If you haven’t already heard of it, mindfulness is the practice of directing your attention to the inner and outer experiences occurring in the present moment. A popular way to do this is through guided mindfulness meditations such as smiling mind, headspace, imindfulness and mindfulness daily just to name a few.
Many of these services are available through app stores and online if you’d like to give one a go. I am trialing headspace at the moment which I am really enjoying. I’ve given some of the others a go in the past but for whatever reason I didn’t end up sticking to it. What I am really liking about headspace is I only have to do 10 minutes a day, the voice is easy to listen to and there is a new track each day so it keeps me wanting to go back and do the next session because I know I’m not going to get bored!
I should mention before moving on that my intention here is not to plug headspace and in no way am I affiliated with them! My purpose for bringing up mindfulness is that there is a lot of talk around whether it might be able to help reduce chronic pain.
There have been studies on chronic low back pain, pain from cancer, pain from autoimmune conditions, fibromyalgia and so on. If you look at these studies individually some of them conclude that mindfulness can help reduce people’s pain however when you look at them collectively the jury is still out. Most of the systematic reviews (a process where you analyse the scientific data of many different studies on the same topic) agree that it can help the person to deal with the pain more effectively but there is not as much evidence to support actual pain reduction. More study in this area is needed. I’d love to see a good quality study comparing mindfulness to exercise for pain reduction, for example.
All that being said just because it doesn’t work for some people it does not mean it won’t work for you, so why not test it out for yourself? Firstly write down your current pain and put it away somewhere safe. Next try one of the mindfulness meditation apps for a month or 2 and finally write your new pain down then go find the old pain note and see if it made any difference. Make sure you set an alarm in your phone or write the day for retest in your calendar.
Although the research doesn’t wholeheartedly support mindfulness for pain reduction, there is stronger evidence supporting mindfulness for anxiety and depression. So if you suffer from either of these conditions it is definitely worth giving a go. And if you have any pain that is associated with your anxiety or depression then by extension you may be a stronger candidate for mindfulness working to reduce your pain.
Now to paint you a mindfulness meditation picture. When I do my headspace mindfulness I sit in a comfortable chair and press play for that days session. It instructs me to start with some breathing, in through the nose, out through the mouth. It then tells me to gently close my eyes, begin breathing normally through the nose and start to notice noises around me, to let them come to me and observe. Next I am instructed to scan my body, and just to notice, not to try to change anything. Then to count my breathing; starting with 1 on the in breath, 2 on the out breath and to only go up to 10 then repeat. Before I know it I am feeling all spacey and relaxed. It has lots of silences too, so you can simply enjoy the exercises. Time passes quickly and before I know it, I’m brought back into the room and asked to open my eyes when I’m ready. All refreshed and ready for the rest of my day!
As much as I am loving headspace, this is just one app and I encourage you to try a few out to see what you like best. Particularly the voice, you have to like to voice or you probably won’t get the most out of it. One last thought, something I touched on in last weeks article – habit formation. If you are going to give mindfulness meditation a go, try to make it a habit and do it daily for at least a couple of months to discover the benefits. Research shows habits tend to stick better when we do them first thing in the morning, something to keep in mind when you are deciding when to start your new mindfulness journey! I do my meditation straight after lunch each day because I find it’s a good refresher to get going for my afternoon, so really in the end, it’s finding what works for you.
I would love to hear from you about your experiences with this. Feel free to comment here, email me or chat with me at your next Myotherapy or Pilates session!