Does meditation actually help to reduce pain?
In short, yes. Meditation may help reduce chronic pain.
But it’s not a direct link. The type of pain you have matters when taking this into account.
People living with chronic neck or back pain (usually 3 or more months), end up suffering from other things such as depression or low mood as well as other mental health issues. Dealing with these on top of chronic pain can become debilitating because it ends up being a never-ending cycle. The depression leads to feeling more pain and the pain leads to feeling worse.
One thing that has been shown to help reduce that pain and disrupt this cycle is meditation.
Many people run away at the thought of meditation but I assure you, if you can be in a place where you can just focus on your breath, that is meditation.
You don’t need to do anything fancy for it to be called meditation. In fact, it doesn’t even need to be called a meditation. It can be me-time, alone-time, quiet time, nature time, or relaxation time. Just forget about what we call it because that’s the least important thing.
For you, just being away from others in a place where you feel safe and are away from stressful things or people might be enough. Or you may wish to be surrounded by nature as research shows that simply being in nature can have profound health effects.
I’m going to take you through a very simple meditation process that anyone can do anywhere:
Find a place where you can be alone or undisturbed for at least 1 minute. This can be in your bed before you start the day or at the end of the day, in the shower/bath, in your car before you get out if you are alone or as soon as you get in, a quiet room in your home or work, a coffee shop, while on a walk, in a park, etc. The possibilities are endless.
Connect with your breath. This means being aware of your breathing. Is it shallow up in the chest? Let’s move it down to the belly. You should feel your chest stay mostly still while the belly rises and falls. If it helps, place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest so you can feel the rise and fall. This works better when you lie down on your back. Take breaths in and out through the nose, keeping the mouth closed. You can be seated, standing, lying down, it doesn’t matter.
Do this for at least one minute. When you start feeling distracted, come back to the breath. Just keep focusing on the inhale and exhale.
Congratulations! You’ve meditated!
See how easy that was? Note how you feel now. Do it more frequently or for a longer period of time if you don’t feel different.
Breathing allows us to slow down our heart rate if it’s racing. If you are feeling stressed or in pain, your heart rate might be through the roof. That’s helpful if we need to run from a bear but not helpful if there isn’t any actual danger. It also directly affects your vagus nerve. When the vagus nerve is stimulated, it brings you into the rest & digest (parasympathetic) state of relaxation.
When we are stressed, it can tighten up our muscles, causing us to breathe through our chest (shallow breathing) and that can actually lead to neck pain and headaches.
Breathing also helps to reduce inflammation. When there is too much inflammation present in the body, this causes an increased sensation to pain. Essentially, you are just more sensitive to pain. It can take months to reduce inflammation but breathing is a quick way to do it.
Meditation has been shown to decrease inflammation in the brain which can improve our mood but also reduce the perception of pain. Reducing inflammation can reduce our body’s sensitivity to pain so we feel it less. It has also been shown to affect our neural pathways – this means the pathways created that focus on feeling pain get rerouted towards not feeling pain. The stronger we can make these new pathways (ie. meditating consistently), the less likely we are to experience the pain (or at least it won’t feel as bad as it once was).
By now you can see that meditation or simply finding some time for our breath can be so helpful and you don’t need anything fancy to do it.
If you enjoyed this and want to follow a guided meditation, click here to download my Sleep Guide so you can wake up tomorrow with less pain, which includes my Body Scan Meditation. It’s just 4 minutes long and it focuses on relaxing your entire body. You may feel a difference in your pain levels in just 4 minutes and it may help you sleep better too 😉
There are also plenty of apps out there that have some great guided meditations when you are ready. Some you can just have some background music to help you feel even calmer if you don’t want to listen to a voice and just want to focus on breathing. My fave app is Insight Timer.
Let me know how you feel after these meditations. I love hearing from you and seeing how these small things can make a powerful difference. Send me a DM here on Instagram.
Disclaimer: This post is for educational purposes only. Please read the Disclaimer here.