How Can Mindfulness Help With Chronic Pain? | Stephanie Weaver

Does mindfulness practice help reduce pain, or help us cope with pain better?

Both. Mindfulness can help reduce pain because it removes the worry about it, which is the other layer. Emotional and mental tension can add to physical pain. I have seen chronic pain go away via mindfulness. With systemic pain that does have a cause, mindfulness helps people cope with it better. When people rate their quality of life after mindfulness training, their scores on happiness, life satisfaction, and often activity level go up, even though the objective pain hasn’t changed. One student said, “I used to be my pain. Now I’m much more.”

Can you explain the phrase “suffering is optional”? I find it one of the most challenging sayings in Buddhism, because it implies I want to be in pain.

I don’t like that phrase because it’s confusing. I prefer to think of it like this equation from Shinzen Young: suffering = pain X worry

We typically equate pain with suffering. Pain and suffering are two different things. Nobody likes pain. But just because something is unpleasant doesn’t mean we have to suffer or react against it. Think of a time when you had pain, but no suffering was involved, like getting a tattoo or giving birth.

If we put what is happening to us in a different perspective, we’re suddenly able to tolerate it. In the beginning it’s a little bit of a mind game. But when mindfulness students look at it, and start to investigate their own experience, it starts to change.

You talk about separating our experience of pain into three components: the physical sensation, the emotions we feel about it, and the meaning the pain has for us.

When you break it into parts, it helps make it more manageable. We work with where the suffering is the strongest.

Let’s start with the physical sensation of pain. How does mindfulness deal with that?

We start to see that the physical pain is separate from the emotions we feel about it. We describe the sensation. We label it. That awareness is what is helpful.

And the emotions surrounding it?

We don’t often look at how we feel about the pain. What emotion is connected to the pain? Are you feeling sad, angry, or another emotion about it?

And finally the meaning of pain? I especially related to this because I do this myself. I feel fear about what a migraine might mean for me in the future.

Much of the suffering is often in the story we tell ourselves about it. Are you running loops about the story in your head, and is that making it worse? We might be stuck in the past, for example: that surgery or accident messed me up. Or we obsess about the future: because I have this condition, I will never be able to do X. Mindfulness brings you into the present moment. Instead of ruminating or rehearsing, be present and see how you actually feel.

Where can someone look to find out more about using mindfulness practice to deal with chronic pain?

It’s very difficult to start a mindfulness practice without a teacher, so finding a local class that teaches MBSR is the best approach. I like Living Well with Chronic Pain and Disease by Vidyamala Birch. There is an eight-week program called Breathworks that may help. Or try a recorded guided meditation.

How has mindfulness practice changed you?

I’m an M.D. by background, but I teach mindfulness full time now. I think that says a lot. As a physician, I became impressed with how mindfulness training is able to relieve suffering on all levels. As a physician my job was to “fix” people. As a mindfulness instructor, I give them tools to heal themselves. That’s really different.

Christiane Wolf, M.D., Ph.D., is a physician turned mindfulness meditation teacher. She is coauthor of the book, The Clinician’s Guide to Teaching Mindfulness.

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via How Can Mindfulness Help With Chronic Pain? | Stephanie Weaver.

Relaxation Techniques for Stress Relief: Finding the Relaxation Exercises That Work for You

For many of us, relaxation means zoning out in front of the TV at the end of a stressful day. But this does little to reduce the damaging effects of stress. To effectively combat stress, we need to activate the body’s natural relaxation response. You can do this by practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, rhythmic exercise, and yoga. Fitting these activities into your life can help reduce everyday stress and boost your energy and mood.

The relaxation response: Bringing your nervous system back into balance

Stress is necessary for life. You need stress for creativity, learning, and your very survival. Stress is only harmful when it becomes overwhelming and interrupts the healthy state of equilibrium that your nervous system needs to remain in balance. Unfortunately, overwhelming stress has become an increasingly common characteristic of contemporary life. When stressors throw your nervous system out of balance, relaxation techniques can bring it back into a balanced state by producing the relaxation response, a state of deep calmness that is the polar opposite of the stress response.

When stress overwhelms your nervous system your body is flooded with chemicals that prepare you for “fight or flight.” While the stress response can be lifesaving in emergency situations where you need to act quickly, it wears your body down when constantly activated by the stresses of everyday life. The relaxation response puts the brakes on this heightened state of readiness and brings your body and mind back into a state of equilibrium.

Producing the relaxation response

A variety of different relaxation techniques can help you bring your nervous system back into balance by producing the relaxation response. The relaxation response is not lying on the couch or sleeping but a mentally active process that leaves the body relaxed, calm, and focused.

Learning the basics of these relaxation techniques isn’t difficult, but it does take practice. Most stress experts recommend setting aside at least 10 to 20 minutes a day for your relaxation practice. If you’d like to get even more stress relief, aim for 30 minutes to an hour. If that sounds like a daunting commitment, remember that many of these techniques can be incorporated into your existing daily schedule—practiced at your desk over lunch or on the bus during your morning commute.

Finding the relaxation technique that’s best for you

There is no single relaxation technique that is best for everyone. When choosing a relaxation technique, consider your specific needs, preferences, fitness level, and the way you tend to react to stress. The right relaxation technique is the one that resonates with you, fits your lifestyle, and is able to focus your mind and interrupt your everyday thoughts in order to elicit the relaxation response. In many cases, you may find that alternating or combining different techniques will keep you motivated and provide you with the best results.

How you react to stress may influence the relaxation technique that works best for you:

How do you react to stress?

Do you tend to become angry, agitated, or keyed up?

You may respond best to relaxation techniques that quiet you down, such as meditation, deep breathing, or guided imagery

Do you tend to become depressed, withdrawn, or spaced out?

You may respond best to relaxation techniques that are stimulating and that energize your nervous system, such as rhythmic exercise

Do you tend to freeze-speeding up internally, while slowing down externally?

Your challenge is to identify relaxation techniques that provide both safety and stimulation to help you “reboot” your system. Techniques such as mindfulness walking or power yoga might work well for you

Do you need alone time or social stimulation?

If you crave solitude, solo relaxation techniques such as meditation or progressive muscle relaxation will give you the space to quiet your mind and recharge your batteries. If you crave social interaction, a class setting will give you the stimulation and support you’re looking for. Practicing with others may also help you stay motivated.

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