When we are faced with the challenge of living with chronic pain, it is only natural that we look for an escape. We want to create as much distance between ourselves and the pain we are feeling.
A life with chronic pain is anything but easy. There is however, an escape that is often overlooked because of the utter simplicity of it. It is not a miracle cure. It is not an invasive procedure. It is not a pill. It is mindfulness.
Mindfulness works by training your mind to focus on something other than the pain, with purpose and from a different viewpoint. It involves temporarily taking the focus away from the pain sensation, and instead focusing on the pain itself.
Our minds have somewhat of a muscle memory, in that we are taught early on in life that when we experience pain, this will trigger distress, panic and require immediate attention. While living with chronic pain, our minds naturally go back to the distressing thoughts, allowing panic and disappointment to set in. This takes a toll on the body and on the mind.
Mindfulness allows us to look at the pain, not as something to fear, but as something to explore and understand. It is learning rather than resolving. We often tend to judge our pain by its severity or intensity. This causes our minds to quickly race through the various ways we can remedy the pain, leading to frustration and negative thoughts.
Instead, by using a mindfulness exercises, we can analyze the pain with fresh eyes. We can let go of the expectation of our bodies to heal, and become more aware of our pain as a whole. We can become aware of how the pain changes throughout our bodies and of how our body responds to the pain.
Below you will find some mindfulness exercises for beginners. Do not be discouraged if your focus is scattered at first. You will get better in time.
Mindful Breathing: The most basic form of mindfulness is focused breathing. Placing all your attention on your breath and pulling your attention away from your pain. This is easiest when the room is quiet and still. Relax your body. With your eyes closed, envision your breath flooding your lungs as you inhale. Exhale and release your breath back out into the world. Feel the rise and the fall of your abdomen. Do this naturally, without exaggeration or hesitation. Repeat as necessary.
Body Scan: Find a comfortable place like a chair or bed. Relax. Drop your shoulders and relax your hands. Relax your neck and allow the weight of your body to fall. With your eyes closed, breathe naturally. Bring your focus to where your body meets the ground, bed or chair and allow yourself to sink a little deeper into it. Start at your feet and scan each part of your body one at a time for any sensations. Do not judge the sensations. Just become aware of the sensation, and move on to the next body part, scanning and understanding without judgement. Scan each small section of your body. Finally, scan your head. Maintain your breathing.
Meditation with guided imagery: Focus only on your breathing while in a quiet place. Then listen to calming music or focus on a peaceful scene. When your mind begins to wander say “refresh”, and refocus yourself on the sounds, views and your breathing.