Meditation as a Tool for Managing Pain
As people get older, chronic aches and pains are often a fact of life.
Sometimes, it can seem as if the pain is running your life. If this is how
you’ve been feeling, you might be interested in learning about a way to manage
pain that doesn’t involve medication. It’s called mindfulness-based stress
reduction, or MBSR. It’s a kind of stress reduction meditation that helps you
learn to relax, focus on the breath, become aware of the moment and let go of
Several studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can help with the pain
of angina (a heart condition), headaches, fibromyalgia, cancer and psoriasis,
and that it can help reduce stress, depression and anxiety. Currently, there’s
an MBSR study being conducted for the first time on patients with rheumatoid
arthritis, at the University of Maryland’s Center for Integrative Medicine.
MBSR was developed at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and
Society at the University of Massachusetts. The MBSR course lasts 8 weeks. It
consists of instruction on learning mindfulness meditation, gentle yoga, class
discussion and homework assignments, among other components.
Mindfulness is a way of quieting your mind, taking a step back, in a way, and
allowing your thoughts to pass through without getting caught up in thinking
about them too much. You sit and focus on your breath and when a thought comes
into your mind, such as, “Wow, I’m so tired of feeling this pain in my hands all
the time,” you simply let that thought go, without thinking about it anymore.
You also learn not to judge your thoughts—you just let them float by, and don’t
let yourself get too attached to them or to label them as good or bad.
A new appreciation for life
When you learn to practice mindfulness, you’re learning to increase your
awareness of every moment, so that instead of being aware of just one kind of
thought or feeling, you’re more open to everything that’s gong on around you.
You begin to notice how beautiful the sun looks as its light streams through
your window. You look at your grandchild’s face and feel an intense sense of
happiness. You cook a pot of soup and appreciate the wonderful aroma that fills
When you’re able to notice things besides your pain, your body is able to
relax, and that alone can help you to feel better. It’s as though you’re
breaking the cycle of pain and tension that feed on each other and spiral out of
If you’re interested in learning more about MBSR, your doctor or other
healthcare provider may be able to help you find a program in your area. There’s
currently no central database of MBSR programs, but you could try an Internet
search of MBSR programs in your state.
Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the
University of Massachusetts; Holistic Nurse Practitioner,
November/December 2003; Journal of Psychosomatic Research, July 2004;
Newsweek, 27 September 2004; Pain Med. June 2002; University of Maryland’s Center for Integrative Medicine;