Meditation and pain management

Guest article: One moment at a time, by Vidyamala

I am a forty-five-year-old woman who suffered a spinal injury thirty years ago that has resulted in a legacy of on-going physical pain. Of course this has been difficult to live with, but some twenty years ago I had a significant experience that radically changed my perspective on life and plunged me into the wonder of living in ‘the present moment’.

I was in an intensive care ward at the time, with an acute deterioration of my condition. I had been bedridden for several months and unable to sit up, but on this occasion I had undergone a diagnostic procedure that required me to sit up for several hours afterwards. During this long night of intense pain I felt myself sliding towards the edge of madness.

I spent hours with two internal voices locked in combat – one voice convinced I could not stay sane till morning and the other willing me to do so. It was an incredibly intense, brittle, heart-breaking experience.

Then, suddenly, my experience completely changed when I heard a quiet inner voice saying: “You don’t have to get through till morning; you only have to get through the present moment”. It was like a house of cards collapsing, revealing the space that had been present all along, if only I could have recognised it. My experience immediately changed from an agonised, contracted state to one that was soft and rich – despite the physical pain. At that moment of relaxing into the present moment, just as it was, I intuitively knew I had tasted something true.

I later found a way of making sense of this experience through the teachings of Buddhism and have spent the past 20 years training my heart and mind, using meditation and mindfulness. I was ordained into the Western Buddhist Order in 1995 and for several years I have taught meditation and mindfulness practice to others who live with pain and illness.

Below are some tips and pointers drawn from the methods I have developed that you mind find helpful if you are living with discomfort or pain. Please explore these as you wish, alongside any other treatments or therapies you may be receiving. Mindfulness practice can ‘complement’ conventional medicine in a helpful way.

About Vidyamala

guest writer VidyamalaVidyamala is a co-founder and director of Breathworks, a company offering ‘mindfulness-based strategies for living well’.

She runs courses in Manchester UK for people suffering from chronic pain and illness, teaching them how to optimize quality of life using meditation and other mindfulness-based strategies. She also is involved in running a training program for those wishing to deliver the Breathworks programme in other localities.

She suffered a spinal injury in 1976 and has used meditation and mindfulness to manage her own chronic pain for many years.

Vidyamala’s CDs of guided meditations — developed as part of her Breathworks pain management program — are available for sale in our online store.

57 Comments. Leave new

  • Janet Williamson
    January 5, 2008 3:16 pm

    I know meditation would improve my life; also I have a friend who is in constant pain, also from nerve injury in his neck. I wonder where he could begin to learn how to deal with this through meditation. He lives in Iowa, U.S. Do you know anyone in this area to refer him to? Thank you — You’re inspiring

  • "Southern Yankee"
    April 10, 2008 7:22 pm

    I am a 38 year old who was diagnosed with Lupus-causing kidney failure at 17. I am now 38. Thanks to 2 transplants, I have not been on dialysis since then, but I have on occasion. As a result of poor kidney function, I have severe neuropathy. Before and after the transplants, I had high doses of Prednisone, which has caused osteonecrosis. Bottom line, I’ve been in pain for roughly the past 10 years, which almost cost me a marriage to a wonderful guy. I am currently doing pretty well. I have better kidney function than I’ve had in about 8 years. I thank this, in part, to beginning my journey of learning into meditation and living in the moment, as well as focusing my energy on healing and staying well. Although I have a tremendous amount to learn, I amno longer dreading what is to come, but enjoying what I have now and look forward to learning about pain management using meditation and present mindedness. Glad I found this site!

  • […] “I’ll write about pain.” He sent me this article written by a woman who had a epiphany of sorts while in pain: I am a forty-five-year-old woman who suffered a spinal injury thirty years ago that has resulted in […]

  • Muhammad Rezvi
    June 16, 2008 8:01 am

    I am 20 years old cancer patient(male).I have cancer in spinal corde.Now a days medicine is not able to control the pain.The pain drives me to madness.No matter how much I try mentally I cant get reliefe from pain.Would you please tell me how maditation will help me in this state.
    Thank you

  • Hello Muhammed,

    I’m very sorry to hear about your illness and the pain that you’re experiencing. Vidyamala’s writings in this section will give you some background information on how meditation can help you cope better with the pain. But of course reading about this isn’t the same as doing the practices. If there isn’t some kind of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction class available to you I’d suggest getting hold of Vidyamala’s CDs, which offer a practical guide to meditation and pain management.

  • I was hit by a car 8 years ago this November and in result i have chronic pain in my hips, lower spine and neck. I didn’t want to take any drugs to mask the problem so I took control of my own well being, so I turned to meditation and breathing exercises. It was the best thing I did for myself.

  • I have recently undergone a surgery and its left me in alot of pain. I would rather take a more natural approach to dealing with my pain and getting through this. Thank you for just putting a few words out there that inspired me. I’m only 15.


  • Dear Anthony,

    I was very inspired by your comment in relation to my article. I am very impressed that you are open to this kind of approach when you’re only 15. You are lucky, as most of us only begin to look at our minds & our responses to life when we are a lot older & there’s all sorts of entrenched habits already there.

    I really wish you the very best with your recovery & thank you very much for writing.


  • I am a type 1 diabetic, I was diagnosed when I was 14 I am now 20 but in-between those 6 years I never was in control my A1c levels were always of the charts and I weighed only 170 pounds for most of those 6 years, being 6′ 6″ made me look emaciated, I didn’t have any pain throughout this time period, I figured I was young and I wasn’t going to have any negative side effects or get sick and die. About a month ago I began to feel very sick and was rushed to the hospital and admitted to the icu with diabetic ketoacidosis, my case was so severe the doctors I saw throughout my stay were constantly reminding me of how close I was to death. I am happy to say that my diabetes is getting under control and I feel healthier, but as a result of not taking care of myself, I am experiencing a constant pain in my lower legs. My endocrinologist told me that I have Peripheral Neuropathy; I realize that I had a choice in preventing this and I have nothing and nobody to blame but myself. However, because of this pain, I have not been able to sleep and I have been put on a wide array of medication with loads of side effects, and I am tired of all of it. In the past, I would never be open to trying new things, but coming so close to death at a young age makes me realize that I should try new things and not live life shut out. I am tired of being another sick kid who takes his medicine everyday and sits in hope that the pain will go away, I should actively seek out a better way of life and choose to live happily with pain instead of being miserable with it, And reading your article has inspired me to do so. Thank you

  • Hi Kevin

    You sound courageous both in being willing to try new things but perhaps more importantly in being willing to admit that you had habits that have led to your health being so acute. I have had to face these things myself and it is always easier when one stops being an ostrich (head in sand) or blaming others. I have just written a book that is available on amazon in the USA: Living Well with Pain and Illness: The Mindful Way to Free Yourself from Suffering
    and it has lots of practical exercises and tips. you might want to take a look.

    all the best with your journey and good luck!

  • Hi, im 23 and for the last 5 years i have been going through some serious pain in my leg because of nerve damage in my back. Just wondering if i could possibly get some tips on dealing with it? Thanks

  • Hi Tom

    I am very sorry to hear you have had so much pain to deal with at such a young age. Not easy at all as I know having injured my back at 16. I would suggest you get hold of the book I’ve written if you can as it has lots of tips etc for coping with pain using mindfulness. It is available from Living Well with Pain and Illness: The Mindful Way to Free Yourself from Suffering
    I have also recorded led meditation practices that are available from wildmind. I would recommend the body scan in particular as a place to start. Good luck Tom! best wishes Vidyamala

  • hello Vidyamala,

    I hope that this message gets to you.
    I have had severe chronic pain in the lumbar spine for over a decade. Three years ago, I was very close to dying. A year later I took the
    bodhisattva vows. My life changed dramatically. I went on a pilgrimmage. Things broke and broke more. My wife and I split up after almost
    thirty years. I know you would know as many here would. I have had the kind of pain that is all
    consuming. Pain that if it’s untreated would bring you to suicide or pretty close to dying. I wished for death after the 5th year.
    I lost more and more. I finally surrendered and let go. completely. It was a scary place and a comforting place and it alternated between the wto worlds
    for a long time. A year and a half ago, I began doing yoga. It’s become my number one meditation practice.
    I am studying Tibetan buddhism. Some tantra with a Rinpoche. need to join a sangha but feel that i am finally coming home again after a long time
    lost in the woods. Do you teach courses and if yes, can you tell me when and where. I have been looking for a book like this for a long time.
    i do many complementary practices. drumming , shamanism, reiki, Tonglen, etc. they all help. some more than others but the real turning point came when
    I started living with the bodhisattva vows and they became the most important part of my life. They are my life’s work at this point. They have ginve
    meaning to the pain and they have allowed me to transcend and move on. I have a severely disfigured spine from 4 surgeries. but i am letting
    go of the anger and coming home. any thing you have to say is appreciated and anything anyone else has to say would also be appreciated.

