ARE YOU OVER THE FEELING THAT PAIN IS YOUR CONSTANT COMPANION? MINDFULNESS: THE MIND-BODY CONNECTION.

“ARE YOU OVER THE FEELING THAT CHRONIC PAIN IS YOUR CONSTANT COMPANION?”

Chronic Pain impacts every area of your life. It is a devastating emotional, physical, and cognitive (thinking) experience. Pain can shatter both your body and mind. Chronic pain can result in you feeling that you are not the same person you once were; chronic pain can result in you feeling that you have become physically damaged and that your mind is dented beyond repair. Chronic pain can result in you feeling isolated from your friends and family. Life can be irrevocably altered with drastic changes in one’s body, mind, family relationships, work prospects and financial security (Ayers 2014).

Would you try something, to help manage your pain, that only takes a few minutes of your day? If you’re keen, then mindfulness is the go. Read on; you have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?

Mindfulness is the state of-focusing your attention, without judgment, on the present moment.

“Mindfulness practice means that we commit fully in each moment to be present; we invite ourselves to interface with this moment in full awareness, with the intention to embody, as best we can, an orientation of calmness, mindfulness, and equanimity right here and right now.” (Kabot-Zinn, 2005).

‘The purpose is to be in the present moment and, aware of our breathing and our walking, to enjoy each step. Therefore we have to shake off all worries and anxieties, not thinking of the future, not thinking of the past, just enjoying the present moment.” (Thich Nhat Hanh, 1992).

If we do not pay attention, then the mind is doing something else — such as worrying about the future, catastrophising, ruminating about the past, or criticizing and judging ourselves (Hassed, 2013), that is the mind is existing in automatic pilot or default mode.

Mindfulness is not difficult; it actually is quite simple, however it takes persistence, practice and dedication. It’s worth a try?

WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO PRACTICE MINDFULNESS AND LIVE IN THE PRESENT MOMENT?

Research suggests that mindfulness is effective in the management of chronic pain, reduces stress, improves concentration and promotes feelings of wellbeing. Mindfulness also improves sleep, promotes better coping, facilitates greater self-control, reduces anxiety and acts as a preventative factor for relapse of depression.

The beauty of mindfulness is that you don’t have to have any particular skill, or have access to special technology or equipment, to practice it, and you can be mindful, anytime and anywhere you choose, for as little, or as long as you like. You could be mindful right now! Are you?

You are in total control of your practice.

OUTLINED BELOW ARE 4 SHORT MINDFULNESS PRACTICES TO GET YOU STARTED:

1. LISTENING WITH MINDFULNESS

Mindful listening is designed to help you listen to sound in a non-judgmental manner. Much of what we see and hear is affected by past experiences. When listening mindfully, a neutral, present awareness can be reached and this allows for hearing sounds without preconception (bias).

Wherever you are reading this, doesn’t matter if you are at home or on the train, or in a park, stop and listen with mindfulness for 1 minute. Just listen to what is around you. Nothing more.

The six steps to listen, to really listen with intention are:

  1. What are the sounds around you? Single them out. Focus on them.

  2. Listen to sounds close to you: the wind, birds, a dog barking, footsteps in another room, perhaps voices, could be a child’s voice.

  3. Gradually listen for sounds further away, like a train, a siren.

  4. If your thoughts drift away, bring them back to the sounds. A trick to focus back on the sounds when your mind drifts away, is to identify the sounds. Say “a dog barking” or “my son babbling away” or “ the sound of cooking sausages”.

  5. Listen to those close to you and then tune into those further away and back to those close to you.

  6. Hear all the sounds without judgment. This means you are just observing the sounds. If your thoughts drift away bring them back once again. This is normal. Your thoughts will drift away. Remember, don’t judge yourself, just bring your thoughts back to the sounds around you.

Try listening mindfully to a piece of your favourite music. Try and identify any different voices, the various instruments. Listen for the different notes, again without judgment. Notice if for the time you were listening, was there any reprieve from your chronic pain? There may have been. There may not have been either and this is ok because you are not judging. You are just being aware of what is happening. You are just being mindful.

Once you are more comfortable with this form of mindfulness, try longer pieces of music.

Remember, mindfulness takes practice.

