Chronic Pain & Mindfulness Meditation: A Visualization Exercise to Help Calm Yourself in the Storm by Maureen Sharphouse
Millions of people suffer from chronic pain and there is no “cure,” yet new research is showing that mindfulness meditation changes how the brain processes and perceives pain. Visualization techniques are another powerful way of changing how the brain processes and perceives pain.
I contracted a serious infection at age 30 while on a holiday in Mexico, and eventually became too ill to work, lost my job and was classified as disabled at age 42. Despite not having a pain-free day in 35 years, I have persevered and developed comfort and coping practices that can help people who suffer from chronic pain to wake up every day eager to embrace life. Here's one visualization technique to try:
- Start by directing your focus to where the pain is at its worst intensity in your body and envisage that pain as being a specific shape and color. It may be that you see it as a fiery red star, jagged black square or triangle, pulsating orange ball, green oval, purple-spotted rectangle or something else. Take ownership of this visualization; there is no right or wrong. Your pain is your personal experience. Do not overthink this one – picture a shape and color that comes to mind and seems to best connect with your pain and go with that.
- Consciously change the shape and color of the pain you have seen in your mind into something completely different, e.g., change the image of your jagged red star to a pale pink circle or your sharp black triangle to a soft green square. You will alter how your brain perceives your pain by adjusting the way your brain sees and relays the physical sensations your body is going through.
- After envisioning your pain as something with a specific shape and color, imagine taking that colored shape in its totality from your body into your hand. Direct your full focus and attention onto it, clench your fist around it – and then in your mind proceed to throw it (physically making the movement of throwing a ball) far off into the distance or to smack against a faraway wall. The farther you distance and separate yourself in your mind from your pain, the less discomfort you will feel.
Taking steps to alter how your brain sees and perceives pain can change the experience of how you feel the pain. Visualization is a powerful technique to have in your pain management toolkit, and like anything, it takes practice. However, the more you practice, the easier it will become for you, and the more effective and beneficial it will prove to be.
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