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Meditation as a Tool for Managing Pain

separator 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 negative thoughts. 

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 your house. 

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 control. 

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.

Source:
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;



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