Friday, July 26, 2013

Treating Pain with Mindfulness Meditation

Pain is a pain. Suffering through a long day with a headache or chronic back pain can make it seem like time is standing still. Coffee doesn't taste as good. Little things set you off. And most of your mental real estate is focused on how terrible everything is... which doesn't really help.

Enter mindfulness. Mindfulness is a practice borrowed from Buddhism by cognitive psychologists due to the many beneficial effects it can have, including reducing pain. How does it work you ask? Well, the entirety of the Buddha's teachings take up more than 100 volumes of written work, so it can take a while to explain. But the quick and dirty version is to simply notice the pain.

Usually we try to distract from it, which is very, very difficult to do. When we're not distracting, we're spending all of our energy struggling with it - wishing it weren't there, getting angry at it, etc. None of this is helpful. It just adds additional suffering to what is already a painful experience.

The mindful approach is to allow the pain to be there. Rather than trying (somehow) to make it go away through sheer will, just notice it, and make space for it. Dropping the struggle with the pain can provide a lot of relief.

While you're allowing the pain to be there, just sit with it, and notice it. Put words to the experience. Where is the pain? Is it tingling? Is there pressure? Where does it begin and end in your body? Are there warm parts? Cool parts? By describing the experience without adding a lot of catastrophizing and negative judgment, we experience the pain in a new way. A lot of people report that just the mere act of sitting with pain and describing it, eliminates the pain entirely. A friend recently used this approach when he was having his wisdom teeth extracted... WITHOUT ANAESTHESIA! He reported he noticed pain, but relating to it in this way made it tolerable. Just another event in his body that he was noticing, like the hiccups, or a yawn.

It definitely takes practice, but with a little effort you can transform pain into something that is much more tolerable, and creates much less suffering.

To learn more about mindfulness-based interventions, visit Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Los Angeles

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