- With mindfulness you turn towards the pain, investigating what is actually happening in the moment.
- You do this with a curious, open and non-judgemental mind
Fear causes pain. Emotional, mental, spiritual and, of course, physical pain. That is because fear is a hugely powerful emotion that we all feel at different times in various degrees.
In today’s world, hearing the word ‘coronavirus’ may cause fear in your bodies – sometimes subconsciously. You don’t even realise that your mind and body are reacting to the word and the thoughts and emotions associated with it.
If we don’t acknowledge the fear we are feeling, it will manifest in your body causing pain, tension and disease. That headache, those stiff shoulders, that lower back pain, that knot in the stomach could all be as a result of you holding fear in your bodies. Not dealing with this can cause chronic pain.
Mindfulness is present moment awareness – deliberately paying attention to the here and now. In mindfulness you acknowledge your thoughts, feelings and physical sensations, accepting things for what they are compassionately and without judgement.
If you suffer from chronic pain or severe discomfort, your intuitive response is to turn away from the pain. You try everything to get rid of the pain and if that’s not possible, you use whatever techniques you can to try and forget or imagine the pain away.
But with mindfulness you turn towards the pain, investigating what is actually happening in the moment. You do this with a curious, open and non-judgemental mind.
Focusing on breathing is of paramount importance when dealing with pain. When you bring your focus to a pain or tension in your body, you are encouraged to breathe into the pain. This helps to reduce the impact of the pain on the body.
There are many mindfulness exercises you can use to bring awareness to your pain.
Here is one I have taught many times and have found it to be particularly effective.
Mindfulness 3-Step Practice for Pain
Find a comfortable position sitting or lying down. Close your eyes.
Step A: Awareness
Bring your awareness to your internal experience and ask yourself:
• What are my thoughts at the moment? What are my thoughts about the pain I am feeling? Acknowledge these thoughts but don’t get caught up in them.
• What emotions am I feeling at the moment? What am I feeling as a result of the pain that I am in? Acknowledge these emotions for what they are, no need to try and change them.
• Where is the pain in my body? What do I notice about this pain? Acknowledge this pain or discomfort, but do not try to change it, just accept it for what it is at the moment.
Step B: Breathing
• Now focus on your breathing.
• Take time to give attention to each breath, from the time you breathe in to the time you breathe out.
• If you find your mind wandering do not worry, just bring it back to your breathing and carry on.
Step C: Consciously breathing into the pain
Now take your awareness from your breathing and take it to the part of your body that you feel pain or discomfort. Then, breathe in through your nose, and as you do so imagine that the breath is travelling down/up to that body part and the pain. As you breathe out, imagine the breath (and pain) leaving the body part and travelling back to the nose to be exhaled. Do this as many times as you like.
Then, take a moment to rest, bring your awareness back to the room you are in and when you feel ready slowly open your eyes.
To begin with spend around a minute on each step. With time you can increase the time you spend at each stage.
Although mindfulness is a non-religious practice, its roots in Buddhism go back thousands of years. Anyone from any faith or religion, from any background, of any age can practice mindfulness and reap the benefits to live a more meaningful, peaceful and balanced life. I urge you to try embracing mindfulness into your daily life. It is truly life-changing.
Accredited mindfulness teacher and international mental health campaigner