2. WALKING WITH MINDFULNESS

The idea is just to walk and not to arrive at a destination. This can be done alone or with like-minded friends. If you are walking with friends, just ensure they share the same purpose, that is, to walk mindfully and to enjoy the shared silence. Obviously you can walk anywhere; however there might be more enjoyment in beautiful surroundings. When walking mindfully, walk a little slower than normal pace, and coordinate your breathing with your steps.

Mindful Walking. Try these 10 steps:

  1. Set your intention to walk in the present moment. Remember you don’t have to walk a far distance, be kind to yourself, go easy on yourself and start with just a few minutes of walking. Like anything it takes practice.

  2. Now bring your attention to your breathing; take 3 deep conscious breaths.To help you focus intently on each ‘in’-breath, you could think – ‘I breathe in’. Then on the ‘out’ breath, - think “I breathe out” or ‘letting go’ while you let go of any worries you are having.

  3. Before you begin to walk, feel the earth beneath your feet. Perhaps you are on sand. Is it uneven, firm or soft? Is it wet or dry, warm or cool?

  4. As you start to walk, first notice the sensation of your feet touching the ground.

  5. What does your body feel like? Notice the process of moving your legs. What muscles tense or relax as you move? Think of the various, joints, muscles, skin. The human body is amazing, all the various parts contributing to each step. If you feel pain try, that’s OK. Don’t judge the, just observe it.

  6. What do you hear? The sound of the wind, some magpies calling, the trees rustling? Or maybe you can hear the rhythmical ocean.

  7. What can you see? Spring flowers, texture of a gum tree, colors.

  8. What can you smell? The sea, a fragrant garden, a diesel car driving past.

  9. What can you taste? Salty air, pollution.

  10. What can you feel? A slight breeze on your face or the sun beaming down on your neck.

Sooner, or later, your mind may (will) wander off. You may start to focus on your pain, planning tomorrow’s schedule, your next coffee break. Don’t judge. As kindly and gently as you can, bring your attention back to your breath or connect with your senses (the contact of your feet on the ground, the air on your skin).

Once you have completed your walk, give thanks to yourself, for this precious time and acknowledge any friends and the environment around you for providing this opportunity to practice walking mindfully.

3. BREATHING MINDFULLY

According to Kabat-Zinn, (a mindfulness master) the power of mindfulness can transform a person’s relationship to pain and suffering, and can assist the person to discover new degrees of freedom for living with greater ease and quality of life. This mindfulness exercise can be done standing or sitting down, in fact anywhere, any time. All you have to do is be still and focus on your breath.

4. MINDFUL OBSERVATION: THE POWER OF YOUR PET IN 2 MINUTES

This exercise is simple but powerful. It can connect us with beauty in our natural environment. A pet is a natural object in our environment. Focus on watching your pet for a few moments, just notice it, exploring every aspect, every movement every part of the pets world. Touch and stroke your pet.

Our pets live in the moment, from moment to moment, all the time.

Mindfulness cultivates a moment-by-moment awareness of our environment. This practice can over time, assist in the management of chronic pain. Mindfulness also helps us to reduce depression, stress and anxiety. Regular practice allows for allowing the mind to live in the current moment rather than living on automatic pilot or in default mode. Mindfulness assists us to develop the ability to manage the challenges of life in clear-minded, calm, assertive manner.

Written by Trish Ayers, Psychologist

REFERENCES, IF YOU’RE INTERESTED IN FURTHER READING

  • Ayers, T. (2014). The lived experience of chronic pain in an Australian sample:A transcendental phenomenological analysis. Thesis - Master of Psychology (Clinical Psychology)

  • Astin, J. ( 2004). Mind–Body Therapies for the Management of Pain. Clinical Journal of Pain, 20(1), January/February.

  • Chiesa, A., Serretti, A. (2011). Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Chronic Pain: A Systematic Review of the Evidence. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 17(1).

  • Hassed, C. (2013). “Driven to distraction: Why be mindful in this unmindful world?” Life surfing, life dancing. Future Leaders.

  • Kabat-Zinn, Jon (1994). Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. Hyperion Books, NY.

  • Lee, C., Crawford, C., Hickey, A. (2014). Mind–Body Therapies for the Self-Management of Chronic Pain Symptoms. Pain Medicine, 15: S21–S39

  • Thich Nhat Hahn (1991). Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life. Bantam Book, London.

  • Wright, C., Schutte, N. (2014). The relationship between greater mindfulness and less subjective experience of chronic pain: Mediating functions of pain self-efficacy and emotional intelligence: Australian Journal of Psychology, 66: 181–186.