Five Mindfulness Tools For Pain


Published:

One Buddhist meditation teacher is fond of asking his students, “Why does your knee hurt when you meditate?” After entertaining a few answers, he smiles impishly and laughs, “Because you have a body.”

Human bodies feel pleasure and pain. It’s what they do. Whether it’s a minor ache or chronic pain, unpleasant sensations are an unavoidable, universal, and completely natural part of being alive.

Most meditation involves sitting still for extended periods of time — a perfect recipe for pain. In some ways, the practice is designed to reveal the nature of our bodies. We can always mindfully shift postures, but we also want to investigate discomfort and learn from the experience. After all, some pain can’t be alleviated.

I was diagnosed with colitis, a painful chronic digestive disorder, when I was 25. A decade later, I hit the jackpot and got Lyme disease. My years of meditation practice coupled with my stellar luck in the health department have demanded that I learn how to work with physical pain.

The default instruction most meditators receive is usually some variation of, “Be mindful of the pain. Note it. Observe the sensation.” But to be mindful of something is different than simply being aware of it. Mindfulness includes a degree of inner balance, the non-reactivity known as equanimity. Without some equanimity, we can’t properly observe an unpleasant sensation or investigate it. Instead, we end up just reacting – inadvertently exacerbating the pain by resisting or fighting it.

What’s needed is a flexible set of tools that we can apply to find some inner balance and transform our relationship to pain. Here are the five tools that I’ve found most helpful in working with pain.

1. Find Compassion

Creating an inner atmosphere of care and good will is the first step. In whatever you can, try to find some compassion for yourself and for the pain. If it were a friend or loved one that were suffering, how would you relate to them? Can you bring some of that tenderness to yourself? Compassion is a universal balm that can begin to soothe any hurt.

2. Explore The Relationship

Check out how your mind is relating to the pain. Are you resisting it, tightening, or avoiding it? Are you fighting, getting angry, or catastrophizing? Notice how any mental or physical reactivity agitates the mind and increases discomfort. Are we adding mental and emotional stress to physical discomfort? What would it be like to soften that resistance, even a little? Can you relax any tension and find some balance inside?

3. Shift Your Attention

To find balance, we may need to shift our attention away from the painful sensation to something more pleasant or neutral. This could be another physical sensation like the warmth or tingling in your hands, or another sense altogether, like hearing or seeing. With chronic pain, Norman Doidge has written extensively about how we can train our brain to reduce the pain signal by deliberately recruiting attention to other sensory experience. If the pain is intense and unrelenting, try “zooming out” with your awareness, focusing on something broader like sound, space or the experience of being aware itself.

4. Investigate With Mindfulness 

When the mind has some care and balance, we can begin to be mindful of the sensations, exploring the experience of “pain” in a direct way. For strong or acute pain, feel the outermost edge of the pain for a moment or two, then shift your attention back to something more neutral. For less intense pain, you may be able to linger and observe longer, discerning more nuanced aspects of the sensory experience: its shape, size or density, which sensations are present, how they change over time. Is there heat, hardness, stabbing, twisting, burning, aching? Is it sharp, rough, brittle? Does an image appear in the mind as you observe it? From time to time, check your relationship with the sensations to see if any resistance has crept in.

5. Reflect With Wisdom

The aim of meditation is to develop transformative understanding. Step back and reflect on the nature of your body. It’s okay to feel pain. Contrary to the messages of our culture, it’s not a personal failing to get sick or be in pain. We all grow old, get sick, and must die. Can we find some peace and acceptance with the way things are?

There’s one more step – and that’s returning to compassion. Compassion is the beginning, the end, and hopefully the underlying tone throughout. This is more than just feeling tenderness towards one’s own pain. Compassion connects us to one another. When we reflect, we realize that all creatures feel pain. Instead of being alone in our suffering, we can find a beautiful release in the way that it softens our heart, and connects us to the world.

Oren Jay Sofer teaches meditation and communication retreats and workshops nationally. A member of the Spirit Rock Teachers Council, he is a Certified Trainer of Nonviolent Communication, a Course Trainer at Mindful Schools, and a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner for the healing of trauma. Oren also holds a degree in Comparative Religion from Columbia University and is the author of Say What You Mean: A Mindful Approach to Nonviolent Communication. Learn more at www.orenjaysofer.com.