  • Michael Calcaterra
    November 22, 2009 9:15 pm

    I fell down a flight of stairs on 6/6/09. I have a bruised spinal cord in the neck area and two breaks in my lower back. I’m 27 years old with an amazing wife and 14 month old boy. my nerve and back pain was affecting my familes attitude as well. I am pleased to say I’ve begun my journey of buddhism and have found with meditation my pain does not control me, but only my body. I am new to buddhism and meditation. I have also found some relief with acupuncture. I would appreciate any suggestions in meditation. I feel I am just a beginner and would like to get into a deeper state of meditation. Although pain is a part of my life, through Buddhist techniques I have realized it is not my life anymore, I am lucky to be alive to experience pain. thank you
    chicago il

    • Hi Michael,
      It sounds like you’ve come through a really bad situation with a great, positive attitude. That’s wonderful! It says a lot about the strength of your inner resources. I too have had to live with a lot of physical issues, though mine is more of a chronic nature than from a traumatic injury.

      One suggestion I have is to think about how you might use your situation and your pain as a helper/tool in your meditation, rather than something that has to be overcome or endured. What I mean is that pain has a way of raising our awareness of how our body works and what we need to do to take care of it. Think of it this way. I bet you’re a lot more aware of things you need to do to maintain a healthy back than you were as a teenager.

      When we bring more of our focused awareness of our body, and do it without the judgment/aversion of “pain is bad,” it opens up a whole new depth of sensation and awareness that can inform so much more than just managing the pain. For example, on an objective level, I’m far more skilled at things like how to lower my anxiety and/or blood pressure when the heat is on, or how to encourage sleep when insomnia sets in. On a more intuitive level, I’m far more aware of body language, and how emotions play out on a somatic level (and how to manage them better). All these things came as a result of bringing more awareness to my body in meditation. I consider my body one of my best spiritual teachers, as it continually teaches me more and more things about life!

      If you’re interested in taking your practice to a deeper level, you might also consider signing up for one of the online courses here at Wildmind, or working with me as a personal coach. You can learn more about my work at

      Best wishes,

  • Dear Michael,

    Thank you for writing in to the Wildmind forum about your own
    experience. It certainly sounds like you’ve had a horrid time with
    serious injuries. Time is a great healer, so I hope that in due course
    your pain settles down as your injuries heal and that you feel better
    and better. Of course every cloud has a silver lining and it’s
    wonderful that your situation has enabled you to explore other
    approaches and find Buddhism. Certainly I have found that meditation
    has completely transformed my quality of life even though I have lived
    with chronic pain for 30 years. I agree with everything that Sunada
    said in her reply to your thread and, without seeming too
    self-promoting, I’d recommend that you read the book I’ve written
    which is going to be released in the US in February 2010. It’s called
    Living Well with Pain and Illness – the mindful way to free yourself
    from suffering. I’ve also recorded quite a number of led meditation
    CDs that are available through Wildmind that are particularly aimed at
    people who are living with difficulties either physically or mentally,
    so I’d recommend you listen to these as well. I do a body scan every
    day after lunch which helps me manage my pain through the day hugely,
    and I also do a meditation each morning.

    Thank you again for writing and I really hope that Buddhism and
    meditation continue to give you ever more joy and a sense of meaning
    in life.

  • This sounds very intriguing. I am intense pain daily from the time I was 11 years old until now at 30… October of 08 I had a spine surgery called arthrodesis of the spine…long story short I now have 21 screws and 2 rods in my spine to correct very bad scoliosis. They had to break my back and cut away all the muscles from the spine to put it back where is was supposed to be. Now only to be left with all of this hardware in my back and discs going bad in the lumbar and cervical spine. I find it hard with the daily pain and medications that dont seem to help to cope taking care of three kids and a husband. It took me four months to learn how to walk again after this, and I still have problems with stability and holding onto stuff. The intense pain I feel everyday has left me to feel like a prisoner in my own body..I can no longer do a lot of things that I used to do and having trouble coping with that. Anything that I can do to alleviate some of this would be helpful. It really sounds like you understand what kind of pain I am in yourself having dealt with spine issues. Thanks for any help!

