Having mindfulness meditation be an intrinsic part of my day to day life, I have been able to see life from a different perspective, and more importantly, I use it all the time in my practice.
Mindfulness meditation has become in the last couple of years more known and used by the public, however, it’s not a new concept or a bright new treatment when it comes to pain management. Part of my training came from my home country, India, in it, I learned so much about the holistic approach to pain management, breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, and so much more, and once I came to the states I knew what my patients needed was a healthy mix of these incredibly helpful techniques as well as a more traditional treatment, utilizing all the tools available to make a more comprehensive treatment plan.
When it comes to defining mindfulness meditation, this definition puts it best: “Mindfulness relates to all sensory, perceptual, emotional and other mental processes available to awareness in the here-and-now”. The best way to describe it is basically the dispassionate, non-manipulative participant-observation of ongoing mental states, allowing you to objectively observe them without having emotional reactions. This also means that to be mindful you must focus on the present, without revising the past or the future, as both time-frames are inaccessible.
This particular type of meditation has been proven to be incredibly helpful with overall pain and stress reduction, in fact, there have been several studies that have examined deeply the effects of applying mindfulness meditation for a extended period of time, like in this one, where they used an 8-week stress reduction program based on it. The conclusion of this particular study revealed that these techniques (emphasized on developing detached observation and awareness of the contents of consciousness) can be a very powerful cognitive behavioral coping strategy for those who use it, allowing them to transform the ways they react and respond to life events.
Having this mindful approach to day to day life can help you relieve some stress while it also works as a preventive technique, since it can transform the way you react, you might be less tense when a triggering situation is occurring. However, it’s not a quick fix or an easy solution to day to day stress, it’s actually way deeper than that, and when done correctly, it can help reduce the pain in patients struggling with chronic pain.
Some Buddhist concepts go over this particular concept perfectly by reflecting that the normal or regular human experience is usually mindful, meaning the individual is not brought up to have this mindful view of their life experience, however, mindfulness can be achieved gradually, over weeks, months, and even years by utilizing meditation in a systematic way, both alone, away from others and in the real world, in your day to day life. Achieving this level of mindfulness takes work, as the untrained meditator will most likely wander around their thoughts focusing on the past or the future, getting caught in emotions and thoughts, all of which stands in the way of a successful mindful meditation.
Mindfulness meditation and pain reduction?
As previously stated this particular technique is incredibly helpful with stress reduction, so how and why does it help with pain relief? Well, this particular technique has a very interesting approach to pain management, as it helps firstly relax the body and then work around any kind of event that might be causing stress on the patient, looking for a resolution, helping therefore the patient both deal with the psyche and liberating the tension in the body that might be pressing against any trigger point creating constant pain.
This particular study revised how meditation can influence the sensory experience, for this they used arterial spin labeling functional magnetic resonance imaging so they could assess the neural mechanisms by which mindfulness meditation influence pain in a healthy individual. The results found in the study were wonderful, as after 4 d of mindfulness meditation training, they found that “meditating in the presence of noxious stimulation significantly reduced pain unpleasantness by 57% and pain intensity ratings by 40% when compared to rest”. Among other measures applied on the study, every single result came up with a similar idea, which allowed them to conclude with: “these data indicate that meditation engages multiple brain mechanisms that alter the construction of the subjectively available pain experience from afferent information.”
It is then, proven scientifically how beneficial this treatment can be, but is it for everyone? Well, yes, and furthermore it’s fantastic for many different types of pain conditions, even conditions beyond the ones I am more commonly treating with my patients. Having practiced this technique myself for many years, I have found how incredibly helpful it has been in giving me the right tools to handle every situation I come across, but especially stressful ones. During these hard times, having this tool has proven to be incredibly helpful to me, and hopefully to my patients as well, as this particular treatment has the benefit of becoming a part of us, growing with us rather than just completely going away.
Something that I have found quite interesting with this particular technique is the fact that not only can it help chronic pain, but it can help with your mental health, reducing anxiety and depression symptoms along with other mental disorders, which is something that these days we can all use a little bit of, don’t you think?
With everything going on, I am looking for more ways to reach you guys and give you correct information that can help you manage your conditions, in doing so, I feel like I have amassed a bit of a community over on Instagram, and I know the times are scary right now, but we need to remember this, what really matters is what we do today, what we are able to accomplish, tomorrow will come and things will be better, but first we must take care of ourselves and focus on what we are actually able to do.
If you want to keep up with my content over on Instagram you can follow me here, and feel free to leave a comment down below with any questions or topics you’d like me to cover!
Astin, J. A. (1997). Stress Reduction through Mindfulness Meditation. Psychother Psychosom 1997;66:97–106, (66), 97–106. doi: https://doi.org/10.1159/000289116
Buchheld, N., Grossman, P., & Walach, H. (2001). Measuring Mindfulness in Insight Meditation (Vipassana) and Meditation-Based Psychotherapy: The Development of the Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory (FMI). Journal For Meditation 1, 1. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/30d4/b98ed3b79400ffa4f3856f6e28fdc56d840c.pdf
Kristeller, J. L. (2007). Mindfulness meditation. In P. M. Lehrer, R. L. Woolfolk, & W. E. Sime (Eds.), Principles and practice of stress management (p. 393–427). The Guilford Press. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2007-14796-015