worrying about them.
• Explore the actual experience of the symptoms while not getting entangle in unhelpful thoughts and worries.
• Avoid getting taken away with the “story” surrounding the symptoms which may or may not be true. i.e. anxiety driven self-absorption and preoccupation. It is natural to feel concerned about symptoms but if the concern or anxiety is not managed it can actually make the symptoms worse and hinder the healing and recovery.
• Unwise attention is often reactive, judgmental and fearful. There is little room in the mind for acceptance or for recognition of a larger field of possibilities relating to one’s circumstance and challenges.
In addition we can take a holistic and multi-disciplinary approach to our pain management which will give our body the maximum opportunity for healing and relief. They are as follows:
1. Eating a healthy and balanced diet.
• Making sure that your body is receiving the optimum nutrition will help it heal faster.
• If we have back pain and are carrying a few extra pounds this will put a lot of additional pressure on the back, so taking steps to reducing this additional weight would be beneficial. Back pain can also be due to a week core therefore strengthening it would be beneficial. Seek the assistance of a professional personal trainer, yoga and Pilate’s instructor or Physiotherapist to help with this.
2. Leading a balanced life.
• This would include keeping our stress levels in check. If we are experiencing a high level of stress it would be wise to examine our values and what is really important to us in life and prioritize our life according to these.
• If we are suffering with mental and emotional challenges due to our stress, seeing a counsellor or a mental health practioner to discuss this and get some tools to deal with them would assist us greatly.
3. Getting enough rest.
• It is important for the body to get at least 8 – 10 hours of sleep in order for it to function at its optimum capacity. This gives our body time to heal and recover.
4. Getting some physical or occupational therapy.
• Such as massage and acupuncture, stretching and strengthening exercises.
5. Know your Limitations.
• Being mindful of how our body moves and especially in relation to the area that is stressed and experiencing the pain. Know your limitations. Know what hinders and what helps your pain.
6. Gather around a network of social support.
• No man is an island and therefore you do not need to take this journey alone. The more support you have the greater the healing. This can include family, friends and professional agencies.
7. Cultivating a heart of gratitude.
• Focus on all that is right with you and in your life rather than on the negative. A heart of gratitude naturally lives in a state of expansion.
The Mindfulness Exercise for Pain Relief
1. If you can spend half an hour to an hour on this, it would be ideal. Shorter times are also beneficial.
2. Lie down or sit in a comfortable place.
3. Close your eyes and first set the intention that you are worthy of love, peace, happiness, health and wellbeing, friendship, abundance or any other quality you value. Then spend a few moments giving thanks for the things that you love to do that bring you joy in your life i.e. sport, music, dance, painting, family, etc. Now set the intention to willing and gladly go into the pain.
4. Feel the rising and falling of your belly with the in and out breath.
5. Take a moment to sense into your whole body from head to toe and the sensation of how your body feels as it presses against the chair or bed.
6. Start by focusing on your toes and direct your breath to them as if you are breathing into them. Feel all sensations in this part of the body. If there is any tension allow it to soften, relax and let go. You can also say to this part of the body “relax and let go”. Focus on each part of the body and do this. A total scan of the body is required. Bring your mind back to the breath and the region you are focusing on each time you feel that you have wandered off.
7. Now bring your focus to the tip of your nose and follow your breath in down to just below your navel and back out again. To help you focus in the beginning, place your hands just below the navel and you can count the in breath one and the out breath two and so on and so forth up to ten. When your mind wanders start over again at one.
8. When a strong physical sensation makes it difficult for you to stay with the breath, switch your attention to the predominant experience of it. As if you’re entire body was a sensing organ, sense or feel the physical experience. Simply allow it to be there. Drop whatever commentary you may have about the experience in favour of seeing and sensing the experience directly.
9. Stand back and with curiosity explore the sensations that make it up – hard, soft, warm, cold, tingling, tense, pressure, burning, throbbing, light etc. Let your awareness become as intimate with the experience as you can. Notice what happens to the sensation as you are present with it. Do they become weaker, larger, and smaller or stay the same. You can quietly label the experience in your mind i.e. back burning, back tingling etc.
10. You can now take the breath and breathe into the pain first inhaling through the nose and then exhaling out through that part of the body. Do this for as long as it takes for the pain to reduce or change. The pain might not go all together but over a period of time it will become less.
11. In addition you can also breathe a colour that you find healing into this part of the body. Do this for a few minutes and see how it feels.
12. Another alternative is to visualize a spiritual being in this part of the body healing the pain such as God, Buddha, Christ, Angels etc.
13. In addition when you have an understanding that we are made up of energy. You can also go into this part of the body by focusing your mind and visualize the contraction of pain unwinding or dissipating so that the energy is freer to flow again.
14. Once the physical sensation has disappeared or is no longer compelling return to the focus at the tip of the nose and follow the breath again until another sensation calls for your attention.