How to Use Mindfulness for Pain Relief

How to Use Mindfulness for Pain Relief

A Book Excerpt and Guided Meditation


A mindfulness research pioneer offers his wisdom (and a guided meditation) on utilizing simple mindfulness techniques to help manage and relieve chronic pain.

Mindfulness both as a formal meditation practice and as a way of being in wise relationship with your experience as life is unfolding moment by moment by moment involves committing as best you can to being awake and aware in each moment. It is veritably an ongoing adventure in discovery. Here, you are invited to dip your toe into the practice of mindfulness by paying attention in a way that may be relatively new to you.

To begin, you might take a moment to observe your relationship with your own mind and body right in this moment, and perhaps your pain as well if it is present to any degree at all within the interior landscape in this moment. What is it like to drop into this moment as it is—however it is—with full awareness of your experience?

You can either close your eyes for this or keep them open, as you choose. One thing you will discover right away is that there is plenty going on, both inwardly and outwardly. Can you notice the universe of sensations in the body, for example, as well as any sense of inner silence or wakefulness that may or may not be present in this moment?

Can you take in the sounds from your surroundings, whatever they are, that are making their way to your ears in this moment: sounds from the room you are in, from the outside, from nature? Experiment with attending to them for a moment or two just as sounds, without naming them or wondering about their source. Not just listening but actually hearing sounds and perhaps even the spaces between them.

Next, turn your attention to the air around your body—the air that is bringing any sounds to your ears, the same air that you are breathing. . . . How vivid is the sensing, the experiencing of the air on the skin and around the body, right in this moment? Now see if you can intentionally shift the focus of your attention to the fact that, right in this moment, you are breathing

Notice how the air comes into your body effortlessly, with this and every in-breath, and how, effortlessly, it leaves the body with this and every out-breath, all by itself. We are actually being breathed more than we are breathing, since it is ongoing day and night without our intentional involvement. Seeing if you can just feel the breath sensations in your body, whatever they are, wherever they are, with each in-breath and each out-breath.

Experiment if you like with “riding” on the waves of each in-breath and each out-breath with full awareness, moment by moment and breath by breath. . . . Where are you feeling the breath sensations most vividly in your body? Is it at the nostrils? In the chest? In the belly? Just noticing how it feels to attend in this way moment by moment and breath by breath. You can experiment with feeling the breath in the body for as long as you like, and as often as you like. The more you do it, the more at home you become in your body and the easier it gets to comfortably connect with and befriend the breath sensations in your body. They are here all the time. They are your friends, your allies. You can even savor them. Now try sensing the entirety of your body in awareness

Be aware of the body as a whole, whether you are sitting or lying down or standing. Noticing that breathing is flowing in and out, and that you are experiencing it through awareness of the sensations in the body that arise from breathing. See if this awareness is available to you without any sense of forcing anything, just by noticing… Seeing if you can take up residency in awareness itself…

As you engage in this way, see if you can single out one place or region in your body that is not hurting at all in this moment. Is there such a place?

If so, see if you can be aware of how it feels not to have pain in that particular region. Take a few deep breaths in and out as you rest in this discovery, perhaps a newfound if only momentary realization, but a significant one. And if nothing of note arises, then that in itself is noteworthy, and not to be judged as either “good” or “bad.”

Now, as gently and as lovingly as you can, seeing if you can bring into awareness any place in the body that is hurting right now. For the briefest of moments and with the lightest of touches, see if you can turn your attention toward that place and the intensity of the sensations there with even the tiniest bit of openness. Just taking a peek, dipping a toe in the water of that pain or discomfort for just the briefest of moments. Then pull it out again. What was that like?

If you were able to bring awareness to any aspect of your experience for even the briefest of moments and simply feel it, then you are already well on your way to developing a new and potentially healing relationship with your pain and, more importantly, with your own mind and body.

Even if you found that brief experiment to be challenging, frustrating, or not at all reassuring, through the systematic but gentle practice of paying attention in this way on a regular basis, it is possible to discover, develop, and deepen an innate ability to be in wiser relationship with discomfort, pain, and suffering, and perhaps at times, even differentiate each one from the others. With that glimpse of insight comes the freedom to live your life with greater ease, even in the presence of significant discomfort.

Listen and Meditate With Jon Kabat-Zinn

Adapted and excerpted from Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Relief: Practices to Reclaim Your Body and Your Life, by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Sounds True, April 2023. Reprinted with permission.

How to Use Mindfulness for Pain Relief

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