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Buddhadharma : Fall 2010
Weall experience physical pain from time to time. The first step in working with pain is to assess whether it’s acute or chronic. Acute pain usually has a physical cause and is often associated with a recent injury or physical problem. It may require immediate medical attention. While chronic pain may also have a physical cause, it’s likely to be associated with cognitive and emotional components, as well, such as grief, anger, fear, or confusion. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to be helpful in living with chronic pain. There are three important steps in applying mindfulness to chronic pain. The first is investigation sensing into your body and feeling how you hold tension and pain. The second is working with any emotional reactions to the pain and tension. The third involves taking a more philo- sophical approach learning to live in the here and now and dealing with pain one moment at a time. Step 1: Investigating Pain and Tension in the Body It may sound counterintuitive or even frightening to bring focused attention to the body and its sensations when you’re feeling pain. Isn’t it normal and natural to want to escape from pain or distract yourself from it? Why would you want to bring awareness to discomfort when it seems so much bet- ter to get rid of it? However, if you don’t know how you’re holding pain and tension in the body, you may be increasing it inadvertently. This is where mindfulness comes in. A common knee-jerk reaction to pain is to clench and get tighter around it. Unfortunately, this can not only increase the physical pain, it may also begin a vicious cycle of reac- tions that lead to increased anger, fear, sadness, and confusion. Getting tight around pain further constricts the muscles and restricts blood flow, which may cause more spasms and pain, possibly even in other areas of the body. This cycle is difficult to stop, and in time you may discover that you’re constricted not just around the painful area, but throughout the body. The body scan provides an opportunity for you to reori- ent toward living and working with tension and pain. As you reeducate yourself about your pain by distinguishing physical sensations from mental and emotional feelings, you can learn to recognize strong sensations in the body as just physical sen- sations. That said, living with physical tension and pain can be very difficult and cause high levels of stress and anxiety, so it’s important to learn some skills for both coping with pain and learning to reduce it. Once you become aware of how you hold pain in the body, you can start figuring out how best to work with it. For BOB STAHl is the founder and director of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programs at three medical centers in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is a longtime practitioner of insight Meditation and a visiting teacher at Spirit Rock. eliSHA GOlDSTeiN is a clinical psychologist and cofounder of the Mindfulness center for Psychotherapy and Psychiatry. He teaches MBSR and mindfulness- based cognitive therapy (MBcT). three Steps to transforming Your relationship with pain bob Stahl and elisha goldstein present a systematic approach to working with chronic pain, from their new Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook. JuliefRaSieRHugHo’neill Ann Telthorst participates in a Suffering & Delight meditation group led by Darlene Cohen 39 fall 2 01 0 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly