Mindfulness in Medicine: Pain Management

Mindfulness practice can be a surprisingly effective approach to pain management. In my April column, I suggested an exercise that can be used to transform pain:

“Instead of immediately saying, “Pain. Bad. Make it stop,” one might bring awareness inside the pain. Explore the pain with curiosity. Notice the temperature, the texture and the potency. Notice the obvious qualities as well as the more subtle tones. Does it have shape or color? Does it move or radiate? Where is the body not in pain? What is the ‘no painlike? What happens when we release our judgment of ‘pain’ or ‘no pain’ and simply experience the sensations in our body?”

If you had a chance to try this exercise, you may have noticed that pain and tension can magically dissolve into comfort and relaxation.

There is, however, an obvious problem with this method… It doesn’t always work! It’s not that mindfulness practice itself doesn’t work, it’s just that we are not always able to “do” mindfulness effectively. Anyone who suffers from severe or chronic pain will tell you that when their pain flares up, the idea of magically dissolving it with the mind is laughable.

Pain can be completely debilitating and all encompassing. Our mind can become so entirely focused on our suffering that we cannot willingly change our experience. In these moments, we simply need help. Ideally, in these moments, we would have someone “do” mindfulness for us, to bring attention and awareness to the pain, allowing it to soften and dissolve.

This is essentially what I do for my patients. As a practitioner, I become an objective observer, in a state of mindful, non-judgment. Since I am not immersed in each patient’s pain myself, I can have the patience to bring mindfulness to the experience.

While maintaining a mindful presence, I use a variety of Japanese Acupuncture techniques, along with Craniosacral Therapy, to bring the body into alignment and balance. The techniques themselves are designed to bring consciousness to the body’s subconscious, awakening the innate intelligence that is responsible for self-healing.