By Johny Kershaws
Millions of people across the world experience chronic pain and it lowers the individual’s resistance making it harder for them to stay positive and to cope daily. The effects are far-reaching. Pain may reduce mobility, lead to feelings of isolation and impact sleep. Where pain is extensive and long-term, this can impact work too. Living with pain can be costly in many ways. People often turn to medication relying on it to give them some respite day after day, but this is not the solution. Fortunately, meditation can help.
What is meditation?
Think of meditation as a way of transforming the mind. It affords so many benefits and everyone can practice it. Some people may find it easier than others but with perseverance, all can benefit from a regular practice. The mind opens and it is possible to create space between thoughts. This helps to create clarity of mind which can be difficult if pain is overwhelming. Meditation enables the individual to train their mind to respond differently and this helps with quality of life.
Stress, meditation and pain
Meditation improves the stress response and with less stress hormones flooding the body, the negative impact on the adrenal glands is reduced. This is good news as it reduces the potential for health conditions including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or tension headaches. While the stress response is quite natural, once the stress hormones are released, inflammation is caused, and this can increase pain. When meditating, the brain starts to release endorphins, the ‘feel good’ chemicals and they act as a natural pain reliever. Once the brain is calmer, the muscles and tissues of the body begin to relax. There is less pain as a result.
How meditation reduces pain
There have been many studies on meditation and pain and the results are favorable. Meditating regularly can reduce pain significantly. There are various types of meditation to try – a guided meditation with visual imagery can help to distract from the sensations of pain and mindfulness meditation has also been proven to help too.
Mindfulness meditation is incredibly powerful. A body scan can be used so to direct focus on all areas of the body and to release tension that may be stored. Tight muscles – often as a result of pain will magnify the feelings experienced and so, a body scan helps to reduce these aspects. As an example, back pain can be reduced when utilizing a body scan along with meditation to promote inner healing. In mindfulness meditation, it is possible to tune into the sensation of pain and to comprehend fully what is happening in the body at that time. Much can be gleaned through this quiet observation. The technique involves focusing on alternate parts of the body, so, observing what is seen through the mind’s eye enabling the mind and body to be observed and to identify any painful sensations as they occur. Then, it’s important to stop struggling against pain and it does lessen. Mindfulness makes positive changes to brain patterns, even altering the structure of the brain in a positive way. This will reduce the intensity of pain experienced.
The mind and pain
The mind processes the information assimilated through pain and instinctively tries to identify any underlying cause. As a result, this focus magnifies and intensifies pain felt. The mind constantly seeks patterns and searches through any memories that may indicate the pain has been felt before and what happened. This is to find a solution. However, this can lead to the mind being overwhelmed with unsettling and painful memories leading to increased stress and anxiousness as well as to intensify any physical pain experienced. It becomes a vicious cycle.
Meditation works because it helps to relieve feelings of anxiety and helps to offset exhaustion or irritability and it increases mental and physical stamina. There is a greater sense of wellbeing and of contentment rather than being embroiled in psychological distress. There is no doubt that acute or chronic pain can take its toll on an individual and so, it is important to try to create an environment conducive for healing. Meditation provides that environment for change. It boosts immune function, releases tension and stress and helps to create equilibrium of mind and body. This is so important for quality of life. Think of meditation as a way of soothing the circuits that create secondary pain and it can aid quality of life.