When you suffer every day with chronic pain that just won’t go away, you’ve likely tried many different forms of treatment.
Drugs may give you some relief, but there are generally side effects and the possibility that you’ll become addicted if it is pain killers that you’re taking.
There are other, more natural options, but it can be hard to say what will work for you and what won’t until you try them.
So, if you’ve never tried meditation for chronic pain relief, here’s your chance to learn what you need to know and hopefully find some comfort in your world, and a reprieve from the pain that seems to plague you night and day.
If you’ve avoided meditation in the past because you can’t see yourself sitting with your legs twisted like pretzels on the floor of the living area moaning the word “um”, it’s time to get that visualization out of your head.
You can surely meditate that way if you’d like, but that isn’t all that this pain relief method is about.
What is mediation?
Mindful meditation is the act of sitting in silence and becoming aware of your mind and body with the intent of relaxing it and finding some peace (both internally and physically).
Essentially, you focus on being present in the moment and letting all other thoughts and feelings leave your mind free and clear.
In today’s day and age, silent time is at a premium. With televisions, radios, MP3’s, iPods, computers, tablets, and every other gadget available, we’re always being bombarded with stimuli from some direction.
Even if you have none of these things powered up, you’re likely surrounded with family, friends, coworkers or the general public because you’re probably engaged in some sort of activity.
However, when you don’t give your time body to decompress and slow down (and preferably sit in silence for a short period), you can make the pain that you feel even worse.
Your immune system becomes lowered and you have a harder time dealing with whatever is physically ailing you.
Meditation gives you the opportunity to reconnect your mind with your body in a way that promotes healing and happiness. You can direct your body so that you feel better both physically and mentally.
How does this happen?
Meditation alters your brainwave patterns
One of the reasons that meditation is so powerful is that it actually changes your brainwave patterns. When you experience beta brainwaves (which you are probably in right now), you are actively aware of the world around you.
This is also the pattern that you’re in when you undergo stress, worry, anxiety, and fear.
You may experience moodiness, depression, irritability, and insomnia which all work to weaken your immune system and make you susceptible to disease and illness.
Start to meditate and you switch to alpha brainwaves. This occurs when you are awake, but are deeply relaxed.
You are more capable of learning, processing, and memorizing information as you let all of the negative emotions and concerns that you have slowly start to slip away. (As a side note: This is also the state in which elite athletes perform the best.)
Gamma brainwaves, which are the next step in the meditative process, increase your sensory perception.
Your senses of taste, sight, and sound all become extremely heightened. You have a greater ability to focus and your compassion is at an all-time high.
People who experience higher rates of gamma activity tend to be happier and more at peace.
Theta brainwaves happen when you’re deeper into mediation and are almost in a trance-like state (almost as if you’re floating on air).
You feel much more open and have a greater connection with those around you. You are in touch with your insight and intuition and can often recall distant and forgotten memories.
The deepest level of meditation brings about delta brainwaves. It is like a deep, dreamless sleep that rests and rejuvenates you.
Your body starts to heal and your immune system becomes stronger. It is believed that this is the most beneficial state of meditation that you can be in.
There are pain management benefits at all of these levels. Whether you’re in an alpha state and are able to relax your body (which eases your tension and reduces your pain) or you’re in a delta state and actually promote healing within your internal systems, you’re sure to gain numerous advantages from this age old pain relief technique.
Meditation also alters your body’s chemical composition
In addition to changing the state of your brain, meditation also changes the chemical composition of your body.
Specifically, it boosts the levels of many hormones that not only make you feel better mentally, but also help you physically to fight the pain sensations that you deal with on a daily basis.
According to the EOC Institute, some of these hormones include:
Endorphins – These are the same hormones that are increased when you engage in physical activity or exercise.
They are commonly referred to as “natural pain killers” and they are also thought to lower blood pressure and reduce your risk of cancer.
DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone) –Responsible for decreasing levels of depression and making you feel better psychologically, this hormone also helps support your immune system which is extremely important for people who suffer with chronic pain conditions. After all, the fewer other medical concerns you have, the better off you are.
GABA (Gamma Aminobutyric Acid) – This chemical which is enhanced in your body when you meditate on a regular basis does very positive things for your wellbeing, such as alleviate insomnia and reduce anxiety (two emotions common for chronic pain sufferers).
Melatonin – Just as GABA helps you cure insomnia, melatonin also helps you engage in restful sleep.
This will help your body repair itself and give it much needed relief from the pain that you feel on an everyday basis.
Serotonin – A lot of anxiety and depression related prescriptions (which you may be on as chronic pain can incite both of these mental states) are aimed at restoring your serotonin levels, so you can potentially bypass them if you meditate and raise your serotonin levels naturally.
HGH (Human Growth Hormone) – Meditation also raises your HGH levels, which is important because these are the chemicals in your body that contribute to your overall health. When you don’t have enough HGH in your system, you risk decreased bone density and muscle mass, weakened heart contractions, lack of motivation, and more.
The one hormone that meditation decreases is cortisol, which is a good thing. Cortisol is a hormone that your body releases when you are stressed and it has some very negative side effects.
It raises your blood pressure, creates blood sugar imbalances, and creates an inflammatory response in the body, just to name a few.
In addition, higher cortisol levels are associated with increased abdominal fat which is the most dangerous place on your body that you can hold fat when it comes to disease and illness.
