Reduce Stress and Pain through Mindfulness Meditation

When people think of meditation they may conjure up different thoughts about it.  Some thoughts may be stereotypical, some may be negative and some thoughts may be positive. Some people may think of it as something that is only practised by certain religious groups.  In reality meditation can be practised by everyone and it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to take hours out of your day practising it.

I must admit, I do not practise meditation but when I see a method of self-healthcare that has consistent research to back up its claims I am willing to tell others about it.  It might not help everyone but it might help someone.

Likely the most researched form of meditation is Mindfulness Meditation.  It has its roots in Thervada Buddhism but the religious and cultural components have been removed.  Mindfulness meditation can be defined as the intentional self regulation of attention from moment to moment. Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn brought Mindfulness meditation to North America.  He has been teaching this method of meditation to medical schools in the USA and around the world for the past 25 years.

How does it differ from other forms of meditation?

We often think of meditation as someone repeating a mantra or focusing on an object.  Transcendental meditation is one example of this form of meditation.  Everything is considered a distraction restricting your attention to one thing.  Mindfulness Meditation’s focus is on being aware of everything around us but without any judgment or response to it.

Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation

Research has noted an increase in well being, reduction in stress and anxiety, improved physical function, improved immune response, and improved ability to cope with pain. It is well accepted that stress and anxiety can affect our health, has been associated with poor self-efficacy and is associated with chronic pain.

Dr Kabat-Zinn speculates Mindfulness Meditations’ benefit on chronic pain:

”The potential benefit of using meditation for the self-regulation of chronic pain would depend on the patient’s developing an ability to observe intense feeling in the body as bare sensation.  By repeated practice the patient might learn to assume intentionally an attitude of detached observation toward a sensation when it becomes prominent in the field of awareness, and to observe with similar detachment the accompanying but independent cognitive processes which lead to evaluation and labelling of sensation as painful, as hurt.”
Likely the benefits seen in those dealing with stress and anxiety may also be explained for the same reasons.

Protocol

Check out the following mindfulness meditation video uploaded to youtube from google. Most importantly start at about 20 minutes in to the video. Here are the notes I took while viewing this video. I have separated them into what I feel are three logical progressive phases to developing mindfulness meditation.

Dr Notley’s Notes:

Phase 1 – Tuning into Now

We only have moments at which to live. The future is a concept.  The past is a concept. Now (present time) is the only time that we can experience our lives unfolding. Mindfulness Meditation helps us learn to live our now with more awareness.

The first concept we must grasp is how to tune into now, the present.

  • There are a lot of sensations occurring all at the same time.  The easiest sensation to become aware of is our breathing.
  • Find a comfortable position, what ever position that might be.
  • Experience the sensation of breathing
  • Focus on where the sensation is most vivid which might be through the nose, the rising and falling of the rib cage or the expanding and contracting of the abdomen.
  • Feel the breath moving into and out of your body.
  • Ride the waves of the breath; surf it moment, by moment
  • All of the other sensations are in the wings
  • Note: The mind will start commenting on your experience while you are focusing on your breath. It might start thinking, “This is stupid”, “This is boring” or “I am breathing …in….out”.  The mind might start thinking about what you need to do the rest of the day. Because of this you might become more anxious.  Whatever it is that you start focusing on you have lost touch with the breath.  This is normal. You are not a bad meditator because of this.  Just come back to the breath. It is the awareness of loosing the moment that is important.  Take note as to what’s on your mind but then return to the breath.  Just reconnect.  Don’t judge or condemn yourself. Just come back to the breath.

Phase 2 – Expanding your Awareness of Now

Now that you know how to tune into one sensation of now it is now time to expand your awareness to the rest of the sensations of your body.

  • Now go beyond your breathing.  Sense what your body is experiencing. Sense the body as a whole while breathing.  Feel the skin. The pressure of your clothes, the pressure of your feet on the ground, your back against the backing of the chair, etc.
  • You can also include sound, smell and sight since they too are sensations that our body experiences.
  •  You are now expanding your awareness of what your body is experiencing.
  • This phase can be performed anytime, anywhere, be it walking, eating, laying down, etc.
  • Don’t worry if you loose focus just tune yourself back into the now by returning to your breathing

Phase III – Expanding our awareness to our thoughts and feelings

  1. Now include the thoughts and feelings that are going through your mind. They will come and go.  Often these thoughts are associated with emotions. Take it all in but do not purse anything or reject everything.  Accept all but do not judge them.  Just be aware of them.
  2. When you experience pain, stress, anxiety, or fear distinguish as whether it is just an observation of the experience or an interpretation of the experience. Observe these experiences but view them as impermanent mind events.
  3. Uncoupling the emotion to the sensation of pain separates the sensation from the alarm and emotion.  For example, the sensation of pain resulting in the emotion of “It’s killing me”.  If you can separate these two the sensation of pain will be diminished. This likely can work with other sensations of anxiety, fear, stress etc.
Though as simple as the video and my descriptions sound there is likely more to this technique. You may want to discuss this with your chiropractor, medical doctor or to a psychologist if pain, anxiety and stress are ailments you need to deal with.Remember, practise makes perfect and taking some time each day to develop mindfulness is helpful but the nice part about this method is that you can do it at any point in time each day. Just start by taking a breath.

Until next timeDr Notley

References

Davidson RJ, et al. Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine 2003; 65:564–570.
Grossman P, et al. Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits: A meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research 2004; 57: 35–43.
Kabat-Zinn J. An outpatient program in behavioral medicine for chronic pain patients based on the practice of mindfulness meditation: Theoretical considerations and preliminary results. General Hospital Psychiatry 1982 -47.
Kabat-Zinn J, Massion AO, Kristeller J, Peterson LG, Fletcher KE, Pbert L, Lenderking WR, Santorelli SF. Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Am J Psychiatry 1992; 149:936– 43.
Karp JF. Advances in understanding the mechanisms and management of persistent pain in older adults.  Br J Anaesth. 2008 July; 101(1): 111–120.
Madjumdar M. Does mindfulness meditation contribute to health? Outcome Evaluation of a German Sample. The Journal of Alternative and complementary Medicine.  2002; 6:719–730.
Speca M. A Randomized, wait-list controlled clinical trial: The effect of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction program on mood and symptoms of stress in cancer outpatients. Psychosomatic Medicine 2000; 62:613–622.

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