Meditation Techniques to Relieve Chronic Pain
Meditation can relieve the pain and stress attendant on chronic inflammatory conditions. Mindfulness meditation, in particular, has been linked to relief of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Meditation techniques have been studied in medical contexts since the 1970s, when they began to be widely taught in the West. Recent studies have linked mindfulness meditation to decreased swelling in a range of inflammatory conditions.
Meditation is practiced by over 20 million Americans. There are numerous techniques. Mindfulness meditation brings the attention to the present moment through such practices as watching the breath, scanning or listening to the body, and walking meditation. Any of these can be used to increase relaxation and reduce the suffering associated with chronic painful conditions.
Paying attention to the breath is a universal meditation technique. Sitting in a comfortable position, or even lying down, the beginning meditator breathes normally. Watching the breath can be done by feeling the air coming in and out of the nostrils or by paying attention to the rise and fall of the diaphragm. As the meditation continues, the breath becomes quieter. Relaxation and calm result.
Paying attention to the body is a particularly useful technique for dealing with pain. Again, the meditator sits or lies quietly. Slowly, the person moves awareness across the body, starting at the feet and moving up. The meditator notices different sensations and watches them without reaction. An alternate version of this is to scan the body for an intense feeling and then experience that feeling in complete detail. Slowly, the feeling loses its intensity and its hold on the mind.
The effect of mindfulness is to make the mind clearer, calmer and less prone to react. Meditation teachers explain that there are three ways that this technique can help alleviate pain. First, it can lower the amount of pain experienced. Second, it can prevent the mind from escalating the pain by reacting to it and creating more stress. Third, it can make the pain symptoms less intrusive. The expression “creating space around the pain” means being able to put pain at a distance. Staying connected to what is pleasurable and nourishing allows the pain less of one’s attention.
Chronic pain sufferers can change the perception of pain, and they can change the thoughts around the pain. Mindfulness meditation is best learned from someone experienced in the technique. The initial investment can be as little as five minutes a day.