Sayings and stories from many countries carry the message that what you focus on multiplies, and that is certainly true of pain. I don’t know about you but when I am in pain it is all too easy to keep thinking about how much I hurt 🙁
In one of many studies done on this topic, researchers recruited 18 healthy young adults who had never meditated before the study. Over four, 20-minute training sessions, study participants were taught a meditation technique known as focused attention.
Before and after meditation training, brain activity was measured by MRI. During the MRI a device was placed on each person’s leg that delivered a heat that most people find painful. The heat was kept on for 12 seconds and then removed for 12 seconds repeatedly for a total of 5 minutes.
Most of the participants were able to successfully block out the pain of the heat by focusing on their breathing. Pain intensity ratings were reduced after meditation by an average of 40%, and pain unpleasantness ratings were reduced by 57%. Meditation was shown to reduce activity in key pain-processing regions of the brain.
Here is a short video from TED Ed that explains How pain works. Very informative 🙂
So what can YOU do?
- Divert your focus away from the pain.
- Change the way you perceive pain.
Today I will outline one way of diverting your focus away from the pain. In next week’s article I will cover technique(s) for changing the way you perceive pain.
What follows may be familiar to you already as it is a version of “mindfulness” or “being present” meditation.
Change your focus away from the pain by paying attention to your breathing. While there are tons of simple exercises you could do, this one has the benefit of being something you can do any place any time, no tools or equipment needed 🙂
You can keep your eyes open although closing them makes it easier to block out visual distractions.
- Breath in as you count to 5
- Hold the breath as you count to 2
- Exhale as you count to 5
Those are the three simple steps to remember. You may want to adjust the times above according to what feels right to you. To deepen the experience, in addition to counting, pay attention to the sensations that come up such as –
- The sensation of your lungs filling with air.
- Do you find that you sit up a bit straighter when you breath deeply?
- Do you find yourself feeling calmer as you breath deeply? (Many people breath shallowly until they actually focus on their breathing.)
- Allowing your muscles to relax as you breath, and feeling that relaxation.
- Sensing that the air you breath is helping you to relax and bringing you releif.
This is one I like to do when I am stuck waiting someplace, like a doctor’s office – Noticing anything and everything that is pleasant. Too often when I am at a doctor, dentist or hospital waiting room I will notice all the unpleasant things around me. I find that by paying attention to ANY small nicety helps to distract me from thinking about what ails me for example –
- Has someone smiled at you, or offered up their chair to you?
- Are there flowers?
- Do the nurses seem attentive?
- Is the room nice and clean?
- Are there magazines to keep you entertained?
- Are there windows looking out to a nice view?
- Are the chairs comfortable?
- Do any of the other patients have a nice peice of clothing or shoes? I know that sounds odd, but giving a genuine compliment can make me feel good 🙂
Anyways you get the idea, ANYTHING nice you can focus on.
I hope this helps.
To your health!