How Meditation Helped Me Change My Relationship To Pain
Last updated: December 2018
Some part of my body hurts pretty much all the time. Usually it’s not so bad that I can’t get on with my day, but right before my period it gets pretty insufferable. By right before, I mean at ovulation and the whole week and a half prior to the start of my bleeding. So, I’m in some amount of pain about two weeks a month.
Endometrial cysts have been surgically removed (or drained, I don’t know the details) from my pelvis — twice — but my endo has persisted. And the pain was the same before and after both my surgeries. Since I’m guessing my endo is going to make me suffer until I go through menopause, I decided to try mindfulness to change my perception of the pain.
I’ve mediated for a little over three years. I don’t go to a class or have a real-life teacher, but I do use the Headspace app (almost) every day. Former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe is a great virtual instructor. He makes meditation approachable and his soothing British accent has helped me learn mindfulness to crawl out of my depression and to give up booze. When the app introduced a pain management pack (a set of 30 guided sessions), I was excited to try it.
Focusing on the pain can relieve it
Research shows that people who practice mindfulness report decreased sensitivity to pain.1 When I meditated on my discomfort, I noticed my pain lessened. One of the first things Andy tells you to do is to focus on your pain. It seems counterintuitive to turn towards what hurts to feel better, but it helped. I’ve always tried to ignore my cramps, but I noticed my pain lessened when I stared straight at it. It was like trying to focus on a spot you can see in the corner of your eye. It retreated the more I tried to hold onto it.
Breathe into it
I’ve learned through meditation that the more I resist something — whether that’s anxiety or pain — the stronger it gets. Andy tells you to confront your discomfort and focus on breathing in and out of it. This made it feel like I was sort of spreading the aching out, weakening its influence on my body.
Try to find where the pain begins and ends
This was by far the most interesting and useful part of the pack. Andy instructs you to find the outermost spot where it hurts and gradually focus in toward the pain’s epicenter. I don’t know how or why this helped, but it did. It was like I stepped out of the pain. I could see it without being engulfed by it.
Don’t give up
The pack will take about a month, but any kind of meditation training takes time if you’re new to it. I pay about $100 a year for an annual subscription to Headspace, which is much cheaper than a therapist. But if you don’t want to purchase the app, see if there’s a meditation class or free program online that works for you. Meditation didn’t make my pain go away, but it helped me see it in a different light. I recognize it’s still there, but it’s no longer an overwhelming part of me.
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