Why is the repetition of meditation so important?
If you look at the stress and pain that your body endures on a daily basis like an onion, you can better understand the principle of regular meditation for pain relief.
If you do it once and peel one layer off, you still have an entire onion left that can cause you discomfort (much as an actual onion does with its rather pungent odor).
However, the true changes occur when you strip layer after layer, such as you do with repeated meditations.
You start to get to the heart of the issues that you’re having and changing your body’s brainwaves and hormonal levels in ways that can help you tremendously in a long term kind of way.
You remove the offending layers and pretty soon are left with peace and relaxation…and hopefully pain relief.
How to do it
Now that you see all of the benefits of meditation, perhaps you’re more willing to give it a try in an effort to calm your chronic pain. As you can see, it has many positive side effects that may potentially give you the reprieve that you so desperately crave.
To start, you’ll want to find a nice, quiet place that is free from distraction. Obviously it would be easiest to meditate when you’re home alone, but if that isn’t possible, at least find a room with a door on it to keep the rest of world out for a moment or two.
Turn off all forms of media so that you’re not disrupted by television programs or songs on the radio.
If possible, you’ll want to switch your mobile phone off too. You’ll only be away for a moment or two so if it is important, someone will leave you a message which you can promptly return once you clear your head.
Sit on the couch, chair or floor – whichever is most comfortable to you. Close your eyes and start to relax your mind.
Focus solely on the air as you breathe in and out. Feel it enter your body through your nasal cavity, fill your lungs, and then exit through your mouth. Pay attention to the rise and fall of your tummy.
Push all of the thoughts from your mind and focus on nothing more than your breathing. You may notice your mind wander at first and this is extremely natural.
It’s difficult to get your mind to go from thinking about twenty things to nothing at all, so don’t panic if you suddenly realize that you’re contemplating what to make for dinner or going over a fight you had with your boss.
Just let your thoughts come and go without judgement and then return your focus to your breathing and continue the process.
There are many different meditative processes, but this is one of the simplest. It doesn’t require remembering to do anything other than breathe, which you do automatically anyway.
All you have to do is learn how to train your concentration solely on this process so that it doesn’t wander to all of the other issues that you’re trying to get away from, like the pain you feel.
Because it will take some time to get used to sitting without thinking, you may want to start with meditations that are only approximately five minutes in length.
As you begin to grow more comfortable with the silence and feel better at practicing mindful breathing, then you can work to increase the amount of time you participate in this activity.
Some people feel that 20 minutes a day is adequate and others aim for a full hour. Do what feels right for you and offers you the greatest amount of relief.
You’ll learn when you’ve hit your threshold and can begin to feel the advantages of daily meditation.
You can seek a professional if you’d like help with meditation
There are many qualified health professionals that can help you learn how to meditate to receive the greatest benefits.
You can certainly go to one if you feel like you need a little help in mastering the technique, but you don’t have to. It’s up to you.
There are also several podcasts you can download for free that offer daily or weekly meditation sessions.
In addition, you can look for free webinars online that you can attend right from the comfort of your home that promise to do the same thing.
Of course, there are many guided meditations available on YouTube too, so be sure to check those out as well if you’re interested in getting a little help from a professional.
Just be aware that there is no licensure or certification that is necessary for meditation specialists to obtain prior to practicing.
So, you may want to ask for referrals or check out a provider before starting sessions that may or may not work for you based on their ability to get you in a meditative state.
Studies show promising results with meditation and its effect on chronic pain
Numerous bits of research have been conducted in regard to the effectiveness of meditation on chronic pain.
One such study published by The Brown Daily Herald(which is the student run publication for Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island) found that people who were proficient at meditation had better control of their alpha rhythms (which you learned about previously in this article as the brain waves that are at the beginning state of meditation).
This gave the individuals a greater ability to move their focus away from their pain and ease some of their physical discomfort.
Previous studies at the same university came to the same conclusion after putting participants through eight weeks of mindful meditation.
When compared to those who did not meditate (the control group), they had greater reactivity with their alpha waves, thus giving them greater focus – and more pain relief.
Meditation then has been proven to help people with chronic pain as they’re able to essentially override the pain sensation and concentrate on other, more positive things. Plus, it puts your body in a more focused healing state which will give you some relief as well.
Although, meditation isn’t for everyone
Just as some people respond well to drug therapy while others don’t, the same can be said about meditation. It may work very well for someone else and not work at all for you. However, what do you have to lose by trying it?
There is no cost to meditation and you don’t have to go somewhere special to participate in it.
All you have to do is find a nice quiet spot and commit to clearing your mind and letting go of all the negativity and pain you feel.
Even if it doesn’t take away your physical discomfort, it may at least take away some of your mental discomfort.
When you’re in chronic pain, it’s easy to have a sour outlook on life. Really, that is true for any time you don’t feel good.
You can look around you and not see the beauty that surrounds you because you’re so consumed with how you feel – which is generally pretty rotten.
Meditation can help with that. It can help you let go of the pain and negative feelings that plague you and bring you closer to some sort of peace and comfort.
It can take you to a greater level of life satisfaction simply by slowing down your mind and staying present in the here and now.
Hopefully it will take the pain away too. And, it may. Just give it a try and see what you can do.
It would be a shame if it does work for you and you don’t get the relief you want because you’ve never attempted it, wouldn’t it?