Continuing on with my research into alternative methods of pain control I’ve come across one practice that has been mentioned dozens of times. Mindfulness. Going into this, I have no prior experience with meditation or the practice of mindfulness. So, I thought I would delve a bit deeper and see what it’s all about.
According to the website Mindful.org the definition of mindfulness is
“Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”
This definitely sounds like something that all of us could practice at one time or another.
In an article written by Danny Penman Ph.D. Called “Can Mindfulness Meditation Really Reduce Pain and Suffering?” he talks about the correlation between the practice of mindfulness and the ability to reduce the effect that pain has on your mind and body.
Article source: Mindfulness to Reduce Pain and Suffering
As someone who deals with pain on a daily basis, I can be the first to say that it can have a terrible effect on your well-being and mental health. There is always the small voice in the back of your head that continually reminds you that you’re hurting, you can’t do this or that, the pain will never stop, etc. When those sorts of thoughts are floating around in your head all the time, depression will almost surely set in.
According Dr. Penman, people who practiced mindfulness in clinical tries were shown to have reduced their pain by 57%, and accomplished meditators were able to reduce it by 90%. Pain reduction of 90%? I have a feeling these are people who have been practicing this for decades. A normal, everyday, person such as myself would be lucky to fall into the 50% range.
Practicing mindfulness can help with the symptoms of cancer and chemotherapy, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, migraines, fibromyalgia, coeliac disease, chronic fatigue, IBS, and MS. If mindfulness is able to help treat the symptoms of even a small portion of these illnesses then why isn’t it talked about more? In all of the appointments I’ve been to regarding my hips, migraines, and anxiety, I don’t remember it ever being mentioned as something I could try to reduce my pain.
Dr. Penman explains that pain comes in two forms; primary and secondary. Primary pain is what comes from illnesses, injuries, or damage that can happen to the body or nervous system. Secondary pain is how the mind reacts to the primary pain, it’s often longer lasting and more intense. Secondary pain is controlled by a metaphorical volume knob, and sometimes the volume of the pain gets turned up so high, the body doesn’t know how to turn itself back down again.
Unfortunately, secondary pain is also held as a sort of memory. The body will remember what has been experienced in the past and will hold onto that. The connection between the physical pain and the mind’s ability to remember the occurrences surrounding that pain can turn into a sort of emotional and physical spiral downwards.
In my own experience I can say that I know I have memory of certain activities that will cause my body to react in a certain way. Whether that’s walking long distances and causing hip pain, or twisting a certain way and causing low back pain. My mind will keep my body informed, in it’s own way, so I’ll avoid those things that caused pain however long before.
To begin with practicing mindfulness, the basic starting exercise is to practice becoming in tune and aware of your body. It seems like a way to become an outside observer of your body and what is happening in, and around it.
But the biggest question I have is:
Even if I become fully aware of everything that is happening in my body through mindfulness, how does this decrease my pain?
I feel like that is a fairly safe and straight forward question to ask. Even if I become fully aware of all the aches, pain, and creaks in my body, how does this make it better? Is it a sort of acceptance of what you cannot control? Does concentrating on the source take away it’s intensity? That’s the part I’m having trouble understanding.
Perhaps it’s something that should really be tried in order to be fully understood. I think I may do a bit more digging and see if there are any beginning classes. It could be worth a try.