The National Institute of Health reports that 25 million American adults suffer from pain daily. This pain can can range from brief to long lasting, and minor to severe. Additionally, some 40 million Americans suffer sever pain on a regular basis.
Pain not only hurts, but can also have a deep impact on your everyday life.
Severe pain, whether in the form of migraines or bodily pain, can cause you to miss work and other important events in your life. For those suffering with chronic pain, the impact is even worse. While aspirin and prescription medications are viable options to combat pain, many are turning to complementary health services like yoga, massages, and meditation to help manage their pain on a daily level.
Those who wonder if meditation for pain actually works are in for a pleasant surprise.
Meditation has been recommended as a way to manage pain for numerous ailments, such as migraines, back pain, and chronic pain.
It turns out that meditation can reduce pain intensity by 40%. Another study showed that meditation can reduce pain symptoms just as well as opiates without activating the opiate receptors. That’s good news for those who don’t want to rely heavily on pharmaceutical drugs for relief because they feel they might become dependent.
Additionally, these studies showed that amateur meditators could experience the positive effects of meditation after just a 20 minute session.
Meditation Trains Your Brain
How meditation helps with pain has to do with how our brain perceives pain.
Pain is an alarm system that lets you know when something injures your body. Your nerves send the signal to the brain, and your brain processes the information.
Meditation teaches practitioners how to react to the pain in a more objective way. It allows practitioners to control their negative emotions surrounding pain and work through it.
Another theory is that meditation reduces pain levels by reducing stress levels. When you’re stressed, your nervous system is overactive. Your nervous system is responsible for heightened senses and awareness during stressful times.
Meditation helps you take control of your nervous system. It trains you to be mindful of the sensations in your body without attaching emotion. In fact, meditation has been shown to improve emotional regulation, perspective taking, and regulatory neurotransmitters.
A meditator uses those four regions to learn that acute pain is fleeting and that your chronic pain shouldn’t control your life.
Meditation can be a powerful exercise for managing your pain. If you’re ready to get started, try these meditations below.
Mindful Breathing Meditations
Mindful breathing meditations are a great place to start for beginners. The foundation of these meditations is just to focus on your breath, nothing more or less.
A simple mindful breathing meditation can be done on your own or with a guide.
To start, find a quiet, comfortable place. Sit with your spine straight. Close your eyes.
After a few moments, notice your breath. Become aware of each inhale and exhale. Don’t try to slow or quicken your breath; just let it be. You’ll notice that it will deepen on its own.
If your mind wanders, gently guide your attention back to your breath.
Guided audio or visual meditations can help you keep focus on your breath. Give this 12 minute mindfulness meditation a try.
Autogenic training uses the repetition of mental commands to help the practitioner exert control over their body and bodily sensations.
The goal of an AT session is to feel a sense of calm and to gain better control over unwanted emotional and physiological responses to external stimuli.
A regular autogenic training session focuses on six areas:
- Inducing heaviness.
- Inducing warmth.
- Attention on the heartbeat.
- Focus on breath.
- Noticing abdominal sensations.
- Focus on the coolness of the forehead.
These steps are achieved by repeating statements that cue the brain and body. Autogenic training may be a bit tougher than other methods of meditation, but you can always find a teacher to help you.
If you’d like to try it on your own, just remember the more you practice, the better you’ll become.
Start in a comfortable, sitting position. If you find it hard to relax, try a quick progressive muscle relaxation technique – tense up big muscle groups and release tension.
Take a few slow, deep breaths. When you’re ready, begin saying the following statements and repeating each statement 3 to 6 times. As you say the statement out loud, visualize each sensation.
A typical AT script will have the following statements:
- I am completely calm.
- My right arm is heavy. My left arm is heavy. Both of my arms are heavy.
- My right leg is heavy. My left leg is heavy. Both of my legs are heavy.
- My arms are warm. My right arm is warm. My left arm is warm. Both of my arms are warm.
- My legs are warm. My legs arm is warm. My left leg is warm. Both of my legs are warm.
- My heart beats regularly and calmly.
- My breathing is calm and regular.
- My abdomen is warm.
- My forehead is cool.
When you’re finished, take a few more deep breaths and slowly open your eyes.
While AT meditation uses visualization of effects in the body, another form of meditation is to visualize imagery to guide your meditation.
Visual meditation uses your sense of sight to shift your focus of consciousness. One of the most effective ways to use visualization meditation is to imagine energies (good and bad) as colors or lights.
Get into a comfortable, seated meditation pose and close your eyes. Inhale deeply and exhale deeply. Allow your muscles to relax.
Now, imagine yourself being surrounded by a cocoon of bright, golden light – positive energy. As you breathe, see yourself wrapped up in the light.
Now, imagine your pain, sadness, or any other negativity in your life. Imagine it as a black smoke or shadow. On your next exhale, imagine the black smoke leaving your body and then being consumed by the bright, light.
Make these images as detailed as possible – using your other senses to feel it as well. Keep the colors and concepts simple, but feel free to embellish the visualization with other senses. Feel the warm, bright light. Smell it, hear it.
As mentioned earlier, guided meditation can help you start and stay focused during meditation.
Here are a few popular meditations specifically for pain that you can follow along with on YouTube.
The Cleansing Pool – Pain Relief & Healing
Guided Meditation to Self-Healing: Pain Relief
To help deepen your connection with your body and take control of it back from pain, follow along with these audio-guided meditations specifically for body awareness.
Full Body Relaxation
When pain causes us to miss out on important events, our lives and the lives of the people around us are losing something. For those seeking complementary methods of pain management other than medication, meditation might be the key that will help you return to normalcy.
At Spire, we consider it our privilege to offer you information that can help you cope with pain, stress, and anxiety. Pain is very complex, and affects so many of us in negative ways. Luckily, meditation is a relatively simple and viable tool for dealing with these issues.