The notion that mindfulness and meditation can help someone deal with pain and physical ill-health might, at first, sound unlikely. How can sitting thinking about something (or not thinking about things) reduce your pain?
In ‘Mindfulness for Health: relieving pain, reducing stress and restoring wellbeing‘, the two authors (Vidyamala Burch and Danny Penman), both of whom have considerable life experience of pain, physical restrictions and long-term medical conditions, outline in clear, simple and practical ways, how mindfulness can indeed help you manage physical pain, ill-health or stress.
The book also comes with a CD with eight tracks of guided mindful meditations, which are also written out in full in the corresponding chapters in the book. They form the crux of the eight week programme outlined in the book.
One of the key concepts of the authors’ approach is recognising the difference between ‘primary pain’ and ‘secondary suffering’. A lot of the practical tips and the meditations are designed to decrease the secondary suffering i.e a person’s reaction to the pain and/or the situation.
This is, in essence, achieved through understanding and practising three core skills: focused awareness on one thing e.g. the breath; general open monitoring from moment to moment to realise nothing is permanent; and loving kindness compassion.
Alongside all the practical information there are also references to research backing up the approach. Something that was new to me is that humans tend to have a negativity bias. That is, negative news, feelings and events tend to be processed quicker and deeper than positive news. Also we appear to almost seek out and dwell on negative stuff. (And the general news media seem fixated on it.) But negative thoughts are not helpful for our health and well-being. We need to spend longer, therefore, on focusing on more helpful positive thoughts, small aspects of gratitude and kindness.
If the topic sounds like something you’d like to explore further, you can check out the Breathworks website (established by one of the authors of the book) and the resources available on there, including guided mindfulness audio tracks, or check out the free guided meditation tracks by Danny Penman on his Frantic World website, or look out for a Breathworks eight-week course in your area or take their online course.
And if, like me, you’re lucky enough to not be currently suffering any pain and don’t have a long-term health problem, the book and CD work just as well for stress, anxiety etc.