The benefits of meditation are evident not just anecdotally but also through countless studies which have been conducted on the practice.
It has been shown to be an effective tool for managing stress, improving focus, and reducing pain.
Although meditation is not a cure it could be a very powerful tool in helping to manage pain conditions. From the outside meditation may just look like sitting and doing nothing. But it is a very special type of sitting in stillness.
There are many different styles of meditation but they are all essentially a type of brain training, you train the mind through gently focusing, this may be a focus on something like the breath or a phrase or an object.
Naturally the mind will get distracted but the meditator learns to simply bring the attention back time and time again. This is the process of placement- recognition and replacement.
My personal practice and my teaching is from the Buddhist practice of Mindfulness Meditation.
Mindfulness meditation invites us to become curious, purposeful, focused, nonjudgemental and connected to our moment-to-moment experience. Mindfulness offers a way to shift our perception and experience, to stop fighting and struggling against pain.
The following are just some of the fascinating ways meditation can begin to help in reducing pain.
1. Meditation builds new brain pathways
The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that processes information relating to ourselves and our experiences. This part of the brain responds to bodily sensations of fear or negative situations and it causes us to feel un-settled or under attack. This is the same response that can be triggered by negative stories we tell ourselves, for example negative things we might say to ourselves or beliefs and stories we create about ourselves or other people that cause internal conflict. Meditation can help to weaken those neural connections that trigger us, it enables us to look at thoughts more rationally and with greater clarity.
2. Meditation hacks the emotional response to pain and reduces inflammation
By becoming an impartial observer of your mind it allows you to soften your resistance to pain when it arises. The process of simply becoming aware of sensation and not labelling it as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ allows you to act with more awareness, a sense of non-judgement towards the inner experiences and non-reactivity to inner experiences. Cortisol is a stress hormone released by the adrenal glands, over time, high levels may cause weight gain, high blood pressure, disrupt sleep, negatively impact mood, reduce your energy levels and contribute to diabetes. By learning to recognise stressful thoughts, becoming aware of your breath a raised heart rate and other signs of tension in the body it can help you to slow down or stop the release of too much cortisol into the system.
3. Meditation releases endorphins more powerful than pain killers Meditation boosts brain chemicals such as endorphins, serotonin, GABA and other ‘good mood’ brain chemicals. Endorphins are thought to be more powerful than pharmaceuticals. These brain chemicals also have none of the negative side-effects of pain medicine such as numbing of the senses, high levels of dependency and the masking of the symptoms.
And the best part is that meditation is free, you can start today.
So you have nothing to loose by giving it a try.
You could try it right now, adopt a workable seat, this could be on a chair or a meditation cushion.
* Legs are comfortable
* Soft front
* Strong back
* Gaze is slightly down and forward
* Place your attention gently on the movement of the breath
* When you notice your attention drift, gently invite it back to the breath.
Top tip : Start with a short amount of time like 2-5 minutes and then work your way up to something sustainable eg.
20-30 minutes a day.
Look out for my upcoming Meditation beginnings course.
Links and resources:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5337506/ Mindfulness and Emotion
Regulation: Insights from Neurobiological, Psychological, and Clinical Studies