  • Hi Tania

    I thought I had replied to your post but when I checked the site just now it seems I haven’t. I am very sorry about that as my heart went out to you when I read your post. I hope you are not in too much pain as you read this. I know what it is like to feel like a prisoner in your own body – spine things are so central aren’t they and seem to affect everything. I can only suggest that you have a go at meditation and calming the mind to see if this gives you some peace of mind. I like to think of it as learning to be ‘with’ the pain without adding anything through automatic reactions that just lead to more tension, unhappiness, anxiety etc. I also have learned to have a very structured day – using a timer when i work on the computer for example so I never work more than 20 mins. I have prepared a whole range of resources – CDs, a booklet on mindfulness in daily life etc, a bigger book and am just completing a distance learnign ‘kit’ so people can put themselves through an 8 week programme to learn mindfulness. If you are interested in this write back and I can send the details. Meanwhile, good luck with everything and thanks for writing!

  • Dear Vidyamala. I am 57 years of age and 2.5 years ago suffered broken vertebra in a fall. My rehabilitation continues but I am in constant pain day and night, despite lots of prescribed drugs. The pain is not as severe as many I read about but sufficient to trouble me all the time. I have been given acupuncture and physiotherapy and all help relieve the pain but only momentarily. The point I find difficult to reconcile is that externally I look ok (apart from being thin and drawn) so people think I must be ok, but I feel very wretched and suffer with depression. It is thus quite difficult to try to “carry on” a “normal” life when it is such a struggle within. A cousin of mine has directed me to your writings and the hope that mindfulness and meditation may help me. I will explore this with interest and hope it helps. Many thanks

  • Dear Graham

    Many thanks for your post. I do hope that your pain is gradually easing and that your spirits are also slowly lifting. One of the very difficult things about chronic pain is that it is invisible and so people can never know just how draining it is by looking at the externals of a person. You may be interested in reading my book availalbe on: and also there are CDs available from wildmind.

    This comes with heartfelt good wishes and thanks for writing

  • Nigel Mance
    May 9, 2011 5:36 am

    Dear Vidyamala,
    I wonder if you can help me please? My wife is suffering terrible pain from Trigeminal Neuralgia. I am trying everything I know to try to help and wondered if meditation might ease her pain? It breaks my heart to see her suffering so. She is 60 years old and until now has had an illness free life. She did suffer facial injury in a car accident 40 years ago but the doctors tell us that it could have no bearing on her illness now. I am not so sure?
    Please help.

  • Dear Nigel I apologise for not replying sooner but I was away. I am so very sorry to hear about your wife. It must be very hard for both of you to have this suffering thrust into your lives. I would recommend trying to find medication to get the worst of the pain under control and then trying meditation to work with relaxing around the pain as much as possible and to let go of some of the fight and mental and emotion struggles which inevitably accompany pain. I would recommend the body scan as the best place to start as this is the easiest meditation to do and very gentle. Then she could move onto the other meditations I lead on pain management available from wildmind.

    Let me know how you get on and very best wishes


  • hello mam.
    i am from india. iam 25 yrs. i hve been suffering from neck pain from last 4yrs. my pain is too worse that i cant even tolerate. its unresistable sometimes. i cannot walk for a long. now i am trying meditation for the last 1 month. but i am not getting what is the best method to do this mediatation.

  • Dear vinay
    I am very sorry t hear about your pain problem which sounds very difficult. Have you got access to pain medication? This can be very helpful alongside meditation techniques. In terms of meditation: the problem many of us have when in pain is tensing against it which just makes the pain worse. This is almost always accompanied by holding the breath in some way which again just adds to tension. So I would suggest doing meditations which encourage relaxation and relaxing the breath. In particular the ‘body scan’ available here:
    Good luck! In a few months we will have an online course ready which you may also find helpful, aimed especially at people seeking to manage pain and illness using meditation and mindfulness. If you keep an eye on then you’ll know when it is ready.
    Very best wishes to you vidyamala

  • mam are you from india? your name seems to be an indian.

