Want to get rid of headaches, insomnia, backaches, generalized body pain and other nagging health problems? Meditation could be the answer. It already is for 18 million American adults who turn to it for various reasons. That’s roughly the same number of people who practice yoga, get chiropractic treatments and use massage therapy to soothe their overworked bodies.
When I set out to learn about meditation as a pain relief method, I had zero experience with the practice. Sure, I had taken a course or two on TM and general mindfulness meditation, but neither of those focused on pain relief. I wanted to find out how to stop my once-per-year migraines without having to take prescription drugs.
After a “healthy” amount of online research, I found what I was looking for: meditation techniques that help battle insomnia, migraines, and other physical problems. There are plenty of meditation books (see below for my recommendations) but I also wanted to build a tailor-made program for my own situation and schedule. Here’s what I found out. It includes details for using meditation to relieve pretty much any kind of pain or sleeplessness. By the way, there are many more benefits of meditation besides pain relief, so I included a few of those points in the listing below.
How to Use Meditation to Reduce Pain and Live With Less Stress
The basic method: There are hundreds of ways to meditate, but for pain relief, a very basic relaxation technique is usually a wise place to start. Wear comfortable clothing and find a comfortable sitting position on a cushion or chair, whatever allows you to maintain a relatively straight back.
- The main thing is to be comfortable but not so much that you fall asleep. Even if you use a chair, remember to keep your back free, not resting on the chair-back.
- Allow yourself to adjust for any discomfort that arises during this initial period. After a while, you want to do no more adjusting unless there is pain.
- Close your eyes and focus on your breathing to relax. Mentally counting “1-2, 1-2, 1-2 …” on each in-out breath is an effective way to settle in for the first few minutes.
- It helps to breathe from the diaphragm if possible, but if this is uncomfortable for you, just breathe the way you normally do but a little deeper. These deep breaths should just go on for the first few minutes only. After that, resume breathing as you normally do but just through the nose. Meditation is more about relaxing the mind than “doing” anything with the breath.
- Next, stop counting and imagine a serene place where you feel totally relaxed. The beach works for some, or a quiet little forest cabin for others is the ideal place. You’re alone and there is little sound except for maybe the wind and an occasional bird call, or the ocean waves.
- It helps to come back to the breath once every few minutes and notice how the air flows into the lungs and out again. Breathe naturally, not forcing or changing the rhythm. Notice as much detail about the breath as possible, like the temperature of the air as it enters and exits the nostrils (you will want to breathe through your nose only, not using your mouth)
- Notice that you are completely pain free and totally relaxed. Maintain this state for as long as a half-hour. It might be necessary to set an alarm or have someone tap you on the shoulder at the end of the session because meditation does strange things to a person’s sense of time.
- Try this routine once or twice a day for a week and you will probably notice lots of little aches and pains disappearing permanently, headaches included.
Benefits Besides Pain Relief
Meditation has been shown to improve self-esteem, lower generalized stress levels, improve sleep, help people quit smoking and drinking, improve overall emotional wellbeing, strengthen the immune system, alleviate asthma and migraines, regulate the blood pressure, help with various forms of depression, help prevent PMS and arthritis, reduce phobias and improve digestion.
Grasshopper’s Favorite Reads
“The answer is not in books,” as the anonymous monk tells his student in an ancient story (which I read in a book). Gurus aside, books can be a good starting place for a meditation habit, and the trio of titles listed here is a solid beginning.
- Mindfulness in Plain English: One of the bestselling meditation books of all time, MIPE, as its many adherents call it, offers a simple explanation of how to sit and begin meditating the right way. There are no other-worldly promises or psychic mumbo-jumbo here, just reliable ways to avoid common pitfalls and engage properly in a long-term meditation practice. The 89-year-old author, a Sri Lankan monk named Gunaratana, still travels the world giving live seminars on the topic. If you acquire just one book on meditation, this should be it.
- Health Journeys: A Meditation To Help Relieve Headaches: This might be the most creative way to relieve headaches ever devised. “Health Journeys” is an audio CD that lulls your mind into a meditative state while you do nothing but sit comfortably on a bed or chair. The narrative in Part I helps relieve head and neck tension while stabilizing blood pressure and inducing psychological calm. Part I helps relieve headaches. Part II is specifically designed to prevent them. Widely used in medical offices, this effective little sound file has been helping headache sufferers for more than two decades.
- You Are Not Your Pain: Using Mindfulness to Relieve Pain, Reduce Stress, and Restore Well-Being—An Eight-Week Program: Another doctors’ office and hospital clinic favorite, this book-CD combination offers up a complete two-month program for pain relief that has millions of “graduates.” Whether your complaint is migraine headaches, arthritis, stomach pain, or post-surgical neuropathy, “You Are Not Your Pain” is the real thing, based on psychological and physiological principles that work. Downloadable at Amazon via Kindle, or in paperback with the CD for less than $10, there’s no pain in the wallet either.
Mindfulness is Big Business
There is a mindfulness movement, of sorts, sweeping the workplace and even the personal lives of millions of Americans. Companies are sponsoring meditation retreats, colleges are teaching more meditation and yoga classes than ever before, and even the fitness market is incorporating mindfulness into group workouts.
As researchers continue to uncover benefits of meditation, especially as a reliable way to reduce stress, the market for meditation classes, books and retreats will continue to expand.
What are your experiences with meditation? Whether it’s been a part of your life for years or you’re brand new to the idea, let us know your thoughts in the comment section below. Better yet, visit our Facebook page and leave some feedback.
It took more than 50 years for meditation to really catch on in the U.S., but it finally looks like the practice is here to stay, both as a form of healthcare and a contemplative activity. Millions of people are already making it a part of their daily routine.