Mindfulness meditation is what it says on the tin.
It is a meditative practice in which you focus intensely on the present moment. During that period, you acknowledge whatever is happening and what you are feeling but you do not attach any emotion to that experience.
For example, you may find that you are thinking about something that someone said to you at work. You simply take in that thought and allow it to go. You don’t consider whether it is good or bad — just that it simply is. While that may sound easy enough, learning how to engage in mindfulness meditation can be extremely challenging for many of us.
Since we all lead busy lives and many of us over-analyse things, taking the time to switch off can be tough. However, many studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can offer a wealth of benefits. According to Harvard Health, this practice can do the following:
- Support your physical health
- Lower your blood pressure
- Help to treat heart disease
- Improve your self-esteem
- Manage anxiety symptoms
- Relieve feelings of depression
As you can see, there are plenty of reasons that people choose to try mindfulness meditation. By engaging in this activity, you may be able to improve all areas of your everyday life. What’s more, this meditative practice may also reduce your pain levels.
How Mindfulness Combats Pain
Pain is a natural but unpleasant sensation. You may experience it when you injure yourself or when you’re recovering from a major workout. We’ve all been there. While you may take pain relief or try natural methods to overcome it, new research suggests that it could be a case of mind over matter. The study — from the University of California — has found that engaging in mindfulness meditation can help you to separate yourself from the feeling.
"One of the central tenets of mindfulness is the principle that you are not your experiences," explained senior author Fadel Zeidan, PhD, associate professor of anesthesiology at UC San Diego School of Medicine. "You train yourself to experience thoughts and sensations without attaching your ego or sense of self to them, and we're now finally seeing how this plays out in the brain during the experience of acute pain."
As part of the study, 40 participants undertook brain scans whilst having painful heat added to their legs. Each participant then rated their pain levels. After that, the participants were separated into two groups: a mindfulness group and a control. Those in the mindfulness group completed four 20-minute training sessions. This specific training included breathwork, acknowledging their thoughts and sensations and not reacting to them. On the other hand, the control group spent this time listening to audiobooks.
After that, both groups underwent the same brain scanning and painful leg treatments. While the painful heat stimuli was being applied, those who had been in the mindfulness group were told to meditate. Of course, the participants in the control group were not.
When the researchers analysed the brain scans of both groups, they found that the people who engaged in mindfulness had lower pain levels. The study authors theorised that we could use mindfulness to reduce cases of chronic pain in the future. That may change the way that we deal with pain management, allowing us to rely less on medication.
"We feel like we are on the verge of discovering a novel non-opioid-based pain mechanism in which the default mode network plays a critical role in producing analgesia,” said Zeidan in the study publication. “We are excited to continue exploring the neurobiology of mindfulness and its clinical potential across various disorders."
How to Try Mindfulness Meditation
Looking to try mindfulness meditation for yourself? As we have covered, this particular practice can be hard to grasp. If, like all too many of us, you tend to overthink, the idea of letting thoughts wash over you may sound impossible. However, with practice, you may be able to master this art form. Let’s take a look at some simple steps to get things moving:
The first thing you need to do is find a quiet place in which to practise. If there are distractions around you, you will find it almost impossible to switch off. You may want to choose a quiet room or even your garden. Just pick somewhere you can be alone.
Calming down your worried mind is no easy feat. One of the most straightforward ways to relax is to pay close attention to your body. Do a complete scan, assessing how each part of your body is feeling. You can start with your feet and work your way up to your head.
- Relax your eyes and jaw
Notice how you are holding your jaw. Is it tight? If so, now is the time to completely relax the muscles in it. You might feel a real sense of relief. Next, focus on your eyes. If you are staring intensely at something in front of you, take a moment to soften your gaze too.
- Acknowledge your thoughts
The key to mindfulness meditation is acknowledging your thoughts and letting them go. Allow things to pop into your head and — just as quickly — float away. For example, if you are experiencing stomach cramps, acknowledge that is the case, and then move on.
- Don’t worry if your mind wanders
Spoiler: your mind will wander when you try this. That is a given. When you are trying to meditate, there’s a good chance that your mind will flit from thought to thought. Don’t be too hard on yourself when that happens. As you catch it, pull yourself back to the present.
Managing pain — whether it’s chronic or sports-related — can be tricky. While there are painkillers you can take as a last resort, it’s important to remember that it’s not the only option. Trying a holistic approach, such as mindful meditation, may be the way to go. Now that you have the inside scoop, why not give this alternative form of pain relief a try?