Meditation and pain management.
These two seem to go together in much of the recent research. But what kind of meditation? How do you even know where to begin?
Recently a colleague of mine asked me to define the relationship between meditation and mindfulness. “What’s the difference?” he asked.
It’s a good question. The terms get tossed around as if anyone should know what they are – or how to practice.
Even more confusion is added by the different ways to practice. Some advocate the relaxing body scan. Others describe the benefits of a “sitting “ meditation, and still others talk about a slow meditative yoga practice.
Let’s start to clear confusion by defining meditation and mindfulness. Mindfulness is the uber goal. It’s the non-judgmental attitude towards our experience. We become aware of the moment and allow it to expand. We practice being un-attached to our feelings, our states of being, and to observe – without judging- our thoughts and feelings. Being mindful is a way to focus our attention – to direct it, and not be caught by our patterns of thinking and reacting.
Meditation is one way to tap into mindful attention to our thinking and feelings.
There are many, many ways to meditate.
The practice of mediation is a way to get just a sliver of space between our thought or feeling – and our reaction to that feeling/thought. When we begin to get that tiny moment between the experience and how we react or characterize it, we begin to get an instant of mindfulness.
This is an essential piece of the puzzle for living with chronic pain. It is a practice that creates a tiny space of stillness. In that space we can choose our thought, change the pattern of how we think about the pain, or maybe, in that second, just accept it.
But what kind of meditation practice works the best?
A recent study published in the journal Mindfulness examined the three kinds of meditation mentioned before.
Sitting meditation involves holding an erect posture – and can be either sitting or lying down – but being aware of each breath. This can be achieved through counting, or repeating a brief phrase or word, such as “peace” or “hope.”
The body scan is a deliberate move of attention from the soles of the feet to the crown of the head, paying attention to places of tension or pain and gently relaxing the muscles.
The slow or mindful yoga is a series of gentle intentional movement that holds poses while breathing.
The question the researchers asked was – which kind of meditative practice is most effective?
All three practices reduced rumination – that endless rehashing of what if/should have/why didn’t I? Thoughts. Reducing rumination, and increasing a sense of well- being were significant results found from all three forms – enough reason to begin one of them right now!
The slow yoga showed the most benefit for increasing well -being – so if you are feeling tired or physically not well – this may be the best place to start.
Look for practices that are especially tailored for those who have physical limitations such as stiffness or joint pain. Begin with a very simple few stretches, but do them mindfully. The point is less about physical movement, and more about how you breathe in each pose. Be gentle – again – you are working towards focusing your attention with your breath, more than physical exercise. The pose is simply a container to hold the breath.
Sitting meditation seemed to lead to less judgment. Those who sat or lay in a prone position and attended to their breath, were more able to let go of negative thoughts and that endless loop of criticism.
If you find your experience of your illness or pain leads to this kind of self -defeating attitudes, then the meditation that invites you to practice detaching from your thoughts may be the ticket.
The studies are overwhelming in their evidence that some forms of mediation work well to help those who live with chronic pain manage both their thoughts and their experience of pain.
As I have mentioned before, the practice is not complicated. No matter what form seems bet for you- start small. Five minutes in the morning, or evening, and then add another five minutes when you are in the habit. Consistency is better that length!
So practice every day – and see what the results are for you.
I look forward to hearing from you.