Meditation and Pain Relief - Is There a Link?

Meditation and Pain Relief - Is There a Link?
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From headaches and a stiff neck to muscle spasms and an achy back, can meditation be used to relieve pain?

Several scientific studies have shown that pain relief can result from meditative practices, such as yoga, Buddhist techniques, prayer and focused visualisations. The whole point of meditation is to calm down or quieten the autonomic nervous system (ANS).

This controls your heart, your breathing, and your overall metabolism. Lowering the activity of the ANS can lower the effects of any stress that may go on in your life.

And lowering stress can relieve many types of pain. Sounds pretty good so far, right? So, what different meditation techniques can you use to decrease pain?

Focus & Repeat


There are many approaches to meditation, although what they all have in common is a calming, focused and mindful attention to a single thought, a mental picture or a focus on breathing that you can hold in your mind.

They often describe meditation as mind-body medicine and can include:

  • Focused breathing where you concentrate on slow, deep breaths, often counting each breath.

  • Repetition or chanting of a word or a phrase. This also focuses on the breath.

  • Progressive muscle relaxation, where you go through several cycles of tensing and relaxing various muscles and muscle groups, one at a time until you are completely and fully relaxed.

  • Guided imagery, where you pick (or make) a mental picture of a comforting and restful place, “travelling” there when needed to reduce pain and/or stress.

A recent study from the University of North Carolina showed that doing meditation 20 minutes a day for 3 days showed significant relief, including a decrease in anxiety and stress levels. It doesn’t even seem to matter what specific kind of meditation you do - any kind of meditation can bring some relief.

Pain Be Gone!


Even better, the more you practice meditation, the better the results! So what types of pain can meditation relieve? Well, the answer is that meditation can relieve a lot of different pain types including:

  • Fibromyalgia: This sort of pain can be all over the body. It’s common to have tender areas or trigger points where the pain can be more intense.

  • Low back pain: A common complaint, back problems are often a result of workplace habits. They have shown brief meditation during the workday helps with chronic low back pain.

  • The nerve pain associated with multiple sclerosis, diabetic neuropathy, and other neurological conditions.

  • Chronic pelvic pain in women.

  • Headaches: This includes all varieties, such as migraines, tension headaches and cluster headaches.

  • The pain associated with cancer and the spread of cancer.

  • Joint pain, including arthritis.

  • Chronic pain One study even showed that meditation could be more effective in pain relief than morphine!

How to Do It


So how would you go about learning how to meditate, especially if you are in pain? Good question! Many studies show that it is possible for everyone to practice meditation with a few repeated efforts.

Since it’s a personal experience, you just have to find the best way for you. Here are a few steps to follow that can guide you.

  • You may find it easier to learn how to meditate in a class or with an instructor. Yoga studios may be a good place to find someone who can guide you through the process. Another good place to look for meditation instruction may be through a local Buddhist temple. Meditation is a key aspect of Buddhism, and they often hold classes for anyone who’s interested in learning how to meditate.

  • You can find loads of information online to guide you in the best practices of meditation, including videos that will lead you through the experience.

  • Find a self-help meditation CD or DVD to help you along.

  • Play your favourite music to help you relax during meditation. Some people listen to classical music, some listen to drumming, and others go for the specialised meditation music - go with whatever makes you comfortable. Here are even more helpful tips as you incorporate meditation into your life.

  • Turn meditation into a habit. Set aside a block of time every day as YOUR time to meditate. It could be a half hour, but it could be just 5 or 10 minutes in the morning or before bed.

  • In the early stages of learning how to meditate, the easiest method is often just to focus on your breathing. You want to take deep, full breaths. Breathe like a baby breathes: When you expand your abdomen, the diaphragm (a flat muscle under the lungs) goes down. That draws air deeply into your lungs.

  • People often try to force the meditation, and that can be less than helpful. If you are feeling frustrated, LET IT GO! As long as you are sitting still and not letting yourself get distracted by external concerns like your phone or e-mail, you’re doing a magnificent job.

  • You can meditate in any position - you don’t have to perform a full lotus to get the benefits! Be comfortable.

  • If you fall asleep while trying to meditate… well, maybe you needed the sleep more than the meditation! It’s OK. The last thing you want as you learn to meditate is to blame yourself for not doing it well enough!

Remember that it may take some time before you see the benefits. Know that, even if you are not immediately feeling those benefits, studies have shown that your body is reaping the benefits!

Don’t forget also that you can combine Reiki techniques along with meditation.
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