  • Vidyamala is from New Zealand, Vinay. She has a Sanskrit name because she is a member of the Triratna Buddhist Order.

  • I have suffered all-encompassing pain in my lower back & legs from degenerative ostioarthritis for about 15 years. I have lost my husband of 30 years – he didn’t want to have to take care of someone who would eventually be a “cripple”. I have lost my career/vocation of teaching. . . . I have lost my independence – I’just moved in with my daughter &her young family – I thank God every day for their invitation! I have been a devoted fundamental Christian for many year – long before the advent of “The Pain”. I feel all of those beliefs slipping away now. I would like to explore the possibility that meditation would help me live more comfortably with my pain but hesitate as Budhism is pretty much diametrically oppose to conservative Christianity. Would you address this point?
    Thank you very much,

    • Hi Cathie.

      Meditating doesn’t involve adopting any particular beliefs, or rejecting any existing religious beliefs. If you explore something like Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) you’ll find that it was developed in a hospital setting for people who aren’t necessarily interested in Buddhism at all. IN fact Buddhism and Buddhist ideas, beyond compassion and mindfulness, just aren’t mentioned at all. And it’s very effective.

      I’d suggest looking into this.

      All the best,

  • Dear Cathie

    many thanks for writing and sharing your story. I am sorry to hear you have so much pain. I agree with Bodhipaksa that meditation can be entirely secular and it often is these days especially when applied to health. You may be interested in trying a new online course I have developed based on my own experience of using mindfulness and meditation for pain. Go to:

    best wishes

  • I’ve been in chronic pain most of my life. I was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatiod Arthritis in ’88 when I was two years old. Every movement causes me pain. Not agony, but its painful nonetheless. I was fifteen when I was finally put on any sort of pain medication. Its always been very active and my disease has progressed to the point that I’ve had both hips replaced [in ’07 when I was twenty] and I had a partial right shoulder replacement because it deteriorated in less than ten months leaving me in absolute constant pain. I’ve always delt with it as it came, when it came. As a result of my pain, my heartbeat is a little higher than it ought to be [the adrenaline].
    I have always delt with it as it came, when it came. I only recently thought not to push my way or sit my way through it. But to calm down and breathe my way through the pain. I’ll still worry about the future, about my future, but it’ll help to know that even though I can’t control my pain [or the variables that can bring it on], I can control how I deal with it when it’s really bad. It just took me twenty-three years to realize. Well, better now than later…

  • Dear Jamie

    Thanks for sharing your experience. You have lived with pain for a long time and I am so happy to hear you have found a way to live with it, rather than fight it. It sounds like you are only 25 so this is actually very young to have this kind of insight so although you feel its taken you a long time, you are now at a place of real potential for peace of mind and heart. I have just completed an online ‘mindufulness for health’ course that you may be interested in trying. It will give you a structured programme of mindfulness and skills to work with breath and acceptance over 8 weeks. Go to:
    best wishes Vidyamala

  • I started having back pain in 2008. It got so bad I had to stop working. I had operations on my back and knee but the pain was still there. It was so bad that I couldn’t ride in a car I would have to have my wife pull over it hurt so bad. Last august I was able to get a handle on it so that it was not so bad. Then in Sept I got hit by a bus and ended up with a broken leg and broken ribs. I am back on pain killers which I had weened myself of last August. I saw a program on meditation on PBS I ordered the package but it hasn’t arrived yet. I found your site I am trying to find a way to get control of this without drugs


    • Hi, David.

      I’m very sorry to hear all that you’ve been through. Have you tried looking for a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) class in your area? It’s a tried, tested, and proven meditation-based method of reducing pain.

      All the best,

  • Hi David,

    thanks so much for sharing your story.

    Vidyamala asked me to write to you on her behalf and to give you the link to her book:-

    The web address is here and on it, you will find information about the online Breathworks course, as well as the other resources that I’m sure you’ll find helpful as you deal with your difficult circumstances.

    The online course may be ideal for you as it was designed for those living with a chronic condition, who may be housebound or for whatever reason can’t access a course run by a trainer in their area.

    Vidyamala has asked me to wish you well and, having done the course myself as well as now training to be a trainer, I feel sure you will find it so helpful.

    best wishes


  • please let me know the best cd i can order for pain. I have lower limb neurapathy, burning foot pain , tendonitis in both hands and back pain

  • HI Frank.

