MINDFULNESS BASED PAIN REDUCTION

 

Mindfulness meditation opens possibilities to learn to engage with your whole self, not just your pain.

 
 
 
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One in five Australians live with persistent pain. And anyone living with pain understands that its grip is not limited to the physical sensations experienced, but also feelings of frustration, anger, depression or even despair which can deeply impact the quality of our lives. 

Pain is generally recognised to be associated with three major components: physical sensations; emotional response to the sensations; and social effects of the experience. Mindfulness can help you tune into the difference between these three experiences, making it possible to reduce the suffering associated with pain. It can also help you approach your pain with less fear and more acceptance, allowing you to live life fully, despite the pain and no matter what ailments you carry.

Mindfulness practice is particularly relevant for pain as it directly offers an approach of how to work with pain and suffering. At its core, the 8-week program seeks to change the way we relate to suffering. This occurs not by changing our thoughts, emotions or the situations that arise, but instead by turning towards our direct experience of pain and difficulty, and recognising our relationship with it.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes”
    
— Marcel Proust (1871 – 1922)

Most people want to forget about their pain— they want to escape it, run away from it, wishing they could ignore it or get rid of it somehow. We start ruminating about how much we hate the pain and want to wish it away. We judge the pain. In fact, our negative thoughts and judgments not only exacerbate the pain, they also fuel anxiety and depression and a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness. The problem is—ironically—that by fighting and struggling against it, and even by trying to ignore it, you create within yourself a state of ‘resistance to what is’. Resistance = stress and we know that prolonged stressful states contribute to pain! As Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D, writes in the introduction of The Mindfulness Solution to Pain, “From the perspective of mindfulness, nothing needs fixing. Nothing needs to be forced to stop, or change, or go away.”

This is supported by the neuroscience principle neuralplasticity -our brain and nervous system’s ability to change based on what it experiences and is exposed to. In simple terms, if we expose our brain to stress, worry, muscle tension and so on, our brain gets better at providing that experience “neurones that wire together fire together”. Through mindful attention we have the opportunity to re-wire old ways of reacting to our pain “neurones that wire apart, fire apart”. Mindfulness meditation has been evidenced to lead to a physiological relaxation response and the more we are in such a state, the more this state becomes a chemically wired character trait.

 

The best way to unlearn chronic stress and pain responses is to give the mind and body healthier responses to practice.

 

Scientifically validated outcomes of mindfulness meditation for pain:

 

  • Decrease in repetitive thinking and reactivity to physical sensations, thoughts and emotions

  • Improved self-regulation skills

  • Learned use of attention as a pain coping strategy
  • Increased sense of comfort with unpleasant sensations
  • Experience of pain sensations as less threatening
  • Improved emotional flexibility
  • Increased awareness of pain-related avoidant behaviours
  • Decreased relapse into depression 
  • Enhanced self-compassion
  • Decreased stress response
  • Increased Relaxation Response with improvements in sleep, healing, and cognitive functions
  • Reduction in the ‘bothersomeness’ of pain
  • Reduction in perceived intensity of pain (on developing an ongoing practice)
  • Increased sense of authority in your life