Hey there! Are you someone who’s tired of constantly battling with pain? Maybe you’ve tried different medications and treatments, but nothing seems to work. Well, have you ever thought about befriending your pain? Sounds crazy, right? But hear me out.
We are going to explore the power of mindfulness and how it can help you manage your pain in a whole new way. By breaking down your pain into smaller pieces of sensation and using your senses to zoom in and out of it, you can learn to observe your pain without judgment and reduce your suffering. So, let’s dive in and see how you can become friends with your pain!
What Does it Mean to be Befriending Your Pain?
First off, I want to define what I mean by this. To befriend your pain, I mean we are going to start getting acquainted with it. Instead of pushing it down and away, we are going to start to get to know it. We resist and resist painful sensations and try to do everything in our power to look somewhere else with our attention. Then at night time when you can no longer distract yourself, all you have is you and your pain to keep you company at night. The pain becomes so loud in those moments that its impossible to sleep.
When we push it away, when we hate it, when we want to scream and just cut that part of our body off…that is when we have suffering. This is the time we really suffer. What I’m talking about here is how to work with it so that we are not beings suffering from pain, but rather a person who has pain sometimes. Or even someone who has some sensations some times.
What is Mindfulness for Pain?
Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment and fully aware of your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. This can give you a gentle way to work with pain. If you have ever tried to meditate or practice mindfulness you might notice that your pain says a bright “Helllllloooooo!!!, Remember meeeee!!!” It draws your attention to it.
Has anyone else experienced this if they have tried to meditate in the past?
Taking a deep breath in through your nose…
Inner-self: “Ahh it feels so nice to sit and be present, I’ve missed this.”
Your Pain: “HELLLOOOOOOOOO!!!”
Inner-self: “SHHHHH…thats not what we are doing, we are being present!”
Your Pain: “WELL HELLLLLOOOOOO I’M OVER HERE! LOOK AT MEEE!!!”
Inner-self: : “NO, Shut UP! WE ARE FOCUSING!!”
Your Pain: “WELL FOCUS ON MEEEE, IM RIGHT HEREEEEE…LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT MEEE!!!!”
Inner-self: “STAAWWWWPPPPPP, GO AWAY, GO AWAY, GO AWAY! YOU’RE MAKING ME LOOK BAD! I’M SUPPOSED TO HAVE AN EMPTY MIND AND FOCUS ON MY BREATHINGGGG!! GO AWAYYYYYY!!!”
I know this can be a frustrating cycle. It can make you feel frustrated with having a mindfulness practice. And these painful states can make it feel like you just arn’t doing it right.
But the secret is, you are doing it right! Even if pain draws your attention, that’s ok. Treating yourself with kindness is super key in this relationship with our selves as we go on this path. This is how we start befriending your pain. What I want to introduce here though is a different way to be mindful when we do have pain. We will hop into this in a different section.
Does Meditation for Physical Pain Actually Work?
There are many ways you can use your brain and make new neural pathways to effect your pain levels. Here we are going to talk about one technique in mindfulness that you can try! But how does this actually change our brains to effect our pain?
In a review article they discuss mindfulness meditation and how it can change how we perceive and evaluate chronic pain, especially in the early stages of training. People who meditated regularly reported feeling less overwhelmed by pain and were better able to cope with it. They even said that they could “embrace” the sensation and let go of any negative thoughts associated with it.
In the same review article they discussed how neuroimaging also showed that meditation can change the way our brain processes pain signals. Novice meditators recruited different brain regions to help them manage pain, and over time, experienced practitioners were even able to separate the sensation of pain from any personal meaning or context.
This suggests that meditation could be a powerful tool for pain management, especially for those looking for long-term relief without relying on medication. The pain science for how we can work with our brains is really starting to add up! It is very exciting that we have something that has scientific evidence that can improve pain without addicting and dangerous medications.
So How Can We Befriend Our Pain?
By working with the pain instead of resisting and pushing it away, it allows us to start to be able to work with it. Sometimes this can be a scary thing to do. If you have never zoomed into your pain before, you might feel a bit nervous to do this. You might have concerns that you might make the pain worse or get lost in it.
