I talk an awful lot about the benefits of meditation for my chronic pain. I thought it was about time to talk a little more about the science behind why I feel that way - aside from meditation being pretty badass.
First, we need some definitions...
- Chronic pain: any pain lasting for more than twelve weeks
- Meditation: a variety of mindfulness, personal focus, and introspection techniques
- It's important to note that, since there is such a variety in meditation as a whole, that one definition really doesn't encapsulate much BUT some types of meditation involve:
- Deep breathing
- Guided imagery
- Vocalizations or chanting
- Scanning the body
What can meditation do?
- Increase in gray matter
- Decrease activity in the amygdala (emotional stimuli center in the brain, especially known in Post Traumatic Stress)
- More focus
- Increase happiness
- Lower stress
- Lower anxiety
- Including social anxiety
- Lower depression
- Better sleep
- Improve self-awareness
- Improve fibromyalgia symptoms
- Improve empathy, compassion, and interpersonal caring
- Improve sex life
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower addiction tendencies
- Improve emotional intelligence
- Improve memory retention
- Lower sensitivity to pain
“Meditation teaches patients how to react to the pain,” Zeiden said. “People are less inclined to have the ‘Ouch’ reaction, then they are able to control the emotional reaction to pain.” He explained that the meditator learns while sitting on the cushion that pain is fleeting and doesn’t deserve such a strong emotional reaction. (source)
This all has been shown to be especially true in chronic back pain.
I've been meditating on and off since I was about twelve. There was a Cosmo article I read about how yoga and meditation were good for our minds and bodies, so I got into it. There was even a point where I could do headstands up against the wall.
If only selfies had been a thing at the time...
I definitely fell off the wagon of meditation several times. Back in 2012, when Laura passed away, I got back on the wagon for a while... until I didn't. Towards the beginning of 2015, though, I found the Buddhify app and fell back into the wagon hard - so much so that the creator of Buddhify, Rohan Gunatillake, interviewed me for his book, This Is Happening:
Mindfulness also shows me that even the hardest pain of the most difficult emotion is just a temporary thing. Noticing that change has made a massive difference. The pain is still there but now I can even be grateful for it. I now have the self-awareness to notice any discomfort and itching before it becomes full-blown pain. That's quite a change from when all I could do was be angry and resentful.
Mindfulness has really helped improve my relationships which previous had been quite difficult. I guess that working on being compassionate to myself means that I'm able to be more compassionate to others. That's also how I see all the blogging I do. Sharing my own story and struggles with others through blogging and other social media is an expression of my compassion. It's part of my practice. (122)
One of the things I love from this chapter - and, indeed, every interaction I have with Rohan - is how very appreciative and caring he was about some of my thoughts:
I've met a lot of mindfulness experts in my time. But as she is someone who has lived with pain for the majority of her life, I've never heard as clear or as real an articulation of how mindfulness helps us transform our experience of the difficult as the one Kirsten shared with me. (122)
One of my favorite things about meditation is just how restful and rejuvenated I feel when I take part in it. While it can be difficult at times, Buddhify really helps me to dive in even with difficult emotions.
I really enjoy meditations that allow me to remove the narrative about my pain. One of the Buddhify tracks does this, requiring us to focus on the actual pain instead of the tangents our minds can often create - thinking about what the pain is (size, sensation, location) versus the panic it brings (I can't go to work tomorrow if I still hurt like this, etc).
Don't already have a meditation practice in place? Good news - meditation has been shown to help even beginners, so get cracking!
Next week, we'll look at ways to get started on meditation.