Many patients find that a little mental exercise can go a long way toward aiding their recovery after injury or surgery.
Mindfulness — anchoring yourself to a given present moment — is a form of meditation. As Wee Peng Ho writes at The Conscious Life, you are meditating “when you are focused on your breathing, yet fully aware of the random thoughts in your mind and not distracted by them.”
With just a little dedicated practice, anyone can find that kind of mental awareness. Everyday Mindfulness write that while the practice can be a little alien to those who’ve never tried it before, “it is normal; it is not something special, limited to Buddhists, mystics, academics or psychologists.”
The EM team sees mindfulness as free and simple, yet with the potential to be life-changing. The team there notes that mindfulness practitioners can experience both an “improved relationship with pain” and a “reduction in levels of stress and anxiety.”
And because breath is something that’s always with us in each moment, it is a useful way to anchor ourselves to the present. This is why so many people begin meditation by focusing on their own breathing.
This practice has caught on in mainstream America in the last several years. Mary Sykes Wylie, PhD, a senior editor of the Psychotherapy Networker, has a great article at Alternet on the recent history of mindfulness in America over the past few decades — and how its practice found its way to corporate offices, NBA teams and even the U.S. military.
Here are some tips and tools to help you build a habit of practicing mindfulness.
Can Mindfulness Meditation Actually Reduce Pain?
Pain is made up of two layers, primary and secondary suffering, says Dr. Danny Penman, who co-authored the book Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World.
The first layer is the physical injury or illness itself; the second is “made up of all the thoughts, feelings, emotions and memories associated with the pain. These might include anxiety, stress, worry, depression and feelings of hopelessness and exhaustion. The pain and distress that you actually feel is a fusion of both primary and secondary suffering.”
You can reduce the pain you feel, he writes, by separating those two types of pain. “This is because secondary suffering tends to dissolve when you observe it with the mind’s compassionate eye. Mindfulness allows you to see the different elements of pain laid out in front of you. And when you see this vista, something remarkable begins to happen: your suffering gradually begins to subside and evaporate.”
The NIH agrees. In fact, the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health specifies that meditation may reduce specific complaints, including:
- high blood pressure,
- symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome,
- anxiety and depression,
- and the incidence, duration, and severity of an acute respiratory illnesses such as influenza.
However, the Center maintains that the effectiveness of meditation on pain is uncertain. Still, it does point to studies that show physical changes to the brains of people who have practiced meditation for many years as well as to others in which “scientists suggest that meditation activates certain areas of the brain in response to pain.”
This finding was also noted a decade ago in the Harvard Gazette, where it was noted that the thickened areas of the brains were most pronounced in older people. This was intriguing “because those sections of the human cortex, or thinking cap, normally get thinner as we age.”
If you do practice mindfulness meditation to help ease your pain, you’ve got company: a 2012 NIH survey found that 8.0% of US adults (18 million) used meditation as a complementary health approach.
And some doctors are becoming increasingly convinced of the benefits of meditation and mindfulness. In a 2014 NPR article, correspondent Allison Aubrey quoted Dr. Madhav Goyal of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine as saying: “We have moderate confidence that mindfulness practices have a beneficial effect” with respect to anxiety, depression and pain. It also doesn’t take an enormous commitment of time to reap the rewards: about “2.5 hours of meditation practice per week” showed consistent results.
In his 2011 article “Pain is No Matter for the Meditative Mind” at Brain Blogger, science and medical writer Stephen Dougherty (who has a Masters of Science in Behavioral Neuroscience) ties the conversation back to a quote attributed to the Dalai Lama: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” He compares the meditation experience with the mind-over-matter mental focus of a top endurance athlete.
Dougherty goes on to cite a published study in which participants were given four 20-minute sessions of mindful meditation instruction, and then their responses to pain (heat applied to the back of the leg) were evaluated. “Comparing responses to the heat before and after meditation training, volunteers reported a 40% reduction in pain intensity and a 57% reduction in unpleasantness associated with the heat stimulus.”
What excited Dougherty the most, though, was that “even short-term meditation training yields a meaningful reduction in the suffering associated with common, everyday pain.”
Mindfulness Meditation Resources
The stated mission of Headspace is to teach the world to meditate. To do that, they’ve made meditation a simple 10-minute daily exercise. You can download the app or learn online: When you start thinking of meditation as an activity that’s as normal to you as taking a shower, the people at Headspace say they’ll have achieved their aim.
Meditation Techniques features articles and videos on how to meditate, examining various techniques including guided meditations for pain relief. In addition, it shares news about meditation; however, the goal here to is to promote the practice of all forms of meditation.
Artie Wu, the founder of Preside Life, has been meditating since he was a child. His goal is to teach a diverse array of mindfulness and meditation methods that will help people manage, heal and empower their inner voice so that they may find inner bliss.
The About Meditation blog hopes that by providing free resources it can help you begin or make progress in your meditation practice. The topic is large and can be confusing, so take advantage of the beginner’s guide and guided meditations.
This site allows users to find meditation teachers and centers from around the world. At Meditation.com, you can also browse articles, listen to free, guided meditations and find events you may wish to attend, including an upcoming 11-day trip through Maharashtra, India, with teacher David Wagner.
Live and Dare
Giovanni Dienstmann has been practicing meditation daily for 15 years, and he is a meditation coach. He shares what he’s learned (and is still learning) on Live and Dare with the hope that he can “empower people to grow, live well, be happy and free.”
Mellissa O’Brien, also known as Mrs. Mindfulness, is a meditation and mindfulness teacher who runs mindfulness retreats around Australia. If you’re new at practicing mindfulness, she has a five-step how-to article (with free audio) on her site.
This Canadian meditation resource site teaches simple and effective techniques to achieve thoughtless awareness and relaxation. Learn how to meditate with its 10-part online course, read about tips for beginners or deepen your techniques with a wide range of instructional videos.
How to Meditate Group
With guides, tips, techniques and know-how for beginners, the How to Meditate Group has answers for every “how to meditate” question you have. It’s a new site, but has enough information to help you start meditating now.
OMG I Can Meditate
This is a meditation app that can teach anyone to meditate in 10 minutes a day. You can connect using your desktop, iPhone or Android phone, and it’s always free with an option to upgrade. Certified meditation coach and author of Get Balanced Get Blissed Lynne Goldberg gives guided meditations, including five-minute power naps and two-minute stress relievers.
Meditation Society of Australia
You don’t have to go to Australia to benefit from this site. Everything you need is offered online and is free, from the Meditation for Beginners course to guided meditations, music and meditation videos.
Paying attention to yourself allows you to understand why you do the things you do. By applying that awareness, you can make changes and reach goals. Todd Robinson, the founder of Applied Awareness, is a Master of Awareness Meditation with more than 30 years experience, and he can teach you how to achieve a pure meditative experience.
Guided Meditation VR
This PC and mobile virtual reality app has “Relaxation Artificial Intelligence” that walks you through proven meditation and mindfulness techniques. The exotic locations in Guided Meditation VR automatically soothe and relax, and can be helpful for those of us who have trouble conjuring up images of tranquility, solitude and beauty.