The first thing to understand when talking about pain, is what the heck is it? Pain is a physical, cognitive, and emotional reaction to a stimulus that you perceive as dangerous. This shows that not only are there multiple ways that you may respond to pain, but your unique perception of what is dangerous also plays a role. So the question is… can you decrease your pain simply by being more mindful?
The evidence supporting mindfulness and meditation is mostly made of lower level evidence with small sample sizes, but the results all show that it can decrease depression, which is a common comorbidity of chronic pain, and it can improve pain levels as well as quality of life. Persons who participated in mindfulness based programs also were more familiar with their reactions to pain and were able to use this information to stop projecting past pain experiences onto current or future pain experiences, allowing them to alter maladaptive attitudes towards pain. These participants were also able to recognize warning signs that precede flare-ups, decrease self-blame, and feel stronger connections between their body and mind.
Now comes the test of becoming more mindful, which can be an intimidating task. The first way to you begin, is being present. What does that mean? Choose a task or object to send your attention to and do just that; when other thoughts enter your mind, recognize them as stressors and then gently return to your focus. Regulating your attention has been shown to create more generous acceptance of yourself and reduce anticipation of pain. The next thing you may practice is body awareness; you may do this by performing body scans, progressive muscle relaxation, or yoga. Body awareness has helped persons with chronic pain control muscle tension, interpret body sensations more acutely and accurately, appropriately pace themselves throughout the day, and adjust their posture to prevent pain. The final technique that incorporates mindfulness is emotional regulation; this means to let go of any attachments or aversions you have to a situation or object, approaching events with compassionate non-judgement. Emotional regulation has not only shown to decrease pain, but also reduce anxiety and depression.
Interested in practicing mindfulness, but intimidated to do it alone? Roam Yoga is offering Yoga classes every Tuesday morning at 8:15 am at Lifespan Therapies, PLLC. Want to try meditation in the comfort of your own home, try out One Giant Mind or other meditation apps accessible to your smart phone.