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Understanding Mindfulness... how does it help pain-relieving?

Discussion in 'General Discussion Subforum' started by Seraphina, Aug 22, 2014.

  1. Seraphina

    Seraphina Peer Supporter

    Hi all,

    I've recently researched articles and documentaries on mindfulness. The basic concept seems to be mindful of what is going on right now and what I can feel right now.

    However, what I understand from TMS theory is I should better ignore and focus on other things when the pain appears. If I follow mindfulness technique, then it seems I will be mindful of the pain, too, because that's what I'm feeling at the moment. How can this be compatible with the classic TMS curing process? Would anyone please explain in detail since I'm pretty new to mindfulness...? Thank you always!

  2. Anne Walker

    Anne Walker Beloved Grand Eagle

    Hi Seraphina. TMS is all about mental distraction. The reason we are in pain is to distract the mind from some other emotional discomfort that our subconscious is protecting us from. Being mindful is about being present in the moment and observing what our mind is doing. Sometimes the TMS strategy of distraction is so effective that we are anywhere but the present moment. We are beating ourselves up over things in the past, projecting worst case scenarios into the future, finding some way to resist the pain and not accepting what is going on. This is how the pain distracts, by generating fear that it won't go away. Noticing what our mind is doing is very helpful in developing techniques to redirect it from the TMS distraction. I work with a somatic experiencing therapist which is really about learning to experience my body in the present moment. Yes, there can be pain, but when we really pay attention there is so much more going on. It may feel initially like there is only pain, but we are more than the pain. The pain is what is grabbing your attention but there are also many parts of your body that are not in pain. With practice it is possible to experience them as well. As you practice mindfulness more regularly you may begin to notice when the TMS has 100 per cent of your attention and when it does not. You may notice for instance that the 30 minutes you spent playing with a child or talking to a good friend on the phone, you were not as distracted by your pain. As you make these connections you may find it increasingly possible to redirect your attention from the pain and at the same time be more present and engaged in your life. Mindful meditation is just all around great for relieving stress and tension as well. If initially all you can do is be still with yourself and notice that your mind is only thinking about the pain, well that is a good start. If you stick with it and practice regularly, trust that will change and you will begin to notice and feel much more.
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2014
  3. blake

    blake Well known member

    Hello Seraphina,
    I woke up this morning with this exact question in my mind, planning to ask it on the forum today. You beat me to it!

    Thank you for your great answer, Anne. When I do meditation and I am in pain, all I notice is the pain. And I was thinking that this was working against healing, since it made me focus even more on my pain. If I understand correctly, what you're saying is that when we are truly mindful, the experience is much vaster than what we initially think. Yes, the pain is there, but through mindfulness practice we can notice how the mind is ONLY focusing on that, at the expense of other things going on.

    Here is another question I have on the same subject. I remember about 20 years ago I was doing psychotherapy with a Jungian analyst. I would go in to the appointment with knots in my stomach (which went back to my childhood) and we would explore the images behing those knots. Sure enough, once the appointment was over, I would be pain free and would feel fantastic, both physically and emotionally. I've tried this technique on my own with my neck pain. I've explored the pain and see what it means, what it is trying to tell me. But it doesn't work. I either feel more pain or the same level. Is this exploration of the pain through meditation counter productive? Or maybe it's because I'm doing it on my own this time?

  4. Ellen

    Ellen Beloved Grand Eagle

    Great question @Seraphina and such a great answer, @Anne Walker !

    I can only think of one thing to add. Practicing mindfulness is in part about attending to the present moment without judgment. If we can approach the sensations in our body without labeling them as negative (pain), then they become just sensations. It's the negative label and the resistance to these sensations that causes them to be pain. But as Anne discusses above, there is much going on in the present moment outside ourselves that one can focus on--nature, sounds, animals, other people, or the focus can be on something neutral inside the body such as our breath.

    I just read this quote from Eckhart Tolle: "Stress is caused by being here, but wanting to be there."
  5. Anne Walker

