Some people feel the rain, others just get wet. – Bob Dylan
When we are busy, stressed, in pain or distracted, it is easy to stop noticing the world around us. At the same time it’s easy to become wrapped up in our jobs, income, house chores, distractions like phones and TVs, that we often don’t notice how we are actually feeling. We can become so caught up in our thoughts that it can become hard to notice how these affect our emotions, feelings and behaviour. Our physical needs and sensations can bring us “out of our heads”, but often we don’t take notice of them until they become painful. And in attempt to control the pain, we can also become too absorbed by the pain and our often negative emotions around it.
Mindfulness is a technique that helps us focus on the present moment and what is going on in and around ourselves- our thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and the world around us. The goal is to be accepting, compassionate and non-judgemental towards ourselves and what is happening in the present. When we practice mindfulness we are promoting ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’.
Mindfulness allows us to create a balance between the external world- our senses, and our internal world- our thoughts and emotions. This helps us, not to distract ourselves from the stresses or everyday life, pain, or our thoughts, but to allow us to observe them objectively. Broadening our point of focus to the current moment.
By being mindful we can learn to stand back from our thoughts and realise they are simply mental events that we do not need to control and that do not define us. It helps us to turn off our tunnel vision that can be caused by being busy, stressed or in pain. Mindfulness practices can be very helpful for pain relief. Being in pain can consume a lot of our attention, making it hard to be aware of what is going on around us and in the rest of our body. We often may not even notice our thoughts and feelings around the pain, which could also be contributing to or prolonging the pain. Pain is increased by feelings of fear, anger and stress. By stopping and watching, allowing the emotions and thoughts to come and go, rather than cycle, very often the pain can decrease substantially.
Here is a brief guide of how to practice mindfulness meditation: Understand that your emotions and thoughts, about your pain or anything else, are fleeting and do not define you. Recognising this and creating space between ourselves and our negative thoughts allows us to turn the volume down on our pain.
Sit down comfortably or lie down, mind that this position can make it easy to fall asleep. Take two or three slow deep breaths, breathe in through your nose and out through the mouth. Close your eyes.
Focus on your breathing and the feeling of your body on the floor or chair. Just be aware of your breath and bodily sensations, don’t try to control or change them.
Breathe at whatever speed and depth feels right to you.
Notice what you can sense around you- sounds, smells, things that you may not usually notice, or things that are slightly irritating- just acknowledge them, or even label them and move on, e.g. “those voices next door”, trying not to judge, just be aware of them.
Scan each part of your body, from your toes to your head, noticing your body’s physical sensations, trying to let the body part relax before moving on to the next. Again, just allow the sensations to be, watching them like an observer, not trying to change them.
If you feel any pain, what does it feel like? Resistance, frustration, worry or anger towards any pain you have can make it worse. Try to accept it, feel compassion towards it, allow it to be there without judgement, before moving on to the next part of the body.
Once you’ve scanned each part of the body, bring your attention back to your breath. Count the breath in- 1, out- 2, to 10.
If your thoughts wander, you notice you’ve stopped counting, or you’ve counted beyond 10, just bring your attention back to the breath and start counting from 1 again.
Even just sitting down for 10-15 minutes without distraction is a great way to clear your mind, relax and “defuse”. Well done. Even if you started to nod off, be kind to yourself and allow yourself to just “be” for a few moments.
With practise it gets easier to be still and let go of your thoughts and emotions more easily. Gradually, it also gets easier to adopt a mindful attitude throughout everyday life- noticing thoughts, feelings, body sensations and the world around us without the need to control or judge. Paying attention to the sensation of food we eat, the air moving past us as we walk, how each part our body feels, are all important acts to interrupt our “autopilot mode” we easily adopt and gives us a chance to understand our body’s messages before they become too loud or painful to ignore.
Mindfulness is a great way to de-stress and clear your head. Even just 5 minutes a day can be beneficial to reconnect with yourself. Noticing your thoughts, feelings and surroundings in a more objective and non-judgemental way can help you notice triggers, patterns or cycles which may be prolonging or intensifying your pain. If you struggle to fall asleep this practise is also a great technique to do in bed to help you relax and drift off.
Get Some Head Space is a great website to find out more about meditation. You can download their app and use the free 10-day trial, which provides regular daily meditations so you can begin to practise it for yourself. It’s well worth looking into, to not only learn more, but to develop a regular habit of mindfulness which can provide enormous benefits, even if you take just 10 minutes a day.
For more advice, or if you want to book a free consultation, please get in touch.