How a beginner’s mind can reduce pain in your body
Posted on 23rd August 2023 at 16:31
Persistent pain comes in many different forms. It may a have specific name, like fibromyalgia, or spondylitis. It may affect your head, or your shoulders, your pelvis, or your gut. It might be termed neurogenic, or non-specific. It may happen pretty much constantly, or come and go unpredictably. And like as not, you have already tried lots of options to reduce it. So, you might be sceptical about a solution that targets your mind, not your body.
Yet the links between the mind and the body in persistent pain are clear. Anxiety, for example, often co-exists with persistent pain. Emotions and stress activate the same circuits in your brain as physical injury. And when disease and pathology have been ruled out, finding a solution to persistent pain involves looking beyond tissue damage.
Does this mean your pain is all in your head? Not at all. Pain is real, whatever the cause. Pain is a protective mechanism, and it can be activated by anything that signals danger to you. Mindfulness offers a chance for you to look at your pain with curiosity and kindness, moving up close, and understand how your habits of thinking are contributing to your pain.
Beginner’s mind and reducing persistent pain
When you want to use a skill like mindfulness to reduce pain, it is helpful to bring a beginner’s mind to your experience. Beginner’s mind encourages you to view each event, each sensation, as if for the first time. This is difficult, as your brain is used to using predictive processing
to work out what is happening. Your past experiences, culture, conditioning, beliefs and expectations all form part of how you experience the world, from moment to moment.
There are a number of ways you might bring a beginner’s mind to your experience of pain.
Start keeping a journal, and note down what is happening when your pain increases. This might include noticing what you are thinking, what other stresses are around, who is involved, where you are. In this way, you can start to understand how you are talking to yourself, and build up a picture of common themes or situations that impact your pain.
Bring curiosity to your experience. Rather than turning away from pain, trying to resist it or distract from it, try to look closer. What colour is it? Does it move? Is it shallow or deep? Does it have a texture? Any question you want to ask is valid. And any thoughts, emotions or feelings that arise are data for you.
Make a habit of scanning your body, noticing any areas of tightness or pain. You tend to contract and tighten in response to pain. How would it be to do the opposite? Breathe into the area and allow it to let go? Bring some softening, rather than tightening, to the experience?
Visualise a situation where you normally get pain. Or a situation you are anxious about because it might make your pain worse. Try to visualise it in as much detail as possible. And see if visualisation alone increases your pain. This is one example of the role of the mind. Only do this as much as you are comfortable with. Back off as soon as the sensations are too intense.
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