    Anne Walker Beloved Grand Eagle

    Wow Blake, that is a great question and not the easiest to answer! When we sit with our pain in awareness and ask ourselves what it means, what it might be connected or related to, we are thinking psychologically. This is always productive and a good thing when we are working on TMS recovery. The difficulty arises when we are monitoring this work expecting immediate pain reduction as a result. It is wonderfully reaffirming and confidence building when it comes, and any of those experiences should go down on an evidence sheet for future reference. They are not exclusive to therapy. In the beginning of my recovery I was so wrapped up and distracted by the pain, that experiencing some relief from the pain tended to happen most frequently with therapy. At first I was seeing a TMS therapist via skype. I can remember one day in particular I was feeling so awful, neck pain, headache, stomach upset... that I almost canceled my therapy last minute. I decided to go through with it anyway and then I noticed after the hour long session, I felt pretty good. That experience really bolstered my belief and confidence in my TMS diagnosis. But then I would go into therapy hoping and expecting that kind of relief and when it didn't happen, I was disappointed. Then I would start beating myself, wondering what I was doing wrong etc. These habits can be deeply ingrained in some of us and that is where the mindfulness can be especially helpful. Just noticing now is usually enough for me to stop doing it, beating myself up for instance. But I used to notice I was beating myself up and then beat myself up for that. I am sure that it very common. It is great to explore images behind the pain and ask what it is trying to tell you. This is not the same as being distracted by the pain. Anytime you are worrying, in a state of fear over the pain, trying to figure out a structural diagnosis or remedy for some physical relief, you are being distracted by the pain. In this sense the pain is an abstraction, there are no boundaries to it. The pain is so effective at distracting that we become the pain, what we can and cannot do is dictated by the pain and there seems to be no control over it. It is a self perpetuating negative cycle. We can notice what our mind is doing and redirect our thoughts. The more we do this, the less the pain dictates our lives. I don't think that exploring what the pain means is counter productive or the same as being distracted by the pain. Its the monitoring and hoping for immediate results that is the problem. I know how frustrating that is but it does get easier. The fact that you had these positive experiences in therapy gives you a really good sense how much the psychological does effect your physical well being. Therapy is just about assisting us in making those connections. Journaling, mindful meditation, and working on our own can be just as effective.
  6. Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021)

    Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021) Beloved Grand Eagle

    I agree that distraction helps me a lot in not thinking in the moment if the moment is pain.
    I switch to thinking or doing something pleasant.
  7. blake

    blake Well known member

    Hi Anne, you explain it very well. Thanks so much. I had been reluctant to give meditation another try as part of my process thinking that it would make me focus on the pain too much. What you say makes perfect sense: when I focus on the meaning of the pain I am still thinking psychologically, so this is actually a plus. It's expecting the pain to go away that's the problem.

    When I did that therapy work many years ago, I resolved my stomach pain, which I had had since the age of 7. But resolving that pain was never ever the issue during our sessions. My emotional pain was so great at the time that any tummy trouble paled in comparison. But that's exactly why it worked! The answer is somewhere in there for me; I can feel it.

    Thank you for your support!
    Seraphina and Anne Walker like this.
  8. blake

    blake Well known member

    Hi Walt,
    Doing something pleasant is something I should try. I usually just try to go about my regular routine whenever I have pain. But your thing sounds better. It's like a two for one: you do something nice for yourself and you get your mind off the pain. I like it!
  9. Kathi

    Kathi Peer Supporter

    Some days I use a Jon Kabat-Zinn CD called, Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Relief, from SoundsTrue.com, which I like.
    blake likes this.
  10. tarala

    tarala Well known member

    Anne and Ellen you really should get together and write a book. tiphata SO clear and helpful.
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  11. chickenbone

    chickenbone Well known member

    Great comments by Anne and Ellen. I have come to think of meditation as getting away from the mind, stop thinking about stuff all the time. It is really amazing how, when you stop thinking about the pain, the pain subsides and will often disappear in a few days , IF you don't let your mind take you back into the past or offer it's scary version of the future. Remember, pain is a creature of the mind. It originates in the brain. There is a lot of evidence that people's brains actually decide if they will or won't experience pain. One of the things that works for me is to challenge my pain while firmly anchored in the present moment - you will find that there is a limit on how much pain your mind can cause you. I have learned that to have TMS pain is to be the victim of my own mind.
  12. Ellen

    Ellen Beloved Grand Eagle

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  13. Seraphina

    Seraphina Peer Supporter

    Anne, thanks for such a great comment in detail. I now understand mindfulness is to be mindful of the whole present moment, not just the pain, which is just one of the things happening in the moment. Yes, currently pretty much the biggest part of the present I feel is the pain here and there at the moment, but I do notice the connection that you mentioned--subsiding pain/distraction by pain while paying attention to things I enjoy. Even though mindfulness is from Eastern culture, it's still a new concept for me as a Korean since I've never practiced it before. I should study more on it for better effect :)
    and I love your comment on Blake's question, too! I've always had that internal need: "I need to be pain-free immediately if I do this." Gosh that really feeds the fear inside me and makes a vicious pain cycle--especially when I don't feel the pain relieved after doing something.

    Ellen, thank you for the comment! being non-judgemental sounds like the very highest level of meditation practice. It should be not-so-easy to succeed--especially when the pain is severe--but I'm pretty sure it definitely needs to be done in the end to overcome psychological pains. I'll keep that in mind for sure. and thank you for the mindfulness thread!
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