5 ways to ease pain using the mind-body connection

I smashed my elbow a few weeks ago. There was no bone break — just a bad bruise after slipping in the kitchen and landing on my arm — but at times the pain has been excruciating. So I’ve been following doctor’s orders: babying my elbow, icing it, and taking an occasional over-the-counter painkiller. (PS: I wear sneakers in the kitchen now.)

Something else has helped, too: mind-body therapies. These approaches aim to change our awareness of pain and retrain the way we respond to it. The therapies can help us control pain — such as long-lasting back pain — or live with it better. While these techniques won’t erase pain, they can help change perception of pain intensity through distraction, relaxation, and reframing our thoughts.

Five mind-body therapies to consider for pain relief

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This talk therapy teaches people to redirect their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in response to chronic pain. For example, when a pain flare-up strikes, instead of bracing yourself and thinking, “Oh no, here it comes again,” tell yourself you’ve handled this before, and focus instead on your favorite place in the world: picture it in your mind, and feel how happy or relaxed you are when you’re there. A therapist trained in CBT can train you to hone your skills.

Deep breathing. We typically take short little breaths without noticing our breathing, especially when we’re in pain. Focusing on breathing and taking deep breaths quiets the mind and induces the relaxation response, a well-studied physiologic response that counteracts the stress response, and may lessen chronic pain severity. To practice deep breathing:

  • Breathe in slowly through your nose, allowing your chest and lower belly to rise as you fill your lungs completely.
  • Now exhale slowly through your mouth or nose.
  • Practice deep breathing for several minutes.

Meditation. Like deep breathing, meditating triggers the relaxation response and may reduce the perception of pain. You can use many methods to meditate, such as transcendental meditation (repeating a word, phrase, or sound to quiet your thoughts); yoga (a series of strengthening and stretching postures combined with breathing techniques); or mindfulness meditation (focusing objectively on negative thoughts as they move through your mind, so you can achieve a state of calm).

One simple way to meditate:

  • Sit quietly, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing.
  • Say a word such as “peace” or “one” each time you exhale.
  • Don’t worry about thoughts that come to mind; you can come back to them later. Continue to repeat your word and focus on breathing.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). This approach combines mindfulness meditation and yoga to build awareness and acceptance of moment-to-moment experiences, including pain. A 2019 study published in the journal Evidence-Based Mental Health found MBSR was just as effective as CBT at reducing pain and depression, and improving physical functioning, compared with usual care or no care. You’ll find MBSR programs at hospitals, universities, and meditation centers, and online videos.

Relaxation. Relaxation techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation, may also help reduce the perception of pain. To try progressive muscle relaxation, start with your facial muscles and work your way down the body. Tighten each muscle or muscle group for 20 seconds before slowly releasing the contraction. As the muscle relaxes, concentrate on the release of tension and the sensation of relaxation.

Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren

Colossians 4:12 Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.

2 Corinthians 10:15-16 not boasting beyond our measure, that is, in other men’s labors, but with the hope that as your faith grows, we will be, within our sphere, enlarged even more by you, so as to preach the gospel even to the regions beyond you, and not to boast in what has been accomplished in the sphere of another.

2 Thessalonians 1:3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater;

2 Peter 3:18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

Ephesians 1:17-18 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,

Ephesians 3:16-19 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, read more.

Colossians 1:10 so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;

2 Peter 1:3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.

1 Thessalonians 4:10 for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more,

Philippians 1:9 And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment,

1 Thessalonians 3:12 and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you;

2 Peter 1:7-8 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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