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How to Use Your Mind To Ease Your Pain by Kevin Schoeninger

Severe pain can collapse your world into a very small cramped space.  At that moment, all you want to do is get away from your pain or “kill it.” Nothing else seems to matter until the pain is gone.  However, a growing body of research shows that we can use our minds to “turn towards our pain” in a way that can ease it.  Since 1979, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn has been a pioneer in this field, helping patients apply Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (or MBSR) to ease their physical suffering.  “Mindfulness” may be effectively used in place of or in combination with pain medication.  In this brief article, we’ll look at three components of pain and how you can use your mind to intervene in all three.

When you feel pain, the experience arrives first as a physical sensation.   It’s likely that you will then have an emotional reaction to that sensation such as fear, irritation, or frustration.  Then, you might tell yourself a story about what your pain means, such as “Maybe I have a terminal illness,” or “It’s my own fault for doing such and such.”  These are the three layers of a painful experience—sensations, emotional reactions, and thoughts or “your story” about it.

You can use mindfulness to step into all three of these layers and shift your relationship to your pain.  Not only might this help to ease your suffering, but it may also stimulate your body’s healing resources to resolve the cause of your pain.  Applying mindful attention to your body can change how you feel and facilitate healing.

So what is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is consciously paying attention to what is happening in the present moment with an accepting, non-judgmental attitude.  It is “witnessing” what is happening without being swept up in, overwhelmed by, or getting lost in the experience.  You observe your inner experiences—your sensations, feelings, and thoughts—as “events” that move through you.

Through mindfulness, you realize that all experiences come and go.  In fact, as you become mindful of pain, you may find that it shifts and possibly even resolves.  Whatever happens, you will change your relationship to pain so that it is less likely to “take you over” and “rule your life.”

You can practice mindfulness in three steps:

First, you can observe the story you are telling about your pain.  Much of the story you are telling may not be true.  It may come from memories of others suffering, from your own past experiences, or just be imagined and “made-up” future possibilities.  It can be helpful to separate the facts, things you really know about your painful experience, from imagined outcomes based on your fears or self-judgments.

Second, you can observe your emotional reactions to the pain.  Notice if you are aggravated, afraid, or even angry about having this pain.  Again, see if you can observe your emotions without identifying with them or being swept away by them.  It can be helpful to label your feelings to get some observational distance.  You can simply identify them with the word that feels most appropriate—fear, resentment, irritation. . . Most importantly, understand that while you have feelings, you are defined by them.  You are a conscious presence who can step into and out of any feeling you have.  Once you realize this, you can use the information that is available to you in your feelings.

Finally, you can apply mindfulness to the raw pain sensation itself by gently and lovingly paying attention to it.  First, take several deep breaths to relax your body as well as you can.  Then, feel around the edges of the painful area—just noticing the raw sensations, breathing into them, and noticing any ways they shift or change.

If you are able to get somewhat comfortable with this, next, see if you can enter into the middle of the painful area and breathe in and out of it.  Allow your breath to bring a sensation of spaciousness and a feeling of nurturing acceptance into the pain.  You may also find it helpful to “ask the painful area to speak to you.”  Is there any message the pain has for you?  You may be surprised at what you discover.

Mindfulness is an inner skill that you get better at the more you work with it.  You can apply it at any moment to ease your pain, be more present, discover clear insight, and facilitate positive resolutions to any issue you face.  Meditation is one great way to learn and practice mindfulness.

Enjoy your practice!

To learn about using meditation to shift to a better state visit… Core Energy Meditation

Copyright 2010 Kevin Schoeninger


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2 Responses to “How to Use Your Mind To Ease Your Pain by Kevin Schoeninger”

  1. Leila says:

    Hi Kevin, it’s good to remember that we have the ability to overcome sensations like pain through paying attention and not getting caught up in emotions and thoughts that, as you say in your article, may not even be true to what you’re experiencing in the moment. Thanks.

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  2. Thanks for your comment, Leila.
    Very well said!

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