Power of the Mind: A Beginner's Guide to Managing Pain With Mindfulness

November 11, 2016




Nicole West

Imagine dealing with chronic pain, without the use of strong medications? According to recent findings, including a study on mindfulness-based stress reduction published in the journal of the American Medical Association - it's a very real possibility. 

In fact, the growing body of evidence suggests that mindfulness meditation might be more effective than traditional treatments, as it has the ability to create structural changes in the brain, for long-term pain relief.

What is Mindfulness Meditation?

Though it's often dismissed as 'woo woo' or religious fodder, to be 'mindful', is just the opposite. The simple definition is to be conscious or aware of something. When you embark on mindfulness training, you learn to focus on the present moment, without judging anything or labelling it either 'good' or 'bad'. Meditation is the most effective tool, towards becoming mindful. 

And, Meditation is not just the domain of Buddhist monks. You don't need an orange robe, an ashram or incense. It's the simple practice of sitting still and becoming aware of the present moment, rather than being consumed by thought. This allows you to practice 'being' with difficult experiences, rather than struggling to escape them. This is, strange as it may seem, a highly effective way to reduce suffering.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Both mindfulness and cognitive behavior therapy appear to help patients manage their pain better than their usual t… <a href="https://t.co/a0kB9yJ3JX">https://t.co/a0kB9yJ3JX</a></p>&mdash; Emma Seppälä, Ph.D. (@emmaseppala) <a href="https://twitter.com/emmaseppala/status/740967312547848193?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">June 9, 2016</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

How Can it Help Reduce Pain?

When you're in the midst of pain, cultivating mindfulness helps you to focus on how you actual feel, rather than how much you want the pain to go away. If you're struggling with negative thoughts and judgements, as well as physical symptoms, pain is generally increased with anxiety, depression and frustration. 

Mindfulness techniques help you to stay aware of the physical sensations, without also dealing with debilitating thoughts such as, 'I can't deal with this'. You learn to let go of expectations and relate to pain in a different way, so emotions and unreasonable thoughts take a backseat to your body's natural healing mechanisms.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">When we practice mindfulness, we focus on shifting our relationship to pain, instead of changing or escaping it: <a href="https://t.co/MjvxLL88x2">https://t.co/MjvxLL88x2</a></p>&mdash; Dennis Tirch PhD (@DennisTirchPhD) <a href="https://twitter.com/DennisTirchPhD/status/741632392033644544?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">June 11, 2016</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Where to Start

If you've never tried meditating before, kick start your practice by visiting a yoga or meditation centre in your area. The University of Queensland offers a Mindfulness Yoga Club and Brisbane City Psychologists offers psychologists trained in mindfulness for pain management.

Apps can also be useful, in reminding you to become aware and focused. Headspace is an app tagged, 'a gym membership for your mind', which uses meditation and mindfulness techniques to train your mind. 

You'll learn the basics of mediation with the free Take10 programme, in 10 minutes a day. If you choose to continue with the app, you'll access hundreds of meditations, a personalised progress page, reminders and one off sessions on topics including stress, happiness and appreciation.

Body Scan

A body scan is a technique to help bring awareness to each body part, especially the areas your brain wants to escape from. It can help teach your brain that you're capable of dealing with an experience, simply by focusing on it. 

Find a quiet place to sit or lie down, where you're comfortable and won't be disturbed. Notice the feeling of your body on the floor, bed or chair and on each breath out, allow yourself to sink further into the surface. Become aware of your breath going in and out of your nostrils or concentrate on your stomach rising and falling for a few minutes. 

Bring your awareness to each body part and notice how it feels, without labelling the feeling. You may notice that your feet are cold, your legs are heavy, your stomach is churning or your chest is tight, for example. When you've reached the top of your head, breathe deeply to allow oxygen to circulate throughout your body and relax. 

The key to cultivating mindfulness is consistent practice. When you learn to remain aware and present, not only can your ability to deal with pain increase, you'll also heighten all your senses for overall happiness.

Nicole West

Nicole is a professional writer & novelist from Australia featured in sites including Huffington Post & Lifehack. Professional dancer, choreographer, mentor, Reiki practitioner and keen traveller.


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