Meditation NOT Medication for Pain

Meditation has always been something I toyed with trying. It was always on the perimeter of my life. From taking Yoga and studying it, I knew it was a tool that could be used for healing from the inside out. So, after my years of dealing with back pain, it seemed yet another avenue to uncover.

About 1 year ago the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told doctors they should really think twice before prescribing opioids for chronic pain.


Doctors are now saying that meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy often work better than pain medication and other medical treatments for chronic low back pain.


Recently the Journal of the American Medical Association measured the value of mindfulness based stress reduction, with a program developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in the 1970’s.  Cognitive behavioural therapy helps reframe negative thoughts and is considered an evidence based treatment for chronic pain.


A test was conducted on 342 participants that had suffered back pain for at least the better part of a year. They were offered either 8 classes of cognitive behavioral therapy; 8 classes of mindfulness training; or they could choose to keep doing what they had been doing.


The mindfulness training group included meditation with yoga instruction and CDS they could use at home – 43.6% said they had meaningful reduction in pain 26 weeks later.


The cognitive behavioral therapy group had 44% significant improvements and that compares to the 26.6% in the usual care group.  This is despite the fact that most people did not attend all 8 classes of their programs.


According to Daniel Cherkin, a senior investigator at the Group Health Research Institute of Massachusetts Medical Center – who has been doing research for 30 years…


“The biggest revolution has been the understanding that its not just a physical problem with physical solutions, it’s a” biopsychosocial problem” – which attributes disease outcome to the following factors:   biological factors (genetic, biochemical, etc), psychological factors (mood, personality, behavior, etc.), and social factors (cultural, familial, socioeconomic, medical, etc.).


So, in my mind this means that we almost have to add mindful meditation to the prescription for people with back pain, and/or chronic pain, as it would only add to the healing process.


Now, don’t get me wrong I believe all the scientific backing on meditation but I when I recalled the times in my life that I would try various “moments” of deep breathing from being stressed it was literally 10 deep breathes holding each for 5 seconds and releasing.  That’s it, all done! YEAH, ME!


Those ten seconds were the fastest 10 seconds in the world.  I would speed through the count like I was in some race and would think to myself, (“This is a great mini version of meditation that I can do anywhere”.  I am the master of meditation now; I am rocking this! I am so Zen! When truthfully I needed someone to say to  me that meditation isn’t like ordering through the take out restaurant and rushing off. But, off I went with one check on my completed to do list and egocentrically thought, I am meditating!


At that time, I actually really was stressed. I was 23 years old and my dad died suddenly, I was working at a job that I hoped would turn into full time as I was living on my own and needed to pay the rent, and I was in a relationship that I knew wasn’t going to end in marriage, so something had to be done about it.  A lot of stress.


My deep breathing moments were not consistent enough to yield real lasting results, but I did feel better afterwards, if only for a nanosecond.


At 44 I like to take things slower…really savour them, so I decided to try meditation and keep an ongoing log of it during and afterwards.


In September, I decided to join a regular yoga class to get out and “treat” myself to the things I enjoy.  Moonstone Healing Art is located about 5 minutes from my house in Newtonville and has been there for years. I had driven by the sign many times on my way home from picking the kids up from school and would think to myself… “One day”.


While that one day finally came and what a pleasant surprise to find a little gemstone only blocks away. The teacher named Sabine, had also studied with my first teacher Maureen Daigle from Inner Quest Yoga. What a small world, but I also took it as a sign that I was in the right place.


The class was an hour and half and I was like a cat on a hot tin roof! I couldn’t sit still for fear that my back “might bother me” or “might lock up”. Sabine was more than reassuring that we just let out bodies do what feels comfortable. While nothing felt comfortable at all, and this wasn’t how I remember my body feeling when I was in my twenties, but what could I do? I was at the class and couldn’t run out the door like I wanted.


The first five minutes of the glass consisted of mindfulness meditation with Sabine’s gentle voice guiding us. My heart was pounding and again, I could not sit still. I was trying to race through every breath hoping it would advance time at super warp speed so I could hustle my butt out of there!


But, as minute two approached (yes, I was counting), I felt my breathing slow down some what.  A calmness that I hadn’t felt in decades passed over me and I suddenly had an awakening that you hear when some people meditate. “I should teach this, because I am so good at this, I am great!  I feel alive, I am super meditator right now!  At that point, 3 minutes had passed in total! Yep, still counting in my head and not near relaxed at all but I’m a good convincer!


In my head, I’m screaming…. what I have another 5 minutes of this? You have got to be kidding me.  While I knew I wasn’t going to high tail it out of there, so I breathed into my ego and racing mind and really tried to relax…


I noticed over the course of the week that I was breathing deeper and not “snapping” as much with my children so I attended a second class the following week. I was secretly enjoying the class while at the same time having a dichotomy of divided thoughts. Sitting still versus get up and go. The second class went much smoother in my mind and as I attended more classes, I was breathing deeper and more calmly than the classes that proceeded the last.


I noticed too that I wasn’t taking my regular turmeric every morning either, as my back felt good.    I’ve been attending classes now for over 8 weeks and in December we will be doing only meditation for the entire month! I can’t wait to see how that feels and what pops into my head during those sessions.


I’m definitely a work in progress. My inner monologue during most classes thus far goes something like this:

I should take off my sweater. I might get cold though. What if I sit too long and my back hurts, will someone help me up? Okay, stop thinking. Breath. Did I turn the oven off when I left?  I wonder if Steve will notice if it’s on.  I wonder what the kids are doing.  Okay, Dana stop thinking and breath. Breathing, breathing. Oh, I am good. I’m so Zen again.   I wonder if the woman sitting next to me is relaxed? Maybe she fell asleep? What if I fall asleep? I hope I don’t snore.


My least favourite word is snore…I mean listen to how it sounds when you say it. It’s just a pointless word. Why didn’t’ they call snoring, nose maker…like noise maker because that’s what it does.


Bunnies are cute. We get a lot of them in our yard. I love living in the country. I hope we don’t ever have to move. Stop thinking! Breath. Okay.  If I can accomplish quality meditation in record time than maybe I only need to do it for 15 minutes instead of 30 minutes!  I have a craving for chocolate. I think I should have some when I get home for being so still for so long. Yes, I’m going to do that.


But, what I’ve noticed over time, is that my inner voice does eventually become quiet and so too has my back pain.

This article, and the products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please see your health care provider before taking any supplements or starting a new program.

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