For many individuals suffering from chronic pain, it can be difficult to imagine anything other than medication to bring relief. However, there are alternative methods of managing pain by realizing the immense power of the mind over the body. Let’s look at some of the ways that coping with chronic pain without medication is possible and effective.
We tend to believe that the body makes its own rules, manipulating responses of the body, such as controlling sensations like intense pain. However, it is now widely accepted that the mind has incredible power over the body. We read it, hear it, and talk about it, but do we really understand what it means? Sometimes the notion seems impossible, especially if we’ve been through moments of personal despair, feeling powerless and exhausted by dealing with chronic pain. While degrees of physical discomfort vary, I believe we all have the power to ease and reduce our discomfort by recruiting the mind.
Let’s use a common example to understand how the brain and mental imagery can affect the body’s reactions:
Close your eyes and imagine that you have a lemon in your hand. You can see its shape, you can feel its texture, and you can even smell it. Now, imagine yourself grabbing a knife and cutting the lemon into two pieces. Grab one half of the lemon and bring it closer to your mouth. Imagine that you are about the squeeze it so you’ll receive a few drops of lemon juice into your mouth. What happens to your mouth with this imagery? Did you feel the secretion of saliva in your mouth that this simple visualization has provoked?
This is a simple, but obvious, example of the power of the mind over the body. Hopefully, it’s made it easier for you to imagine that you could use this power to your benefit, in situations that would make your pain decrease or even disappear. Visualization exercises are extremely powerful and can be a great help when it comes to decreasing pain. Imagining the shape, color, and size of your pain, as if it were a physical object, can help you perceive it as something you can control. Then, you can visualize yourself putting your pain in a balloon and, with kindness and compassion, let it fly away from your body.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, the renowned American Professor of Medicine and founder of MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction), led research in 1998 to prove the impact our brains can have over physical diseases and pain. He used 2 groups of patients that were receiving phototherapy for psoriasis. One of the groups listened to guided meditations and visualization exercises, so they would imagine the ultraviolet light slowing the division of their skin cells. The other group was only receiving phototherapy, without listening to the meditations. The patients who did the visualizations got rid of half their psoriasis 50% faster than the other group of patients.*
Coping with chronic pain without medication is proven to be possible. As we saw in the above example, visualizations can even help reduce some tangible health issues. There are additional ways to alleviate pain, in conjunction with meditation and visualization. Here are a few examples:
Concentrating on your breath can help you release the pain-related tension that you create in your body. By focusing on the air going in and out of your nostrils, you allow your attention to be directed away from your pain.
By softly massaging the part of your body that hurts, you can relax that area of your body and make the energy flow with more ease. Always be mindful when self-massaging injured parts of the body, such as a broken limb.
Yoga can be useful for relaxing, stretching, and easing sore parts of the body. For example, I recommend practicing yoga to relieve headaches or stomach aches. It does miracles! You can utilize yoga for various other types of pain, but always respect your abilities so as not to worsen your condition.
Last but not least, meditation is also a great tool to alleviate chronic pain. By practicing meditation, you can learn to accept your pain instead of fighting against it. Resisting pain tends to exacerbate it. Resisting an ache can create surrounding tension and give it even more power. While not intended, it’s common when we’re not being mindful about how we deal with intense pain. Developing mindfulness will help you have a new perception of your pain and better ability to deal with it.
Jon Kabat-Zinn recommends Body Scan meditations to alleviate pain. By concentrating on each different part of your body while breathing deeply, you can actively relax your entire body. You could try and do Meditopia body scan meditations, or any other body scan meditation that you know.
Now, tell us more about yourself. Do you have chronic pain that is difficult to alleviate? Have you ever tried one of the above suggestions, or do you have other recommendations you would like to share with us? Please tell us in the comment section below!