Meditation is celebrated for its many benefits—from stress reduction to increased focus, improved sleep to better digestion, and more. But you may be wondering: Can meditation reduce pain?
Spoiler alert—it does for some! While meditation may not be a silver bullet for pain management, meditation for relief can help you address the emotional aspect of suffering from daily or occasional discomfort, as well as reduce physical pain in some cases.
Whether you explore guided meditation for relief, sleep meditation for pain, or even meditation for tolerance, the practice may be able to help you experience relief from the aches and ailments you’re experiencing. Let’s dive into the ways to use meditation for pain management.
How Meditation Can Help With Pain Relief
Coping with acute or chronic pain is not only a physical struggle; it can take a significant mental and emotional toll as well. And this type of stress can lead to inflammation in the body, creating a vicious cycle of pain and stress about your pain.
To avoid this, explore creating a daily meditation practice. While meditation may not be able to relieve your suffering entirely, it can help you build your emotional and mental resilience to cope with the pain, increasing your tolerance and decreasing your discomfort. Utilizing mindfulness meditation for pain relief may also trigger the release of endorphins, which can naturally relieve pain.
Meditation for Acute Pain
Acute pain is pain that often comes on suddenly, or as a result of injury, and lasts for a short period of time (or until your injury has healed). For example, you may experience acute pain from spraining your ankle, after surgery, or from getting a sunburn at the beach.
Research shows that hospital patients who practiced 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation for pain relief daily experienced a reduction in “pain severity and stress” as compared to those who didn’t. Plus, when you practice meditation for pain and anxiety, you’ll get the added benefit of slipping out of “fight or flight” and into your parasympathetic nervous system—“rest and digest” mode—which facilitates healing.
Meditation for Chronic Pain
Chronic pain is pain that lasts indefinitely, often due to underlying health concerns. Examples of this type of pain include frequent migraines and conditions like arthritis and fibromyalgia that are often difficult or impossible to cure, but rather need to be managed.
If you suffer from any of these conditions, daily meditation for pain control may help support you in managing the fear, anxiety, and frustration of living with chronic issues. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Daily mindfulness practice can be helpful for people living with chronic pain because sometimes there are negative or worrisome thoughts about the pain. These thoughts are normal and can affect mood and increase pain. Being able to focus on relaxing the body, noticing the breath and body sensations as being there just as they are, can help manage pain, as well as reduce depression and anxiety symptoms.”
You may want to explore integrating mindfulness meditation for pain relief as a daily practice to shift your emotions and thoughts, therefore shifting your relationship to and experience with your pain.
Pain Management and Control Techniques
So we know that meditation can support pain management and relief, but how do you practice meditation for pain control? Each body is different, so what works for someone else might not be the right fit for you. It’s all about experimentation and consistency to see what produces results.
Here are five approaches to try out and see if they help alleviate or ease your pain.
Try Guided Meditation
In his class, Guided Mindfulness Meditations for Cancer, Physical Pain & Illness, Skillshare teacher and healer Joseph Drumheller shares that, “We can heal ourselves and heal our families by using meditation. But other areas I’ve seen meditation consistently benefit cancer patients is in the areas of fear around dealing with cancer.”
A guided meditation, whether specifically meditation for pain relief or not, may help you access the “rest and digest” state and learn how to address the fear, anxiety, and tension you feel around your pain or overall health concerns—both of which may facilitate healing more quickly. If you’d like to give it a try, Drumheller features several guided meditations in his class.
Use Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Tolerance
When we are suffering from chronic or acute pain, we likely want to be anywhere but the present moment—perhaps instead imagining a pain-free future. But learning to live with physical discomfort, accepting it, and easing it also comes with the task of paying attention to it. Practicing mindfulness—the state in which you are focusing on your senses, surroundings, and feelings in the present moment—allows you to recognize and acknowledge your pain without judgment and provide ease.
One easy way to practice mindfulness is to close your eyes and tune into your five senses, spending a minute or two on each, such as what sounds you are hearing, or the feeling of your clothes or the breeze on your skin. This practice is a simple way to ground yourself in the present moment. Try a guided mindfulness meditation for pain relief, or learn the practice of mindfulness meditation to integrate into your daily life.
Try a Body Scan Meditation for Pain and Anxiety
Another approach to explore when looking to control pain is using a body scan meditation—a technique in which you focus on different areas of your body, tuning into the feelings and sensations that are present.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, an expert in stress reduction and mindfulness meditation, recommends practicing a body scan meditation for pain management for 45 minutes a day, if possible (if not, start at 5-10 minutes and work your way up!). You can practice the scan on your own, tuning into each part of your body, or turn on a guided body scan meditation and let a meditation teacher take you through the exercise. You can find several body scan meditation options in this Skillshare course.
Explore a Moving Meditation With Yin Yoga
If you enjoy using movement to help relieve stress and pain and it’s accessible to you, explore a simple restorative yoga practice. Yin yoga, a slow, restorative form of yoga practice in which you hold stretching poses for several minutes at a time, is a wonderful way to unwind after a long day, enter your parasympathetic nervous system mode, and release tension from your body.
Just be sure to listen to your body while practicing—you can always skip positions or make adjustments to ensure the postures don’t cause you harm or additional pain. To practice, follow along with a guided class, like Yin Yoga for Deep Relaxation, Flexibility and Wellbeing.
Try a Sleep Meditation for Pain at Night
If you have difficulty falling asleep because of acute or chronic pain, try a sleep meditation to help ease you into “rest and digest” mode and a night of restful sleep. See what works for you, whether it’s practicing a body scan while laying in bed to bring awareness to what you are feeling, or listening to a guided meditation that reminds you that you have nowhere to be and nothing to do. Sleep is a fundamental part of healing, so optimizing your sleep may also help reduce your pain.
Experiment and See What Works for Your Pain Management
Using meditation for relief is entirely possible. While it may not be a cure-all, it helps your body to tap into endorphins that relieve pain and calms your nervous system, allowing you to feel less resistance and animosity towards your pain. Try exploring different types of meditation for pain control—such as mindfulness meditation, guided meditation for pain, body scan, and sleep meditation—to see what might relieve and transform your relationship with acute or chronic pain.
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