Meditation and Chronic Pain
It has been suggested, many a time, that I learn meditation as a means to coping with stress, anxiety, depression, and of course, pain relief. According to an article on Web MD*, “Even very brief instruction in meditation appears to help people cope with pain.” Apparently, with an hour’s worth of meditation training, pain can be drastically reduced. The article states that MRIs showed pain intensity ratings were reduced by an average of 40%. 40%! That’s like 1 pain pill. That is fascinating to me because I think if I were in a loud, tight MRI machine, with a sensor burning my leg I might flip out a bit as opposed to relax, but kudos to the participants. Anyway, I digress.
My knee-jerk reaction to the word “meditation” is, nope, sorry, I can’t sit still. I was given a chapter from the Chemistry of Joy Workbook about using mindfulness and meditation to calm the mind. Settling the mind and learning to be grounded in the present, learning to stop and smell the roses, so to speak, is the path to calming the mind. I do not have a calm mind…at all. I constantly have racing thoughts, ideas, anxiety, depression and I almost constantly feel pain. Heck, even when I am calm, I am still thinking of the next project that will keep me from going bat-crap crazy from boredom. I don’t stop. I think and do until I try to sleep, then I lay down and that sleep I so desperately crave (and need), eludes me. Somewhere in that busy brain of mine I think I believe that if I silence my mind, like walking into a dark, unknown room…I am afraid of what I may find.
I am learning something called a “Minute Meditation.” I tried this meditation exercise and, of course, failed at it thanks to my self-defeating thinking and inattentiveness. Part of mindfulness, however, is learning to have thoughts without judgment, so by that thinking, I cannot look at my poor meditation skills as something “bad.” I am merely curiously looking at my inability to meditate and thinking…yeah, no, I really do stink at it.
Try this meditation on your own and let me know if you (hopefully) do better than me. Step one is to get comfortable. That cracks me up because it is not possible for me to get comfortable. My body and mind are always focused on the pain that I feel. If I take the focus away from my body and concentrate on, say breathing, I still feel my tailbone throbbing, my feet burning and my nerves on fire. I tried, nonetheless. I got “comfortable” and breathed naturally, paying close attention to my breathing. The instructions suggested I count my breaths in order to help focus my mind. I didn’t get very far before my mind started to wander, at which point I returned to counting my breaths to refocus. I never got past four, but I did get there about 7 times!
1, 2…I wonder what my husband is watching, I hear screaming on the TV, shows these days are so violent…oops…1, 2, 3…I bet I can make a funny joke about this when I blog about it…crap…1, 2, 3, 4…hey I am doing a good job now….shoot…1, 2, 3…is my minute up yet? Man, I stink at this! (Yes, a judgmental thought, but hey this takes practice, right?)
I did yoga for a few years before my back “issues” and it was one of the few types of meditation that I was capable of because I was able to breathe and focus, but at the same time it was dynamic. Yoga for someone with my less than perfect balance, required an awful lot of concentration and a strong mind to avoid falling, knocking over the person next to me, or, heck, trying not to make a foofer while I stuck my heiny in the air! Now, however, when I exercise I am so concerned with not overdoing it, not hurting myself further, or not falling over simply walking into the room, that I can’t breathe, concentrate and focus (it’s generally one or the other).
I am overly aware of everything at this point in recovery. I am aware of weakness, pain, lost function, gained function. It’s pretty hard to ignore the things I am trying to fix while my body is still so broken. I also take medication that alters my brain chemistry pretty intensely. Pain pills are not really known for helping one focus. Heck, half the time I can’t remember my name let alone focus my mind and body. It’s sort of akin to spinning in circles and then trying to walk a straight line.
Another part of the meditation and mindfulness process is supposed to be enjoying the meditation. I don’t. Period. I often feel hurried, even when I have nothing to do, which is pretty much all the time. Like everything else in my life, including recovery, I want to be done before I start. Although I am instructed to meditate 3-4 times a day for 5 minutes at a time (Ha!), I do try to be present and relax in other, more Tracy-friendly ways. I am learning there is no point in rushing through life, after all when you get to the finish line you are done, regardless of how long it took you to get there! I enjoy arts and crafts, I take pride in keeping a clean house, I write. I have difficulty breathing and counting, but who is to say that the only way to meditate is to breathe and count? Who is to say that simply doing things I enjoy is not a form of meditation? Honestly, if you were to do a FMRI on me meditating versus doing any of the hobbies that focus my mind, I think the meditation scan would show frustration and annoyance, whereas focusing my mind on something I can enjoy would probably show decreased pain and relaxation. It is when I am enjoying myself that I can forget the pain for a few moments.
So, yes, I will continue to try to meditate. I will count and recount and hope that I can master the skill, but in the meantime, I will also focus my mind on the things I enjoy, try to live in the present, enjoy life, and take my recovery one step at a time.
How are your meditation skills? Can you share any of your tips for mastering the art?
*Brain Imaging Shows Impact of Brief Mindfulness Meditation Training. Web MD. http://www.webmd.com/balance/news/20110406/meditation-may-reduce-pain
*Chemistry of Joy Workbook. Chapter 6, “Settling: Take the Mindful Path to a Calm Mind”
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Last reviewed: 18 Apr 2013