Papercut and colored pencil art by Sheryl Aronson X 5

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mindfulness for Pain Relief

We usually spend our energy trying to get rid of our pain (wishful thinking), decrease our pain, or diverting our attention to try to ignore it for awhile.  What if instead, we focussed on it deliberately?  Mindfulness is a form of meditation where you focus on what is going on in such a way that you don't make any judgments or take any actions.  You are just aware.

Shinzen Young wrote a very thorough article about using mindfulness for pain entitled Break Through Pain  Practical Steps for Transforming Physical Pain Into Spiritual Growth.  In it, he talks about the difference between pain and suffering. Suffering equals pain times how much we resist it.  Think about it.  When you have pain all the time (or frequently), there are times it really bothers you and times it doesn't bother you so much, and it isn't strictly based on the level of the pain. If you are ignoring the pain or just letting it be, you aren't suffering, but if you fret about it and let it get to you, you are suffering.

The method he describes for mindfulness pain relief is this:  get in a comfortable position where you can relax.  Pick an area of pain to focus on.  Explore te pain- What kind of pain is it- burning, prickling, stabbing, etc.  What shape is it, is it flat or 3 dimensional, are the borders sharp or diffuse, is it isolated or does it spread to other areas of your body?  Are there areas that hurt more or less?  Now focus on the pain as if it were an animal.  Does it move? Shift in intensity? Does the center shift?  With each movement you sense, relax into it.  Eventually the pain will reveal ts wave nature, when it does, 'surf the waves!'  Don't think about the pain as a sensation, but as an entity.  Don't make judgments about it, just let it be. 

This mindfullness technique takes time to learn.  If initially your mind wanders or you start to make judgments abou the pain, notice it, accept that you are doing it, but don't berate yourself.  Just go back to observing.    Some people may have an increase in pain initially when focussing in on it.  This should subside.  As you get better at this, your reationship with pain may change.  It will no longer be an enemy to fight against.  As you accept the pain and resist it less, your suffering lessens.

Vidyamala did a review  of a 2 CD set  “Mindfulness for Pain Relief: Guided Practices for Reclaiming Your Body and Your Life,” by Jon Kabat-Zinn.  The first CD contains short lectures on various aspects of applying mindfulness to chronic pain of any sort.  The author refers to some of the research he and others have done in the area of pain and mindfulness. His distinction between pain and suffering is very clear: "Pain is the sensations of discomfort that may be unavoidable; suffering is the ways we react to pain that just makes it worse."  The second CD is guided practice of mindfulness with instruction. 

This CD set sounds like it would be very helpful to have if you are thinking of trying this mindfulness technique.  Mindfulness is used for many other things besides pain relief.  It can be done anytime, anywhere.  The key is to be 'fully present' with whatever you are doing. Focus on your observations, try not to judge.  Whatever is going on 'just is'.  Don't think about anything else.  It takes practice, don't berate yourself for a wandering mind.  That is normal.  If you mind does wander, or you find yourself making judgments, just acknowledge your thoughts and dismiss them, and go back to focussing on the 'now'.



  1. Hi,

    You've a really good blog. Most of the people do not fully grasp what mind power can do to one's achievements.

  2. Hi,

    You have an extremely nice blog. To become a prosperous person the essential factor would be to have positive thinking.