The benefits of mindfulness and meditation on pain
Persistent pain — sometimes called “chronic pain” — in any part of the body can be debilitating. It can keep you from doing your work; from sleeping; from being a good partner or parent. But persistent pelvic pain is a whole ‘nother ballgame. It not only affects all of those areas of your life, but can also put a serious cramp on your sexual function. And yes, good sexual health is essential for good overall health.
While plenty of doctors might recommend prescription medication for treating persistent pelvic pain, some people find that it’s not effective. Or maybe they have allergies. Or maybe they have issues with addiction. Regardless of the reason, lots of people are looking for non-medicated ways to manage their persistent pain and mindfulness and meditation have risen to the top of the list.
Psychology Today describes mindfulness as “a state of active, open attention on the present.” What that means in practice is that people are paying attention to their thoughts and feelings right now, rather than thinking about the future or the past. A common way to practice mindfulness is through sitting meditation, when people either focus on one point and bring their brain back to the point when it wanders or work toward achieving a “thoughtless awareness.”
Mindfulness meditation has been shown in multiple studies to help people manage persistent pain. One 2011 pilot study from Brown University researchers found that an eight-week mindfulness program was associated with improvements in persistent pelvic pain scores, physical function, mental health, and social function. Another study found that mindfulness meditation reduced persistent pain by 57 percent and that skilled meditators could up that number to 90 percent.
Skeptical that sitting calmly could do what painkillers have failed to do? Don’t be. Science has shown that our brains make us feel pain in multiple ways. One is the physical sensation of the pain as it’s happening. But the other is our brain analyzing the pain. In doing that, we pull up memories of past pain to compare it to — and this is where mindfulness and meditation come in.
If you’ve been suffering from persistent pelvic pain for a long time, your brain has a lot of memories to draw on. Your brain starts racing, trying to figure out everything from what’s causing the pain to whether you’ll be suffering forever to fears that the pain will worsen. Mindfulness and meditation give you the tools to short circuit that anxiety spiral, noticeably reducing the pain that your body is “feeling” by making it about the pain that’s actually happening rather than all of the pain that could happen or has happened.
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