Mindfulness is like paying attention to something on purpose, with a purpose in mind.
It can help us learn a certain degree of detachment from our constant thoughts so we can better identify, recognize, and learn to shape our experiences, and eventually, our pain, or at least our emotions around our pain.
Instead of knee-jerk reacting and responding to our initial thoughts about pain:
This is really bad...
Oh no, here we go again...
This needs to stop right away...
I hope this isn't like the last time...
Mindfulness is more inquisitive regarding our pain:
What can I learn about this pain?
What is my body telling me right now?
How do I feel about this sensation right now?
How is this the same or different from last time?
This may sound really hippy-dippy and vague, but there are real benefits to changing our initial reactions to pain.
One is that we learn valuable things about our pain when we pay attention to it. For example, we might think we’re in pain all day, but when we really pay attention, we may identify that our pain peaks during certain times or after specific activities.
Knowing our pain isn't really constant, or has variety to the intensity, duration, and frequency, can change our perspective. That knowledge also provides useful data for our health care team.
Want to give it a go? Here's a few easy ways people typically practice mindfulness:
□ PRACTICING YOGA
Find a yoga studio near you and see if they offer a drop-in option for people who are interested in learning more. Read through what types of yoga they offer – there are very many styles and approaches.
Go slow, let your instructor know your experience level and if you’ll need modifications or if you may need to take a break.
If a community class isn’t your bag, search YouTube for videos. You can even search for “chair” or “sitting yoga” which is particularly useful when recovering from an injury or surgery.
□ PRACTICING MEDITATION
At first, meditation may not come naturally. That's what it's a practice. To get started, there are many guided meditations based around breathing or visualizations. Download a few online or sample some on YouTube.
There are also many smartphone apps with recordings and a means to track your progress.
Whatever the means, find a method and an instructor that works well for you, then adjust as needed.
□ DEEP BREATHING
Using our breath, we can relax our minds, and feel muscles quickly follow.
Pain can induce our fight-or-flight response. This increases tension in muscles, possibly leading to stiffness or even more pain. Mindfulness breathing exercises can make us aware of the tension we’re carrying around, so we can then attempt to reduce it.
It can also be useful to add in visualizations: imagining things, places, or people that make you feel safe, calm, and relaxed.
First, find a quiet, calm room. Ensure you’re comfortable either sitting or lying down. Turn off your cell phone.
Take steps to make sure you won’t be interrupted by anything or anyone. This is your time to check in. Once you’re there, visualizations, guided meditation, and other tools can help.