    I am so sorry to hear about your pain. I would concur with Bodhipaksa re Jon Kabat-Zinn’s CD. If you want more guided meditations then I would recommend the Body Scan I recorded that is specifically for people with pain, that is available on the wildmind store. Happy xmas and New Year!

  • Hi I think I was meant to find this website. I have had arthritis since I was 11years old I have also been diagnosed with a.bowel disorder and fibromyalgia I have taken loads of different medications all causing other side effects and problems. I have lived with constant suffering for 27 years I still work full time and am a carer for my elderly father I refuse to give in. I know this pain will not last forever all things will pass so I stay strong. I would love to attend a breathworks course in the evenings or preferably on a saturday I live in Manchester. Thanks Mary x

  • Hi Mary,
    I am responding to you as Vidyamala is away at the moment. Thank you for your email. Although it sounds like you live with incredibly challenging circumstances, you also seem determined, enthusiastic and positive. I have lived with chronic pain since I was 19 (29 years ago) and can assure you that, for me, attending a Breathworks course was a turning point in my relationship to my pain, circumstances, work, relationships – everything.
    There a couple of choices for you at the moment regarding Breathworks courses. A distance learning online course will begin on March 11th which was very successfully trialed last year and is currently available at a reduced cost of £110-. For information about that , please follow the link below.
    If you would prefer to attend the course in person then you can contact the Manchester Breathworks office on 0161 834 1110 to put your name on the waiting list for the next course – date to be confirmed.
    If you need any more assistance from me, please call me on 0121 454 7646 and I will do whatever I can to help.
    All the best,

  • Hi, I’m a 45 year old female, I am suffering from CRPS Nerve dama ge in my left foot due to a surgical procedure. Ive been in pain now for the past 7/8 years, ive not been able to work for the past year, but ive been unable to fulfil my work commitments for the past 4years. Because its nerve damage the pain travels up my leg into the lower part of my back and sometimes into my left arm, all the pain is on my left hand side. I followed a link to you which was sent by my friend, in hope that you could give me some information on what kind of meditation I could use to perhaps alleviate some of my pain.
    Kind regards

  • Hi Lyn,
    thank you for getting in touch. My name is Karen & I am replying on behalf of Vidyamala, who is away at the moment. I am sorry to hear you’ve been through such difficult times for the last 8 years. Pain and all it’s effects on our lives can be unbearably difficult at times.
    You asked for some information on the kinds of meditation that would help to alleviate your pain. I suggest finding a local course that teaches mindfulness meditation. At Breathworks, we teach mindfulness on our ‘Living well with pain & illness’ courses – you can find the locations of accredited Breathworks teachers on our website –
    If there are no courses starting just now, there are lots of C.D’s with guided mindfulness meditations available which you can begin to use at home until you find a course locally – again, our online shop has several of those available, that we use on our courses for people living with chronic pain.
    Your library can get you a copy of Vidyamala’s book, ‘Living well with pain & illness: the art of living mindfully’, which other people have found helpful in learning to live with their chronic condition. I’ve attached a link below to an interview with Vidyamala where she talks about her history and how mindfulness meditation helped her to improve her quality of life – it has a short guided meditation at the very end of the interview.
    There are great books by Jon Kabat-Zinn on this subject and he also has a series of guided meditation CD’s that you might find helpful.
    There are online Breathworks mindfulness courses available, but if you can find a course in your vicinity, I recommend joining it. In my own experience pain can be isolating for many people and we can become depressed by its constant presence as well as the impacts on other aspects of our lives – doing a course with a group of people who have similar experiences to our own and who can understand what we’re going through can bring great relief as well as introduce a social interaction that can be incredibly positive & uplifting.
    There may be a pain management center near you (do you have a pain consultant who is helping you manage your condition – they might have more information on this subject too) that runs courses that include mindfulness meditation or there may be a support group or charity that funds courses like our Living Well with Pain & Illness course.
    If you would like to speak to me to learn a little more about what the courses involve, please call me on 0788 912 9628 and I’ll give you more information. I hope that this reply is helpful and if I can do anything else, please don’t hesitate to get in touch,

