People always praise the virtues of meditation, but who wants to focus on his breathing or his body when he has a runny nose or bones that hurt him? Even those who are accustomed to the practice of mindfulness may be inclined to skip sessions when they feel under the weather. However, it would be a mistake.
In fact, there is no better time to meditate than when you are not feeling well. Because pain is both a physical and psychological sensation, the right kind of meditation can help you get comfortable with your discomfort and maybe get out without medication, says Ellen Slawsby of Harvard Medical School. who works with pain patients at Benson. -Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital, affiliated with Harvard.
Slawsby says that some practices can teach you how to fight pain and even tell your brain to ignore the message that you are uncomfortable. But she notes that you have to choose the right method for you. There are various meditation techniques, including deep breathing exercises to use images and music to calm down., and gentle yoga, among others, that can help you feel refreshed even when your body is not at its best.
"When you can enter this calmer mind through meditation, your body does not release stress hormones into the blood," says Jane Ehrman of the Cleveland Clinic for Integrative Medicine. "The brain can release endorphins, a natural painkiller. The muscles and tissues surrounding the joints are more relaxed and the brain can be in a calmer state and you feel less pain.
In a 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers trained 342 adults with chronic low back pain to mindfulness meditation and yoga techniques while they were receiving standard care , thus comparing the subjects' perception of their pain to patients having received only traditional medical treatment treatments. They found that mindfulness training "resulted in a greater improvement in back pain and functional limitations at 26 weeks". The results suggest that meditative practices may be an effective treatment option for patients with chronic low back pain.
These results will probably not surprise many practicing Buddhists. After all, the first of the Buddha's four noble truths shared in the attainment of enlightenment is that "life is suffering." He turned to meditation to become familiar with this feeling and, as a result, became deeply comfortable with the constant struggle.
Mindfulness is not a miracle solution that eliminates discomfort. On the contrary, it is a way of exploring physical and psychological pain rather than escaping from it. In dealing with what causes anxiety, practitioners of meditation return to their wounds and can learn to relieve pain or live with it, according to Toni Bernhard, author of the 2013 book How to be sick: A Buddhist-inspired guide for the chronically ill and their caregivers.
As Bernhard explains in an essay on the disease in the Lion's Roar Buddhist magazine, the Buddha was not pessimistic when he was focusing on our suffering. He was realistic. Life is beautiful, but there are many unpleasant and difficult moments that are natural. They occur. Being sick is perfectly normal, and the less we resist, the more likely we are to relax and feel less pain. Bernhard, chronically ill and forced to transform his life because of his fight against cancer, sees Buddha's approach to discomfort as a source of comfort. "The first noble truth helps me graciously accept being chronically ill. The Buddha's list assures me that my life is as it should, because it takes place in accordance with the human condition, as difficult as it sometimes may be, "she writes.
Of course, a serious illness requires medical attention. Meditation can not replace the care of a doctor. But practicing mindfulness can help make this traditional treatment more effective by changing the patient's relationship to pain.
The same goes for a minor illness. If you have a cold and have trouble breathing, it may seem like a perfect excuse to skip mindfulness exercises. But when you focus on the sensations, knowing that what comes easily on other days is a fight, you gain a new appreciation of your body when it is healthy and a deeper understanding of yourself. Insofar as you avoid unpleasant sensations and focus only on what is pleasant, you are resisting a natural aspect of life that can not be avoided. Being a little sick is, paradoxically, a good opportunity to explore your usual tendencies and change your mental habits so that you feel good even when you are sick.
Buddhist psychologist and teacher Tara Brach, founder of the Insight Meditation Community in Washington, DC, believes that our pain and discomfort, mental and physical, offer important lessons. She explains on her website, which has guided meditations designed to address what we normally avoid, saying, "We seek to work with physical and emotional pain, and the gifts of love, wisdom, creativity and vitality that appear when we learn to fully inhabit these life forms and all our senses with awareness. "