The problem with chronic pain – apart from its negative effects on your body, mind, emotions, work, relationships, & in fact your whole life – is that it’s incredibly complicated.
It might seem like common sense to assume that if you’re in chronic pain, you’d get used to pain and able to withstand it better. In fact the opposite is true. While we can get quite practised at temporarily blocking out pain when we need to, all this does is make our brain even more sensitive to pain in the long term, until every slight bump or awkward movement becomes unbearable.
I learned the hard way, myself, that stoicism and determination just makes things worse in the long run. More & more research is showing what I’ve personally found to be true: that eventually, we have to learn how to slow down and re-train the connections between our bodies, pain, and our brains. This is also what most helps my private clients recover from chronic pain.
The first step is to let go of some seemingly logical assumptions. Research into chronic pain tells us that:
- Our experience of chronic pain is not actually directly related to current damage in the body. The pain we feel is not a measure of damage or of current danger.
- Where pain is ongoing long after an injury, the pain can have more to do with our stress levels at the time of injury, than with the injury itself.
- As chronic pain continues, the relationship between the pain and our brain becomes more complicated, and we become more sensitive to pain.
None of this means that pain is “just in your head”. It means that chronic pain is a lot more complicated than the short episode of pain you get when you bang your toe on a table leg.
It means that chronic pain requires sophisticated, sensitive and consistent approaches that work on your whole system, not just an original site of injury.
I wish I’d known this when I was in constant pain in my early 20’s!
Not only is meditation and mindfulness effective in reducing pain symptoms, but it also really helps with the panic. You know, that panic that happens, for example, when your back has been relatively stable for a few months, and you almost start to feel “normal” and then something happens and there’s a big twinge, or the pain moves back into that same place again, and your mind starts up…”Oh no not again, how long is it going to take to feel better this time, a year? Two years? How bad is it going to get? Will I be a zombie again from lack of sleep? Will I even be able to work? Oh no there goes my life again!”
I’m not making fun of anyone here, I just know from experience the impending sense of doom and dread that instantly kicks in and makes us feel horrendous, and these really are the kind of loops my brain used to start spiralling into!
While we can’t do anything in meditation about the original incident or site of injury, we can do a lot to reduce all that extra suffering that goes on top of it. This is why a Guided Meditation for Pain Management can be so valuable.
Even if you could reduce your pain by just 40 or 50%, wouldn’t that be well worth spending 20 minutes a day in a restorative pose, listening to a guided meditation?
That’s better than the result you’ll get from most pain medications, and much more useful because as you’re lying down just listening, you’re re-wiring your whole experience of pain and learning relaxation & mindfulness skills that help you reconnect with your body and its ability to heal itself.
While you might find you get some relief from the very first time you try it, you’ll get the best results by doing this every day.
When my back was at its worst and before I learned about Restorative Yoga, breath-work, and meditation, a flare up of pain in my back would mean months of renewed severe pain and disability. Later, once I’d begun to learn how to breathe and relax, I could manage the severity better so I could reduce the level of pain I was feeling and enjoy life more. That was encouraging, so I kept learning about Restorative Yoga and practising meditation, until eventually, a flare-up only meant slowing down and being more mindful for a couple of days.
The last time this happened was several years ago. My back had been pain-free for ages thanks to the fact that I’d started to really refine what worked for my back in a Yoga practice and what didn’t. But after being run down physically and emotionally by family events, and in the middle of packing and lifting boxes for our interstate move, and while distracted by a demanding visitor, I lifted and twisted very inelegantly – which someone with a disc injury is not supposed to do – and wham! there was the instability and pain. I knew I had to stop, regardless of the boxes & chaos all over the house and deadlines looming. I found a corner of the house, put myself in a Restorative Pain Relief Pose, closed the door on everyone and everything and started lengthening my exhalations.
Once my exhalations were long and my breathing slowed, I took myself mentally through a Yoga Deep relaxation very similar to the Guided Meditation for Pain Management I’m providing here (I’ve since improved it with some inclusions based on pain research). Half an hour later, the pain was gone and there was just a feeling of slight pressure, heaviness and instability letting me know to be mindful for a while. A day later, I was back to feeling pain-free and resilient. Thanks to knowing and having practised these techniques, it took me an afternoon to recover instead of the 9 or 10 months it would once have taken.
I haven’t told you this story to lead you to believe there’s a quick fix or that it’s easy.
That half an hour journey from feeling horribly shaken and painful to feeling ok again didn’t really happen in half an hour – it happened after a couple of years of practising Deep Relaxation, a few years of practising Restorative Yoga, and several years of breath awareness. I relied on those years of practice to make sure, as I went back to the moving boxes, that I wasn’t tensing up or over-protecting in my movements, and that I kept my exhalations long and complete. Once I realised I needed to slow down, I was able to tune in and really listen to my muscles and my back as I moved, keeping them soft and strong, and this was thanks to many years of physical Yoga practice.
So although you might find this guided meditation useful even once, the real resilience comes from regular practice. If you practice daily, then by the time you do have a severe pain flare-up, or when you’re especially tired from being in constant pain, your relaxation response is second nature and right there when you need it.
The effectiveness of this practice will greatly increase over time.
Practise this 20 minute Guided Meditation for Pain Management in the most comfortable position you can find, but it’s ok if you have to shift and move during it (I know that 20 minutes is a long time in one position when you suffer from chronic pain). Don’t worry, it’ll still work! You may find the Restorative Poses for Pain Relief useful (click here). The recording starts with some brief hints on preparation, with music by composer Christopher Lloyd Clarke of Enlightened Audio chiming in once the mindfulness of breath begins.
Click here to download the Guided Meditation for Pain Management
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