Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Management

Mindfulness meditation is a practice that welcomes you into the present moment. When dealing with the discomfort of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, it may seem counterintuitive to check-in with the current moment. Instead, you may find yourself searching for external ways to make the pain go away.


Facing the full experience of pain, by slowing down and deep breathing can help dissipate the discomfort. Learn how with these easy ways to practice mindfulness meditation for pain management.


What is mindfulness meditation?


Simply put, meditation is focusing your attention on one thing for a period of time. It’s a practice that incorporates the body and mind. It has been used for ages to promote mental calmness and physical relaxation but now is more mainstream. A 2017 National Health Interview Survey found that U.S. adults who used meditation in the past 12 months, tripled between 2012 and 2017.


Mindfulness is defined by scientific research as awareness and nonjudgmental acceptance of one’s moment-to-moment experience. This includes observing thoughts, feelings, sensations, and the environment. Accepting whatever is going on in the moment, without labeling it as “good” or “bad”; recognizing that it simply “is”.


“It’s (mindfulness) a gateway into the full dimensionality of being human and being alive.” Jon Kabat-Zinn in Oprah Winfrey’s The Wisdom of Sundays.


Meditation for chronic disease


Meditation has been scientifically suggested to be help conditions such as high blood pressure, some psychological disorders, and pain. Some research states that practicing it on a regular basis may soften symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), flare-ups in ulcerative colitis, anxiety, and depression, and insomnia. This is partly due to the fact that meditation can help decrease the stress response.



Meditation for pain management


Stress is feeling emotional or physical tension. In small doses, it can be a positive thing, helping us avoid threats or increase motivation. As part of the stress response, our bodies produce hormones to “get us going” and out of danger’s way. When hormones such as cortisol, are elevated for an extended period of time, inflammation is increased and immunity is lowered. Inflammation can cause pain and worsen IBD symptoms.


Mindfulness meditation has been suggested to help people suffering from chronic inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and IBD. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) found that mindfulness meditation helps control pain without the brain’s naturally occurring opiates. So combining mindfulness with pain medications and activities that activate the brain’s opioid region can be particularly effective.


The NCCIH had another study examined adults, aged 20 to 70, with chronic low back pain. They either received mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) training, cognitive behavioral training (CBT), or standard care. The MBSR and CBT participants had similar levels of improvement, which was better than those who were given standard care.



How to practice mindfulness meditation


Just like any behavior change, mindfulness meditation is individual. What works for you may not work for someone else. There are many different types of meditation and it’s important to find what suits you best. The main goal of the practice you adopt is to quiet your mind and focus on the present moment.


The four main elements you’ll need for mindfulness meditation are a:

Quiet space with as few distractions as possible.
Comfortable posture (sitting, lying down, walking, stretching).
Focused attention on a mantra or breath.
Open mind, allowing thoughts and distractions to come and pass without judgment.


Let’s get started


To get started, sit or lie down in a comfortable, quiet place. The key is to be relaxed but not sleeping. It’s best to have no or few interruptions. If it feels good, close your eyes and begin to breathe normally.


It’s normal for thoughts to come and go. Observe them without judgment. Pretend they’re clouds passing by. Or similar to how you close tabs on your computer at the end of the day, think about closing the thoughts that aren’t needed in this moment.


When you focus on the breath, expand your belly then exhale slowly, contract the belly as you breathe out. Imagine letting go of stress or tension as you exhale.


After a few deep breaths, drop into this moment as it is. Can you experiment with simply being with sounds and sensations? The feel of the breath coming in and out of your body. Can you notice the entirety of the body? Just as it is.


Can you focus on an area of your body that is not hurting at this moment? Connecting the breath as you simply observe. Now can you be aware of a place in your body that is hurting? Even for the briefest of moments, trying to have a quick glimpse of that…


What was that like? How is it now that you’ve come in and out of that experience of pain? If you can feel whatever you were able to feel, you’re well on the way to developing a new and potentially healing relationship with your pain.



Patience is part of the practice


Just like life, there can be good days and not so good days when it comes to meditating. Remind yourself that it’s a practice so it takes time to get used to. Start with a few minutes of deep breathing each day. Then try to work up to about 15-20 minutes. What’s most important is to practice being aware and present, as often as possible.




This article has been written by Lisa Booth, registered dietitian and nutritionist, and co-founder of Nori Health. Content is based on her professional knowledge and our collection of 100+ scientific research study papers.