When most people think of meditation, they’re likely to begin picturing someone sitting cross-legged in the lotus position, palms resting on their knees while they emit a long, low humming noise. And while they might be correct in some instances, meditation has well and truly become a common aspect in people’s lives all over the world.
The practise of meditation is centuries old, developing first in India. As it made its way across the globe, it recently experienced an explosion in popularity in the Western world, with everyone from CEOs to school teachers touting the many positive benefits, of which there are many. Meditation has been noted as being able to help in everything from reducing stress, improving sleep and quitting smoking to treating depression, improving brain functioning and even aiding in weight loss.
But, can meditation help chronic pain sufferers as well?
As only sufferers would know, chronic pain can be a nightmare. It’s a reality for millions of people across the world, and it can be equally difficult to treat. Pain management options such as medication and physical therapy don’t always work, because each experience of chronic pain differs from the next.
But not only is chronic pain a massive drain on those it affects, it also costs the global economy an astounding amount each year. Throughout the year 2012 in Australia, chronic pain costs more than $55 billion AUD, whereas in America that same year, the estimated cost was up to an outrageous $635 billion US dollars. And in the UK, the associated care costs of back pain alone have been found to cost the country’s economy over £500 million each year.
With such high figures, finding a way to treat chronic pain as cost-effectively as possible is essential to both patients and economies alike. This is where meditation can come in. There are numerous benefits of treating chronic pain with meditation, and the first is that it’s largely free to do. You can meditate wherever you feel you need to, and it doesn’t cost you anything. So, why aren’t more people doing this?
People may have a lack of understanding of how powerful meditation and mindfulness can be in treating issues like chronic pain, because it hasn’t been mentioned frequently in mainstream medical advice. Even though that’s changing, it’s no wonder skeptics may be in disbelief when they hear meditation can help chronic pain. And if you’re someone who has never meditated, it might seem daunting at first. But it’s best to keep an open mind, because that is essential in using this as a healing modality.
For first-timers, it’s probably not as foreign an idea as you may think, because we all have the ability to fall into meditative states and in fact do so more than we realise. Have you ever been driving home, and find yourself pulling into your driveway with no recollection of the drive you’ve just done? You’ve just been so absorbed in the moment, you’ve been able to let your body take over and do the functional aspects like shifting gears and indicating, while your mind wandered and eventually went blank.
Meditation is possible for anyone because it is done by everyone. They just might not know it. So how can you change that accidental, occasional meditation to a healthy, daily practice that aids in your chronic pain?
The best way to think of meditation is like training your mind to focus on the present moment, working to accept what is instead of wishing otherwise. It also allows you space for your mind to just rest quietly, instead of being bombarded with reactive thoughts, which are largely unhealthy. This is key in chronic pain because there can be a lot of negative self-talk and wishful thinking for patients, especially during really severe bouts.
There are a variety of different types of meditation, and they all have a number of health benefits that range from physical, emotional and mental. Here are a few of the most popular, that are also highly effective for chronic pain.
- Loving-kindness meditation
This form of meditation is also called Metta meditation, and it aims to create a feeling of love and kindness for everything, including those we’d refer to as our enemies. Loving-kindness meditation works extremely well for people suffering from emotional distress like rage, frustration, resentment, conflict and intense stress. It can also cause a reduction in feelings of depression and anxiety. This meditation is highly beneficial for those with chronic pain, as they’re very likely to be suffering from these feelings, and it’s effective in cultivating a happier, more positive mindset.
- Body scan meditation
Body scanning is also called progressive meditation and its purpose is to allow meditators to scan their bodies and assess how they’re feeling. Once an area of the body has been focused on, mentally release and let go of any pain in that area. You can begin at your feet, focusing on each part of the foot – everything from the toes to the sole of the foot, the ankle, up to the calf and so on. This meditation is also great for chronic pain, because it can encourage connectedness between the mind and the body, and influence feelings of calmness and relaxation.
- Mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness meditation might be the most popular type of meditation, with its goals of remaining aware and in the present moment. People will often find that when their minds wander, they reflect on past regrets or worry anxiously about the future. Mindfulness meditation is a great way to learn how to accept the present, and anything occurring in it. For chronic pain sufferers, this is an effective method of accepting the pain, realising that you may not be able to change it at that moment, and learning to love life anyway.
Regardless of which type of meditation you choose, they will all have amazing benefits – as long as you commit to a healthy practise. It can be tricky to begin with, but you don’t have to go at it alone. For those who feel they’re really struggling to meditate with any effectiveness or positive outcomes, there are countless available resources online, from beginner guided meditations on YouTube to the meditations and exercises on our own app (Pathways) – download links below. (update Aug 2023: Pathways is now a web app! Start our program here)
There are even wearable technologies available to assist in meditation through neurofeedback advice, such as Muse and Melomind. So no matter your preferred approach, meditation can be a life-changer for many patients all over the world. But the only way to find out whether it will be just as effective for you too is to just go ahead and try it.
Please note: This article is made available for educational purposes only, not to provide personal medical advice.