The Power of Mindfulness in Healing Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is hard, especially when we don’t know why we’re experiencing it. In this post, I talk about a fortuitous event that provided an answer, and how my background in Buddhism led to lasting solutions.

The truth is I had been suffering from back spasms and chronic pain for years. Then one snowy day when my flight was delayed, I came across a book titled, “Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection,” by Dr. John Sarno. This book confirmed something I had suspected all along: chronic pain is almost always a mind-body condition. 

Other terms used are psychogenic and psychosomatic, but what do they really mean?

In short, mind is the real source of a condition that manifests as pain or dis-ease in the body. Deep breath. That doesn’t mean the pain isn’t real or that nothing’s going on physically. It’s not “all in your head” as they say. Yet, something taking place in the mind is resulting in real pain in the body. This was good news for me for two reasons:

  • First, my pain was getting to the point where I thought I had some undiagnosed degenerative disease. I was scared, thinking if it didn’t kill me, it would soon leave me disabled. So, to hear Dr. