Mindfulness Meditation & Chronic Pain Management

In recent years the effects of yoga therapy for pain management and inflammation have been widely discussed.

In a study conducted by York University it was found that women with fibromyalgia have lower-than-average cortisol levels, which contribute to pain, fatigue and stress sensitivity. According to the study, participants’ saliva revealed elevated levels of total cortisol following a program of 75 minutes of hatha yoga twice weekly over the course of eight weeks and their symptoms appeared to improve. (1)

A similar study of 86 overweight and/or patients with inflammatory disease also showed that by incorporating asana, pranayama and certain stress management techniques there was a reduction in the stress hormone cortisol and inflammatory markers (Interleukin IL-6 and tumor necrosis factor TNF-α in just 10 days. (2)

But if you live with chronic pain you may understand some of the challenges of starting a therapy based yoga practice, even under the guidance of a qualified yoga therapist; the initial motivation and consistency needed can sometimes seem too much if your constantly exhausted. The good news is there’s growing evidence to suggest that guided meditation can go a long way towards supporting chronic pain management and inflammation.

In his book  You Are Not Your Pain: Using Mindfulness to Relieve Pain, Reduce Stress, and Restore Well-Being – An Eight-Week Program author Danny Penman Ph.D explores this mind body connection and what he describes as primary and secondary pain, using meditation to literally turn down the ‘volume control’ on pain with real physiological effects.

“A typical meditation involves focusing on different parts of the body and simply observing with the mind’s eye what you find. This allows you to see your mind and body in action, to observe painful sensations as they arise, and to let go of struggling with them. According to Danny, when you do this “something remarkable happens: your suffering begins to melt away of its own accord.”

He goes onto explain “after a while you come to the profound realisation that pain comes in two forms: Primary and Secondary. Each of these has very different causes – and understanding this gives you far greater control over your suffering.

Primary pain arises from illness, injury or damage to the body or nervous system. You could see it as the raw information sent by the body to the brain, secondary pain is the mind’s reaction to primary pain but is often more intense and long lasting. Crucially, it’s controlled by an ‘amplifier’ in the brain that governs the overall intensity of suffering.”

The amplifier is a kind of default mechanism that happens when the brain seeks to understand and catalogue pain with specific memories to find reasons and ultimately a solution to the pain. It does this by zooming in on pain and as a result turns it up. Chronic pain is the result is layers and layers of thoughts and memories around a specific experience of pain.

Overtime the brain accumulates more brain tissue dedicated to the conscious sensations of pain, and it acts as if on high alert. This has been seen on the brain scans of chronic pain sufferers, and the pain that results is very real. The only reason Danny describes it as secondary pain is because it is felt after the initial pain felt by the nervous system.

What Penman suggests is that it’s possible to create a ‘space’ or ‘road block’ using mindfulness meditation to reduce the hyper sensitivity. Within his 8 week course he uses a guided meditation whereby you consciously hone in on areas of pain, recognise and observe and use specific visualization and breathing techniques to hijack the brains normal response. This action has a calming effect on the nervous system and prevents further negative feedback and memories from forming. When it is repeated you begin to consciously turn down the ‘volume’ on secondary pain.

To download the free audio track of Danny Penman’s meditation for Chronic Pain Management visit www.franticworld.com/huffington

 

Sources

(1) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110727131421.htm

(2) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/230567054_Efficacy_of_a_Short-Term_Yoga-Based_Lifestyle_Intervention_in_Reducing_Stress_and_Inflammation_Preliminary_Results

 

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