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Using Mindfulness to Ease Pain

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By Mary Schuster, PT, DPT

Whether we like it or not, fall is here, which means it’s the perfect time to reset good routines to round out the last few months of the year. Summer provided time to soak up the sunshine and fresh air outdoors, but you might notice a shift in your physical and mental energy as the fall months progress. How can you keep your body and mind healthy as the seasons change? September is the perfect time to start a mindfulness practice — something you can do indoors, anytime and anywhere. Mindfulness practices have dominated the conversation lately, especially in regard to their impact on easing pain.

What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present and aware of your surroundings. It is a non-judgemental awareness of what you are experiencing in the present moment. Mindfulness doesn’t require training or meditation, although practicing meditation can help you to become more mindful because it gives you something to focus on. There is growing evidence showing that mindfulness-based meditation can help ease pain and restore a healthy connection between the body and mind.

How To Get Started

Many people think they do not have time for a mindfulness practice, but even a few minutes a day can make positive changes. Additionally, it has been shown that one week of meditation training for mindfulness can reduce the intensity of pain. The easiest way to get started is with a mindful breathing exercise.

  1. Sit in a quiet space in a comfortable position.
  2. Close your eyes and notice how you are breathing. Is it fast or slow? Take a few breaths to become aware of your natural breathing pattern.
  3. Now focus more on your breathing. Try to inhale for 3 seconds and exhale for 5 seconds.
  4. Do this for 1-3 minutes and notice how your body feels afterwards. As you become more comfortable, increase the amount of time to 5, 10 or 15 minutes.

For more on breathing, check out our recent blog post Just Breathe!

Multiple apps and guided meditations can help support you in your new mindfulness practice.  CalmHeadspace and Insight Timer are popular apps that offer free meditations available for all levels.

Mind & Body Exercise

Another way to practice mindfulness is through mind and body exercises, such as Pilates and Yoga. These classes are rooted in principles to help you move intentionally and mindfully. Many Pilates and Yoga classes are designed to help you create focus and awareness as you connect your breath and movement together. Gentle, mindful movement is important to keep all the tissues of your body healthy and moving together. Considering scheduling a private Pilates session or joining the group Pilates Mat class!

Dr. Mary Schuster is a physical therapist at PhysioPartners.  She can be reached at maryschuster@physiopartners.com.

References

Zeidan F., Vago D.; Mindfulness meditation-based pain relief: a mechanistic approach; Annals of the New York Academy of Science, 2016

www.mindful.org

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