See also:
Self-Care Wisdom
Yoga As A Part Of Holistic Drug Addiction Treatment

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

December 12, 2019

Minutes after midnight the “Cold” Moon is Full in Gemini. Trust may be tested, making a leap of faith a necessity. Faced with unknowns and other mysteries, there could be no other choice than to carry on as best as possible. The Moon then embarks on a…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

December 2019

Come shine with us! Join us in harmony and in our goal to bring the light of Spiritualism forward to all those who are searching.

Where:
VFW Post 2597
775 Boston Rd, Rt 3A
Billerica, MA
View map »


Sponsor: The Spiritualist Fellowship Church Of New England
Website »

More information

A beautiful collection of messages from Jeshua Ben Joseph (Jesus) that will transform your life, as it did his. Coming together to study these teachings, to ponder, to savor, to deepen our...

Cost: $25 per class

Where:
Heart and Soul Holistic Healing Center
130 Massapoag Avenue
Sharon, MA  02067
View map »


Sponsor: Heart and Soul Holistic
Telephone: 781-258-9942
Contact Name: Barbara Ann Strassman
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

2nd and 4th Monday of every month This psychic message circle is for anyone wishing to raise their connection using their psychic centers known as the “clairs.” Learn how to use...

Cost: $20

Where:
Messages From Heaven Healing and Learning Center
646 Central Street
Suite 3
Leominster, MA
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Show More...
Show Less...

What is a vigorous yoga practice, and who can benefit from it? With Marissa McAleer and Julie Rost This workshop will explore a more physical practice of yoga and how it can be used to...

Cost: $45

Where:
YogaLife Institute of NH
6 Chestnut Street
Lower Level
Exeter, NH  03833
View map »


Sponsor: YogaLife Institute of NH
Contact Name: Alice Bentley
Website »

More information

The Wellness Roundtable Holistic Practitioners Network creates an environment for wellness practitioners to inspire, educate and support one another, while building community and encouraging...

Cost: $20 (Drop-ins are welcome)

Where:
Sohum Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman St
#108B
Westborough, MA
View map »


Sponsor: 01581
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

How would it feel to have direct education on changing your feelings so you do start to ask for what you truly want? Each month, come and practice hands-on skills to get into the habit of...

Cost: $15

Where:
Awaken Holistic Counseling Services
2 Liberty St., Unit 2L
Newburyport, MA  01950
View map »


Sponsor: Awaken Holistic Counseling Services, LLC
Telephone: 978-255-7893
Contact Name: Kerri Morrison
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

The nights of December fall dark and early. Homes are filled with warm firelight and flickering candle glow. As the year draws to a close, pause under the peaceful light of December’s Full...

Cost: $10–15 suggested donation

Where:
A Touch of Magick
195 S Main Street
Uxbridge, MA
View map »


Telephone: (508) 779-7386
Website »

More information

Sound baths provide an opportunity to relax and journey into a healing, meditative and rejuvenating state. There is nothing you need to do, know or believe. Join us for a powerful, yet casual...

Cost: $25

Where:
Moth & Moon Studio
173 South River Rd
Suite #4
Bedford, NH  03110
View map »


Sponsor: Jeffrey Charles Warren
Contact Name: Jeffrey Warren
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Multi-skilled, and varied holistic practitioner group in Lincoln Area / Metro-West Boston welcomes new practitioner-members. Open invitation to any local practitioner, teacher, researcher,...

Cost: Free, or $5-$15

Where:
Member-homes/offices
Lincoln, MA  01773-4107


Sponsor: Lincoln Area Wellness Collaborative
Telephone: 781-738-1920
Contact Name: Jai Kaur

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

This is a class that will teach you how to make your own wire-wrapped gemstone pendant! Don’t be discouraged—it is simpler than you think, and you’ll have great fun in crafting...

Cost: $40 per person or $35 more than one, includes supplies

Where:
The Healing Power of Flowers — Heaven and Earth
68 Stiles Rd, Unit A
Salem, NH  03079
View map »


Sponsor: The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
Telephone: 603-275-7688
Contact Name: Stacey
Website »

More information

Learn to overcome spinal tensions through therapeutic postures, designed to decompress your spine and relieve pain. Taught by a certified yoga therapist, classes bring you through poses...

Cost: 5/$50

Where:
Bliss Through Yoga
484 Bedford St
East Bridgewater, MA  02333
View map »


Telephone: 508-331-3564
Contact Name: Janice O'Brien
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags