From the perspective of mindfulness, nothing needs fixing. Nothing needs to be forced to stop, or change, or go away. Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his book, The Mindfulness Solution to Pain
He also wrote: "In MBSR, we emphasize that awareness and thinking are very different capacities. Both, of course, are extremely potent and valuable, but from the perspective of mindfulness, it is awareness that is healing, rather than mere thinking."
What is pain, exactly?
The world-renowned Mayo Clinic has published an article, "Understanding Pain," explaining the differences between acute and chronic pain, and describing the emotion-mind-body connection and how it works when we feel pain. From the article: "Pain is both physical and emotional. It involves learning and memory. How you feel and react to pain depends on what's causing it." The article defines chronic pain as "persistent, lasting for months or even longer." And it has many sources, from the most common – backache, neck pain, joint pain – to symptoms of chronic diseases such as arthritis and fibromyalgia.
It might be hard to find someone who has not woken up with a sore back or neck from sleeping in an awkward position, and everyone experiences pain that sometimes lasts for days. But chronic pain sufferers feel pain, no matter what the cause, for months or years.
Doctors and physiotherapists have developed treatments based on interventions such as exercise, massage, and medications. When these options don't work, or when they interfere with our lives and goals, there are other methods we can learn and practice to find relief, and even find a new way to respond to pain.
Your mind and the perception of pain
A recent study designed to show how mindfulness-based stress reduction training helped relieve chronic pain, followed 38 patients suffering from back or joint pain or symptoms of psychological distress. They were assessed at the beginning and end of the training program and at one year after the initial assessment. During the training, the study subjects participated in a guided body scan and sitting and walking meditations.
Results from the study’s final report: "Changes in how they used the health-care system were compared for the six-month period before the first MBSR class and 18 months after completion of the class. Not only did the patients report significant improvements in mental and physical function after taking the course, but they significantly decreased their use of health services such as emergency rooms and specialty care."
Why does MBSR training for chronic pain work?
Instead of focusing on how badly we want the pain to stop, MBSR teaches us to pay attention to our pain with curiosity and without judgment. Our minds typically respond to pain with judgments and negative thoughts, which not only make the pain worse but also often lead to anxiety and depression. Mindfulness practice helps to shift the locus of control from the outside ("there is nothing I can do about this pain") to the inside ("I can choose how I relate to this pain").
Mindfulness provides a more accurate perception of pain. For instance, we might think that we’re in pain all day, but bringing awareness to the pain can show us that it actually peaks, lessens, and at times disappears. Knowing this helps to ease frustration and anxiety, which also eases the pain.
How MBSR training for chronic pain works
The tools of MBSR are easy to translate to everyday life so that pain management and relief can be ongoing for as long as you need them. For example the courses teach you to work with:
- Body scans, which involve bringing awareness to each body part.
- Breathing: Breathing in slowly and saying to yourself "in," breathing out slowly and saying "out" to calm your mind and ease negative thoughts and emotions.
- When and how to distract yourself from the pain (when your pain is anything above 8 on a 10-point scale).
Learn MBSR in the Vancouver area today
Simply put, mindfulness teaches us to observe pain, and be curious about it. And, while counterintuitive, it's this very act of paying attention that can help ease pain. Contact Mindful-Changes to learn more about MBSR and mindfulness courses in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.