Some of you have mentioned mindfulness meditation (MM) in the forum which is great and I want to support their effort and elaborate on its usefulness in chronic pain.
The significance comes with the restrictions that pain can impose on someone. It can restrict you from being physically active, taking action, being joyful, social and even working. It can narrow the focus entirely on this unpleasant sensation. Often medical treatments are of limited use and there seems no way out. So what else can you do when pain dominates life? Why not using your mind to improve you wellbeing.
Classic pain management teaches methods like distraction, relaxation and setting small goals. Mindfulness instead promotes confrontation and introspection.
What is it?
Mindfulness Meditation (also MBSR) is a western, research-based form of meditation derived from a 2,500 year old Buddhist practice called Vipassana or Insight Meditation. It is a form of meditation designed to develop the skill of paying attention to our inner and outer experiences with acceptance, patience, and compassion. It's a capability we all have and use but not in a systematic way. It was developed in the 70ies by J. Kabat-Zinn and first research was done in the 80ies on chronic pain patients. Here they showed significant reductions in pain, mood disturbance, anxiety and depression. Also Pain-related drug utilization decreased, activity levels and feelings of self-esteem increased. Newer research is even more compelling and shows that It works well for anxiety and depression relapse.
Basically there are two distinctions. One is "focused meditation" on a specific object like the breath or a visual object. The other is "open awareness" for all present moment experiences.
How is it taught?
MM is taught by a teacher in a 8-week program, 3 hours a week, and also includes the practice of "body scan" and yoga exercises. It requires systematic teaching and the support of a group is very helpful. Still most important is daily practice. The length of 8 weeks is based on the duration of the studies done on MM so thats somewhat artificial.
Why do it?
There are many reasons. Simply by focusing on the breath you can develop inner calmness, equanimity and even joyful states of mind. It makes you a better observer of what happens inside and outside of you without becoming reactive. This allows you to face and embrace even the unpleasant or painful aspects of daily life which often is step towards healing. The stability and non-reactivity one cultivates in the practice supports the ability to become a more compassionate human being, experiencing the joys of pure non-reactive presence. By developing a simple and pure awareness, you can learn to disentangle yourself from habitual thoughts, emotions, and behaviors or even disentangle pain and suffering. The practice can be done anytime and at no cost. No cross-legged sitting or "ohm" sound is necessary. But it takes patience, benefits can be expected after 2-3 months of regular practice.
Personally, I find it very liberating and wouldn't want to live without it.
A patient story
There is a lot more to be said but it's best to read it from somebody suffering from chronic pain. So I strongly encourage you to read this insightful story:
and more in depth literature you can find here
Hope this is helpful. Feel free to share your own experiences, questions or feedback of any kind.
Marc Fouradoulas, MD