A good way to start this practice is to make sure that your pain level is on a lower end. Say a 3/10 rather than a 10/10. That way you will feel more confident and in control. Once you develop this skill more then you can start using it when your pain is on the higher levels. So the first time you start, make sure your pain is at a manageable level. And perhaps we can save working on the deepest pain for once you have developed these new skills a bit more.
Sometimes we have to work on our emotional pain as well as the physical pain in our own body. There may be difficult emotions that come up when you start to unravel emotions related to pain.
Be sure to check in with a licensed therapist if these things start to surface for you. Trauma and how we relate to our body are interrelated and should have some guided help if difficult feelings are starting to come up for you. It is also important that you check with your own personal physician to make sure there is no concerning underlying cause for your pain complaints. This is important for your own health and will help you to ease your mind as well.
Lets dive into this technique of zooming into and out of pain!
How to Work With Pain While Meditating
Here we are going to learn a new technique for working with pain that you can incorporate into your daily life. This can give you new perspectives on how you can approach your meditation practices when you start feeling your pain.
Get in a comfortable position and start to breath with intention and focus. Next after your mind starts to come into the present moment, I then want you to scan your whole body from head to toe. Here you are looking for all the areas in your body that are free from pain. Make a note of them in your mind. Even if its just one square inch of skin, everyone has some area that is free from pain.
Now bring your attention to the pain free area. Feel the sensations there. Feel your safety there.
When you done exploring this area, we are then going to change our focus to the area of pain. It is important to come to shifting your attention with an element of lightness and curiosity. We are turning our attention to our pain, which is something we tend to try to avoid.
We have been taught to push down the pain, and to always try to ignore it as much as you can. And now I want you to zoom into it. Like zooming in on a picture. The more we zoom in, the more we can see that the picture is actually made of pixels. It’s made of many parts and each individual part contributes to the picture.
So just like we zoomed into the pain free area, we are then going to zoom into the area of pain.
So now taking your attention…zoom into that area that we call painful. Look with curiosity and wonder. What is this picture made of? What do the Pixels look like? We call it pain, but what is it really? Are there areas of tightness? Areas of tingling? Areas of warmth? Are there areas in here where the pain is not?
Take a look around. Take your time. Be curious about your pain. Is it always a constant sensation? Or do the sensations change? What are all the parts that make up this sensation.
As we go through and find all of the different sensations try to label them, but label them with a term that doesn’t activate your fear. This is important for being able to stay with curiosity and non-judgement of the pain. It’s also helps to down-regulate our pain-fear cycle and help our nervous system to calm and get out of sympathetic overdrive.
Fear Activating Terms
- Sharp, stabbing pain
- Crushing pain
- Burning pain
- Shooting pain
- Throbbing pain
- Intense, unbearable pain
- Radiating pain
- Electric shock-like pain
- Twisting or wrenching pain
- Pain that feels like something is tearing or ripping apart.
Fear Reducing Terms
- Dull ache
- Numbness or tingling
- Itching or tickling
- Heavy or weighty feeling.
If you ever feel like things are too intense while zooming into your pain, know you can always zoom back out and zoom into the areas we found first that are without pain. You can ways go back to the area of no pain.
Once you have been observing your pain area for a while, notice if it has changed? Sometimes the pain sensations will evolve. Sometimes they get more intense, and then sometimes they get less intense. Sometimes you have some persistent pain and then sometimes it resolves completely.
If we go into it expecting our pain to shift and go away and we try REALLY HARD for it to shift. Then often times it doesn’t. It’s when we can come in with the curiosity and the lightness that this is the times when it will change for us.
If you are looking for more ways to start working with mindfulness and attention, sometimes working with your breath is a good starting point. Especially if zooming in and out of pain is feeling like something you are not able to do yet in your pain journey.
The brilliant part of this technique is the more you work with it, the more you can train your brain to see these sensations as sensations, and not as pain.
So the hope is that the more you practice, the less you will be in pain. And the more you will be able to teach your brain that these sensations are just that, sensations. They don’t always have to mean pain. They don’t always have to mean suffering.
I hope this technique will help you on your pain journey and give you a tool you can use everyday.