Chronic pain, which can go on for months, years, or more, can become so ingrained within our psyche that we feel it is simply a part of who we are. It can become our identity. A recent Gallup-Healthways survey found that 47% of people experienced some form of chronic pain within the past year.
Here, we discuss 4 ways meditation is the best natural pain relief method, essentially reversing its vicious cycle.
1. Meditation “rewires” the brain’s pain circuitry. Neuronal pathways within the brain get programmed every time you expect pain to occur — in time, less and less stimulus is needed to trigger the pain reflex. Eventually, the simple thought of pain becomes the true source, not necessarily the ailment itself. Thinking of pain creates more pain, put simply.
A 2011 study at Wake Forest University (Zeidan & all) had 18 chronic pain participants undergo 4 days of meditation training — before and after training, their brain activity was measured using advanced MRI brain imaging technology. The findings of this study are powerful, the subjects’ “brain pain centers” were 57% less active after meditation. Keep in mind, participants only had 4 days of meditative experience. Can you imagine reducing your chronic pain by half in less than a week?
2. Meditation unhooks your emotional reaction to pain. Pain clinic doctors know all too well — patients who no longer have the original condition which created their pain, yet they still hurt. Why? Put simply, these patients are stuck in a brutal feedback loop, without even realizing it. Their anticipation of pain creates stress, stress leads to physical tension within the body — especially near the painful area, which ultimately leads to more pain.
Meditation teaches you how to emotionally detach from your negative thoughts and physical sensations, where you no longer expect pain, nor resist it when it does occur. By becoming a passive, impartial observer of your mind, suffering is no longer a function of pain. The simple awareness of sensation, without labeling every little thing you feel as “good” or “bad”, is intoxicating and empowering to the pain sufferer. Meditation forces you to become mindfully aware of just how much pain there truly is, and how much you are generating via your though processes. The difference is likely much bigger than you think.
3. Meditation cleanses the pain sufferer’s hormonal environment. Encoded within our DNA, our ancient ancestors handed us down their “fight or flight” response, which for them was very necessary, with all of the predators they had to keep an eye out for on a daily basis. However, in the modern age, being at the top of the food chain, we tend to use this instinct at times when its not needed. When we unnecessarily activate our fight or flight response, it can cause a cataclysm of problems within the body, like the over-release of harmful stress hormones, which ultimately nourish the neuro-chemical environment for pain to flourish.
One chemical of particular importance to pain sufferers, cortisol, can raise your blood pressure, worsen inflammation, elevate heart rate, and contribute immensely to the never-ending pain anticipation feedback loop. An incredibly significant discovery, Dr. Vincent Giampapa, M.D. a well-known longevity researcher, discovered that meditation lowered cortisol levels by about half. By balancing the pain sufferer’s hormonal chemistry, meditation dramatically reduces pain on all fronts.
4. Meditation releases chemicals far more powerful than the strongest painkillers. Today, the standard pharmaceutical pain treatments have a broad range of potency and effectiveness. However, most all share similar negative side effects, including an escalating dependency, high levels of addiction, numbing of the senses, and masking the symptoms rather than fixing the real problem. Nobody wants to live their life feeling like a mindless zombie.
Luckily, you don’t need to take a pill to create lasting pain relief. It can come from within. Meditation has been proven to healthily and naturally release “feel good” endorphins, which are up to 100 times more powerful than modern medicine’s best painkiller, morphine. Plus, mother nature’s pain reliever has no side effects. No need to fill a pain prescription at the pharmacy, meditation allows you to tap into endorphins’ massive healing power any time you want.
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