Chronic pain is one of the most severe medical issues that can impact different aspects of one’s life. More than 100 million American adults suffer from chronic pain, with a 2012 study showing that people spent more than $635 billion on chronic pain. This alarming amount indicates an urgent need to address this medical issue.
This reality has prompted the search for new and alternative healing methods to help people deal with chronic pain. Two such proven methods to relieve chronic pain are meditation and yoga.
Both these practices are part of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction approach, a holistic mind and body program based on Buddhism’s practices. There is extensive evidence showing that yoga and meditation can better support your body’s healing process and boost your overall fitness and mental health.
Meditation to Relieve Chronic Pain
What is Meditation?
An ancient practice rooted in India, meditation is a form of mental exercise aimed at calming our minds and promoting mental clarity. It helps you become more aware of yourself and have a healthier perspective of yourself and the world around you.
Meditation allows you to observe and embrace yourself without judgment, so you can better understand your feelings and thoughts. It is not intended for you to become a new or different person, not even a better person, but someone who has a more balanced and clear outlook.
You can practice different forms of meditation, which may involve focusing on an object or passively observing your thoughts. With consistent practice, any form of meditation can offer numerous health benefits.
How Does Meditation Relieve Chronic Pain?
Meditation uses a different pathway of handling pain compared to other conventional treatments. It is intended to alter your brain structure so you can better manage the pain and modify your pain sensations to more accurately reflect the physical changes occurring in your body.
In 2012, a study concluded that regular mindfulness meditation practice can modify how you respond to pain by altering how a person contextually evaluates pain. Meditation leads to cognitive detachment with better sensory processing, so you can tolerate your pain better.
A study conducted in 2018 also showed that meditation can alter the brain’s structure by changing the cortical thickness, thus making the people in the study group less sensitive to pain.
It should be noted that meditation does not block the pain. Instead, it brings your full attention to the pain to find relief. You don’t ignore your discomfort; you attune your mind to work with it.
As you accept the pain, your tolerance for it increases. This is primarily because meditation helps to put your mind and body in a state of calmness that promotes the release of “feel-good” hormones or endorphins.
Types Of Meditation For Chronic Pain
Meditation comes in many forms, and each type of meditation is intended to make you fully aware of your mind and body.
Here are some of the types of meditation that can help with chronic pain.
People who experience persistent, chronic pain usually perceive their bodies as the source of their dilemma because their bodies can feel like enemies. This triggers negative emotions like anger, disappointment, fear, and unhappiness.
In response to these negative emotions, one often unconsciously tightens and clenches their body muscles. And this tightening of muscles can further intensify your pain and even lead to new body discomforts.
Body scan meditation is a practice that can help you become more aware of your body’s discomfort and deal with them.
Practicing body scan meditation regularly can help establish a relationship between you and your body. It can provide you with emotional healing and peace, thus releasing the tension and negativity and reducing the chronic pain you have been experiencing.
Guided imagery meditation is a form of meditation that taps into your imagination and entails creating a specific, imagined reality for yourself. This technique can either be self-taught or practiced with the guidance of a professional.
This form of meditation is fairly easy to practice as it requires you to daydream essentially. When it comes to managing your pain, you will need to imagine yourself in a peaceful and positive setting, such as walking in a park or near a waterfall. You will also want to include as much sensory detail as possible such as the sounds you want to hear, the smell of your surroundings, and even the taste and texture of whatever you imagine around you.
By reaching into your core senses, you can create an image in your mind that is almost real. Since this is a guided visualization, you will be geared towards a particular scene with a specific result in mind, like pain relief and healing.
Guided imagery can help steer your mind into a relaxed and pain-free state, reducing stress hormones and decreasing the tension in your muscles. It is also a healthy distraction from the pain since it will require you to picture only pleasant and positive things. As a result, your neural pathways related to pain may become weaker.
Breathwork is a form of active meditation that involved various breathing practices. This includes different breathing patterns that can help relax your mind and effectively deal with anxiety.
This structured and sometimes patterned or rhythmic breathing changes the amount of oxygen our bodies inhale and the amount of carbon dioxide we exhale, affecting the autonomous nervous system.
For chronic pain, slow and deep breaths can be very helpful as they can promote a relaxed and calm state of mind. A recent randomized trial also suggested that breathing practices can be very effective in helping women with chronic fibromyalgia.
Yoga To Relieve Chronic Pain
What Is Yoga?
Yoga is a unique combination of physical postures, controlled breathing, and meditation. It is an ancient Indian practice that has spread far and wide across the world today and is known to provide a variety of health benefits.
The physical movements and postures are specifically designed to help strengthen your muscles and make your body more agile and flexible. These movements are typically accompanied by deep breathing, which can increase your blood flow, warm up your muscles, and build your physical and mental strength.
Yoga is known for its many health benefits, not just in relieving chronic pain but also in managing your stress, improving your mood, and offering deep relaxation to induce better sleep.
It is also known to promote a healthier heart and better self-care.
How Does Yoga Relieve Chronic Pain?
Yoga can not only help manage chronic pain but also reduce it significantly.
Yoga decreases your pain interference or the amount of pain that becomes disruptive to your life. This is achieved by separating your negative emotions from the pain and then accepting it with a more positive outlook.
Certain yoga postures targeted at specific areas of your body can help address movement limitations and improve your quality of life. This change can promote a more positive mindset, allowing you to deal with and react to pain better.
Yoga can also reduce inflammation, which usually triggers chronic pain, especially with autoimmune disorders. Practicing yoga decreases your body’s response to stress and can tame the inflammation to where the pain becomes more manageable.
When you are in pain, movement can feel like a huge challenge and can cause you not to be as active as you want. Yoga can help you maintain flexibility and movement, especially if you have chronic low back pain.
Different Yoga Poses For Chronic Pain Relief
The recommended yoga pose for back pain is a form of spinal twist called the seated twist. It is a gentle way to release any tension accumulated in your back and helps improve spinal mobility.
The modified hero pose stretches your front knee muscles and slightly opens it up. For added support and comfort, sit with a thick pillow between your ankles when doing this instead of kneeling on the ground.
The child’s pose can help you open your upper back and chest and helps release the tension and pain in those areas.
Malasana, or yogi squat pose, can significantly reduce hip pain. If your hips are very tight, you may struggle to do this pose. Only stretch to where your body tells you to stop and then back off 25%. This pose is called the “pose of youth”. Do not use this if it causes sharp pain.
The happy baby yoga pose stretches and opens up your groin, hamstrings, and inner thighs. This simple and easy pose can reduce chronic lower back pain as well as promote deep relaxation and calmness.
Meditation and yoga are natural alternative methods of healing that can relieve chronic pain while also improving your overall physical and mental health. These methods demonstrate how combining strength, breath, flexibility, and body awareness can change how you manage and react to physical discomfort and pain.