  • Dear Lynda I’m very sorry to hear about your pain which sounds very tough. Thanks for reaching out. I think the best thing would be for you to join one of our online groups for a 10 week mindfulness for health course. This is designed specifically for people like you. Go to for more info. If you’re just looking for a meditation then I recommend the boy scan which you can get from the wild mind store. I wish you all the very best. Vidyamala

  • Hello again. Karen has written a very good reply. And I recommended the ‘boy scan’ which my be a novel meditation, but of course I meant the ‘body scan’. Best wishes with your journey

  • I have been in pain for some 30 years due to multiple health issues. In recent years the very ovetstretched NHS has had me on their wards.I have found the understaffing has led to a more and more ‘unkind’ environment in which basic physical needs are not met,neglect is constant,and medical mistakes constant. Ihave to continuallyvbe on my toes to ensure I am getting the correct treatment.My GP has been fantastic and very much on my side,and at various points I have had apologies for poor hospital care -some written.Nursing staff lack not only basic knowledge but have become hardened by poor working conditions and staff shortages.I am now being treated for anxiety caused by my hospital stays and my difficult experiences. I often feel dehumanised and frightened in hospital. I have frequentlyseen others experience similar fear. How can I learn to cope better in these brutal places,and find some peace amidst the pain,noise and chaos?

    • Hi Shirley.

      In the circumstances you describe, I’d suggest lovingkindness meditation — both directed at yourself and at those around you. When you direct lovingkindness at yourself, make sure that you accept your own suffering, and treat it with tenderness and care. And direct your kindness toward others as well; this will take your mind off of yourself and help you feel better. And it’ll also help you be sympathetic to the staff as they do their impossible job.

      It’s such a shame that modern management does this to people. It’s so short-sighted.

  • Post Script to my previous comment and question. Almost always patients support each other- both in practical help, and in trying to find something to smile about, but my fear and anxiety gets worse each time I am admitted,and tethered to my bed there is no place to be still and quiet. I say all this not to critisise staff who are usually working more than flat out,but because I believe this is now becoming a more and more common experience for people like myself faced with chronic conditions and pain.

  • I am somewhat surprised to read,if indeed I did read it correctly,that an ordained Buddhist with the number of years and ensuing benefits Vidyamala has attained from her practice that she would form a company to help fellow Chronic Pain Sufferers. As a Novice Buddhist myself and having traveled extensively in Buddhist countries I have always been given anything that was on offer,but with the understanding that if I were able to afford a donation,it would be most appreciated,but by no means expected or would I receive anything other than the best of what the particular Buddhist establishment had on offer.Non-attachment is possibly THE most important tenet of the Buddha’s Teachings as it can only bring suffering. If I have misunderstood or skim-read the Business model above,I apologize. Shanti

  • Dear Kerry
    I can understand your concerns and your questions. I would like to reassure you that Breathworks is a Community Interest Company (CIC) registered in the UK which means it is not-for-profit company. This type of organisation is also known as a ‘social enterprise’ which means it is part of the voluntary and non-profit sector. We also have bursary funds available to people who are experiencing hardship as part our sister charity ‘The Breathworks Foundation’. Like you, I believe wholeheartedly in Buddhist values such as generosity and non-attachment and have tried to live by these in my own life and in the establishment of Breathworks. I hope this clarifies things for you. Thanks for raising your questions.

  • First off, thank you Vidyamala for your years’ worth of replies on this page. I’ve been very touched reading through them.

    I did sitting zazen for a number of years before my neck and back pain progressed from a periodic nag to a full-time ordeal. Unfortunately any of the various unsupported sitting postures that I’ve tried lead to quite a bit of extra pain, which can persist for anywhere from several hours to several days after a sitting period, despite medication, stretching, exercise, massage, injections, acupuncture, etc., etc. This led me to stop meditating for a number of years, but I’m at a point in my life where I’m very interested in taking it up again.

    There is another excellent page on this site about lying postures for meditation, and I’ve played around with various configurations and been quite successful with them at times. I’ve found that even meditating for half an hour with my body *actually relaxed* can result in a meditative state that I would previously only achieve after many long hours of sitting upright, which is an interesting observation itself. Nonetheless, there are periods of time where no matter what I do, being still for any length of time, either with or without my neck supported, causes a considerable amount of pain that I would not have otherwise experienced. When one of these periods starts, I am constantly debating whether it is worth it to sit through the pain, and worry of this sort is a huge obstacle to meditation and can be very hard to dispel when the act itself is the cause of worry. I can actually sit with extreme pain quite peacefully, the problem is dealing with it off the mat. With work and family, pain creates a distraction from trying to be mindful and compassionate, and tying the proximate cause to meditation is problematic.

