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How I Use Mindfulness to Relieve Chronic Pain

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There have been times when my body has felt like a prison. A chronic pain life sentence. This skin, my uniform, like a weighted suit holding me down, making it hard to breathe.

I’ve resisted this pain. I’ve resented it. I’ve resented my own body. I’ve wished for a way to escape it, but I’ve realized that the harder I try to avoid my pain, the worse I feel.

Resisting Our Pain

It is natural for us to resist pain, and at times, literally to run away from it. Pain triggers our sympathetic nervous system, our fight-or-flight response, and in many instances, this response may ensure our very survival. But what happens when pain becomes chronic? What happens when the pain is not an immediate threat to our survival? Unfortunately, the body can’t tell the difference. Pain is pain. This can mean that the body gets stuck in a perpetual state of fight-or-flight. It’s no wonder living with chronic pain is so exhausting!

None of this is our fault. It’s how our bodies are wired, and it’s normal for us to desire relief from our chronic pain. It’s normal for us to feel angry or sad about it. This doesn’t make us weak. On the contrary, chronic pain warriors are some of the strongest people I know!

Bearing Witness to Our Pain

Relieving chronic pain begins with awareness. Pain is a messenger. It’s one of the many ways our bodies communicate with us, and if we continue to ignore it or run away from it, the body will continue to turn up the volume until we stop and pay attention.

Oftentimes when we are in resistance to pain, we tense our muscles even tighter. We hold our breath, and we ultimately create more pain for ourselves. I’ve learned instead to go deeper into the sensation of pain and allow myself to feel it completely. This is different than frantically fixating on the pain, wishing it would just hurry up and go away. This is complete surrender and acceptance of my experience in the present moment. I do my best to become an impartial witness to what is happening in my body, observing the pain as if it is an outside force acting on my body.

And then I take a deep breath in through the nose, and out through the mouth. I allow myself to soften. Surrender. I let everything I’m feeling resonate. As a yoga teacher, I often guide students through this process, and it is incredible how quickly the body relaxes and pain quiets when we give ourselves the space to feel it.

woman doing yoga outside

Finding Relief From Pain

Becoming aware of pain in this way does not mean we are wallowing in it, and it doesn’t mean we no longer desire relief. It simply means that instead of reacting to our pain out of fear, we begin to respond to it with love and compassion. We seek relief from pain because we love our bodies and know we deserve to feel good, not because we are afraid of feeling pain. The intention behind our actions is what is truly important here.

I know it may seem scary to feel your pain with such focus, but I challenge you to give yourself the gift of your presence. Your body will thank you.

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Originally published: October 6, 2017
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