Enlightened Events Blog

Mindfulness and chronic pain with Georgie Davidson

Trina Bawden-Smith - Thursday, March 23, 2017
Since 1979 mindfulness has been weaving its way into western healthcare. 
Jon Kabat-Zinn taught the first Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course, to people who were suffering despite receiving the best medical care (Kabat-Zinn 1990). Over thirty years later there is now considerable clinical and physiological evidence for the efficacy of MBSR for a range of health issues.

So how can a practice that sounds simple and ‘non medical’ help the complex and often treatment resistant issue of chronic pain? To answer this question we need to better understand the nature of chronic pain.

How can mindfulness help? 

Mindfulness offers a person in pain a way to pay attention to what is happening in their body-mind. When an attitude of approach and curiosity is brought to the investigation, new ways of seeing the situation arise with a more accepting relationship to pain. There is less struggle and with less struggle there is a calming of the stress response, balancing of hormones and immune factors and an improved brain environment for new connections to form. The normal human response to challenge is to try to problem solve with lots of thinking. This doesn't work when the problem is in the body. Ruminating thought processes actually trigger the danger response causing more pain. Mindfulness offers a switch from thinking to feeling, with a tuning into the sensations of the body. Noticing sensations during the practices of body scan meditation, sitting meditation and mindful movement can help to shift patterns of emotional reactivity. Structural changes occur in the brain in regions responsible for attention and emotional regulatory processes, memory, self-referential processing, empathy, self-compassion and perspective taking (Holzel et al 2011a,b). More flexible connections in the brain occur so there is less getting stuck in automatic patterns of reverberating pain or worrying thoughts (Kerr et al 2013). This offers a new perspective with space for appreciation of beauty, engagement in creative pursuits and personal empowerment.

A question often asked is - why would someone with pain want to observe it? It’s a good question because it does sound quite cruel to ask someone to inhibit their natural reaction to get away from pain. When we turn away from feeling our present moment physical and emotional pain we also turn away from truly feeling our full range of sensory and emotional experiences. The present moment is the space of seeing the colours of the sunrise, feeling the gentle warmth of the sun on your skin, hearing the symphony of birdsong. It is the experiencing of peace and joy. It is the learning about personal patterns that may trigger or exacerbate the pain. It is the seeing of pain as a medley of shifting moment to moment sensations rather than being the rigid truth. It is the place of forming an accepting and compassionate relationship to oneself. Not being able to access the richness, the beauty and the full potential that life has to offer - that is cruel. Mindfulness is certainly not an ‘easy’ path to follow but for many it’s a worthwhile journey.

A question often asked is - why would someone with pain want to observe it? It’s a good question because it does sound quite cruel to ask someone to inhibit their natural reaction to get away from pain. When we turn away from feeling our present moment physical and emotional pain we also turn away from truly feeling our full range of sensory and emotional experiences. The present moment is the space of seeing the colours of the sunrise, feeling the gentle warmth of the sun on your skin, hearing the symphony of birdsong. It is the experiencing of peace and joy. It is the learning about personal patterns that may trigger or exacerbate the pain. It is the seeing of pain as a medley of shifting moment to moment sensations rather than being the rigid truth. It is the place of forming an accepting and compassionate relationship to oneself.

Mindfulness is offering a new approach within our health care system. We are still at the threshold of understanding how it can be helpful for people with chronic pain but we have exciting times ahead. Mindfulness may offer a pathway to decreasing the massive burden to our society created by the epidemic of chronic pain. This is an extract from an article by Georgie Davidson. You can read the full article here.

To learn more about how mindfulness can change the lives of your clients and students living with pain, join us at the Australian Yoga Therapy Conference to learn from Georgie Davidson, pain specialist, musculoskeletal physiotherapist, Yoga and mindfulness teacher. 

In her presentation, you will learn 
an integrated approach to pain management that is guided by the 
latest developments in neuroscience, immunology, physiology and psychology and
specific practices that are beneficial when working with those with pain.