Don’t think meditation is just for new-age hippies. Scientists have found genuine benefits in ‘mindfulness’ – a combination of psychotherapy and meditation increasingly used by the NHS to treat disorders ranging from addiction to insomnia.
Regular practice of a few simple exercises can help to alleviate conditions by calming mind and body and breaking unhelpful thought patterns.
Here, in the first extract from his book, Dr Jonty Heaversedge describes an exercise that can help manage pain …
FOCUS ON BREATHING
Experience the sensation of air flowing into your nostrils, streaming down the back of your throat and into your lungs.
Notice the rising of your chest and the expansion of your abdomen as breath flows into your body. Feel the beating of your heart; visualise how it pumps oxygenated blood around your body.
Continue this awareness as you exhale, observing your breath as it merges with the air around you. Repeat until you feel ready to move on to the next stage.
ACKNOWLEDGE THE PAIN
Gently bring your awareness to your pain, even if your instinct is to recoil. Try to experience it fully: what kind of pain is it? Is it a long, dull ache or a sharp throbbing?
Investigate the shape and behaviour of your discomfort, without getting caught up in how it makes you feel emotionally.
When you are able to think about the sensation of your pain without strong emotions, slowly bring yourself back to how you feel towards it.
Are you trying to ignore it? Are you feeling hostile to it or desperately wanting it to stop? Notice these emotions in as friendly and compassionate way as possible.
RELEASE THE TENSION
Next, explore whether the pain in one place is causing tension elsewhere in your body, such as your shoulders, jaw or legs.
Release the tension if you’re holding it consciously but don’t struggle. If it seems stuck, accept it with as much compassion as you can.
GO WITH THE FLOW
Every time you breathe in, visualise your breath flowing into the painful part. With each exhalation, imagine the air flowing out of it, as if you are softly bathing the region with attention.
If this feels overwhelming, focus your mind back on simple breathing and allow the discomfort to exist at the fringes of your awareness.
Focus on other bodily sensations, such as where your body meets the ground or how your clothes feel against your skin.
DON’T GIVE UP
There is no right or wrong experience in mindfulness. Whether you find it scary, boring, frustrating or enjoyable, the practice is simply to notice the reactions themselves – to be with them and accept them as they are.
But this is not resignation. We are not giving up on our bodies, and we can continue to follow any sensible steps that are recommended by doctors.
We may still take medication, have surgery, or try some other form of therapy.
THE ICE-CUBE EXPERIMENT
During pain-free periods, try this experiment. Place a few ice cubes in a bowl. Take a few moments practising mindful breathing.
When you feel ready, place a cube in your hand, curl it into a fist and remember it is fine to put the ice back in the bowl at any time.
Now focus on your hand. Do the sensations change over time? Immerse yourself in the quality of the experience and notice how you automatically react.
Can you separate this reaction from the experience of the ice? If your attention strays from the sensation, gently bring it back. If the ice melts completely before you decide to stop, take another cube to see if the experience is any different.
Via the Daily Mail.