Meditation is a useful tool helping to deal with chronic and acute pain. For example, research has found that 10 minutes of meditation increased patient's ability to be with pain. We become more resilient and less reactive to pain over time with meditation.
People new to meditation may be surprised about the directions they are given when using Mindfulness for pain. During meditation it is commonly instructed not to go to a 'happy place' or distract yourself from the pain, but to GO TOWARDS IT. Yes, that's right, to help pain, feel your pain. With mindfulness, one learns how to feel the pain as sensations, for example heat or tingling or pressure. Focusing on the physical aspects of the pain takes our attention away from the emotional distress and worry that often accompanies pain.
“To diminish the suffering of pain, we need to make a crucial distinction between the pain of pain, and the pain we create by our thoughts about the pain. Fear, anger, guilt, loneliness and helplessness are all mental and emotional responses that can intensify pain.” ~Howard Cutler
Brain scans show that when people meditate to help pain they have increased activation in areas of the brain related to sensory experience. Although one would think that would increase pain, to the contrary this is associated with decreased suffering because the brain is processing the pain as physical sensations, not emotional arousal. Parts of the brain related to stress and emotion are less active during meditation with pain. We can't often control what is happening physically in our bodies, but we can alter how we respond emotionally and improve our overall perception of the situation.
We invite you to watch this short video from the National Institutes of Health to learn more about the impact of meditation on pain and the brain.
Learn how to use Mindfulness for pain by attending our Tuesday drop-in classes (9:15 am or 6:15 pm). Or sign up for the fall Six-Week Introductory Mindfulness Series.