Can Mindfulness Really Reduce Chronic Pain?
Clinical trials show that mindfulness can be as effective as painkillers. Week 2
Posted January 15, 2015
Some were asked to hold a pencil between their lips, forcing them to mimic a scowl. Others watched the cartoons with the pencil between their teeth, simulating a smile. The results were striking: those forced to smile found the cartoons funnier than those compelled to frown. Smiling had actually made them happier.
The process works in reverse too. Frowning makes you unhappy. And a tense neck, back, or shoulders can trigger anxiety and stress. But it’s not just emotions that are driven by such vicious cycles. Pain is too.
Pain creates tension in the body, which feeds back into the brain, which responds by turning up the ‘volume’ on its pain amplifiers, creating even more suffering.
As I explain in our book You Are Not Your Pain: Using Mindfulness to Relieve Pain, Reduce Stress, and Restore Well-Being - An Eight-Week Program, meditation is a powerful way of halting such vicious cycles. Clinical trials show that it can reduce pain by around 90 percent. With practice, you can watch as your pain and suffering evaporate like the mist on a spring morning.
Last week’s Body Scan meditation began this process but you also need to work with the body on a more physical level too. Your body needs to ‘unlearn’ its tension and this is what you’ll begin this week with the Mindful Movement meditation.
This meditation should be carried out once per day. Follow the instructions opposite, or download the audio track (which contains extra exercises). It’s best if you also continue with last week’s Body Scan. You’ll find Week One of the course here.
Mindful Movement Meditation
The aim of this meditation is to ‘tune into’ your body and breath as you move. This will help release any pent up tension.
Relax the shoulders and breathe as naturally as you can. Gently hold and support your right elbow with your left hand. Smoothly rotate your right hand around the wrist in a circle for 30 seconds. Keep the breath soft and even. Turn your wrist in the other direction for another 30 seconds. Relax your arms.
Notice the effects of the movement on your right hand and arm. Does this side feel different from the left? More alive, perhaps?
Repeat the movements for the other hand. Then relax your arms so they hang loosely at your sides. Close your eyes. Gently shake your hands and arms. What sensations do you feel?
Warm, hugging arms
Start with your arms hanging loosely at the sides of your body. Tune into the breath for a few moments.
On the in-breath, extend both arms outwards to shoulder level, palms facing forwards. As you breathe out, very gently draw both arms across your chest, cross the arms and give yourself a light hug. As you do so, feel the upper back broadening and opening. Imagine the hug is saturated with warmth and kindness.
On the in-breath, open your arms until they are fully extended. As they open, feel a corresponding opening in the chest, with the shoulder blades gently drawing together. Repeat this movement for one minute (or for as long as you feel able). Let the hands hang loosely at your sides and give them a little shake. Feel the breath in your whole body and the sensations of being alive.
You’ll find more mindful movement exercises at www.franticworld.com/huffington
Dr Danny Penman is the co-author of the bestselling Mindfulness. His latest book You Are Not Your Pain: Using Mindfulness to Relieve Pain, Reduce Stress, and Restore Well-Being - An Eight-Week Program is published by Flatiron Books.