    I feel like I am performing a complex and laborious balancing act between peace of mind and exacerbated pain. Just curious if you have any more light to shed on the matter from your personal experience.

  • Hi Kai I am v sorry for not replying sooner. I have been away and then a dear friend died suddenly. I am interested in your post. When you say sitting zazen does this mean you have been following zen approach? I haven’t followed zen myself but get the impression that sitting still for long periods is recommended? If this is the case, then I feel you could follow your new approach of relaxing the body as much as possible during meditation to see what effect that has. You could even focus on body scans for a while which have very little ‘effort’ involved. I would also recommend that you allow yourself to move during meditation if you feel pain building. One can get good at sitting through pain in meditation, as you say, but then the tension that has built in the body will spill over into daily life – sometimes I refer to this as ‘crash landing back in the body’ and it can be counter productive. So i would follow the meditative relaxation approach and see how it goes. I’d be interested to hear!

    Thanks again for writing

  • Hi Vidyamala,

    Sorry as well for my own late reply. I’m sorry to hear about your friend passing.

    “Zazen” literally means “sitting zen.” When I practiced with a group, we generally sat for 25 minute periods followed by 10 or so minutes of walking meditation. I think the format would look familiar to most western vipassana meditators. Zen meditation typically falls into two camps – koan study, and shikantaza, or “just sitting.” I’ve heard various descriptions of what “just sitting” means, exactly, but my current practice is effectively breath awareness, or “becoming the breath”, and watching thoughts and experiences come and go. It’s another form of mindfulness meditation. I’ve also seen metta meditation and chanting worked into the practice before.

    The emphasis on sitting, per se, is somewhat problematic. I think that over the last month I’ve arrived at a better physical configuration for meditation, which is to be reclined on an oversized cushion, head supported by a pillow, at about a 30-45 degree angle from vertical. This does afford a certain opportunity for increased relaxation, as you noted, which it seems can facilitate both a deep meditative state and a fast track to falling asleep, if not careful. At any rate, it’s what I have to work with, and I’m thankful that I had several years’ practice sitting upright to have a baseline for comparison. I think the ‘crash landing back in the body’ is a great description, and I am inclined to agree that I should avoid going to extremes at this point if possible. Thanks for the feedback, and gassho!

  • well, I thought I had a lot of pain till I read some of these emails! I have a history with meditation but now I’m older and having arthritis and degeneration in my neck and upper back. Sitting on a zafu sometimes is ok and other times I have a lot of pain which makes it pretty unbearable. It sounds like you are suggesting a kind of mindfulness on the pain itself. If you could email me some useful advice I would be grateful. I really want to continue practicing but I’m really wondering if i’ll be able to do floor sitting. thanks, kym.

  • Hi Kym many thanks for your post. Sorry to hear about your pain. At risk of being self-promoting I think the best thing is for you to get a copy of my book YOU ARE NOT YOUR PAIN which has just been released in the USA. It is an 8 week programme and goes into lots of different ways to work with pain in meditation. It is available from Macmillan here: and of course Good luck! best wishes Vidyamala

  • Dear Kym, Vidyamala has a new book out – follow this link to read some reviews but more importantly, scroll down to the bottom where you’ll find some links a selection of short guided mindfulness practices you can use to help manage your pain. There are also links on where you can get the books in a variety of formats. Once you have access to that, you’ll find lots of suggestions about how to practice even when living with chronic pain. If you would like to learn more try

  • Hello Vidyamala my name is Jennie and I have had chronic back pain for four years. I am now 31 and just about managing to keep my job. I am scared of my future as the thought of carrying a child on top of the back pain I experience is very daunting and yet I cannot see my life without children in it. I have not been diagnosed with an illness but I am taking nerve pain medication called Prrgabalin of which doesn’t seem to work. I have tried mindfulness and meditation and I am awaiting a course in cbt pain management. I find that mindfullness helps


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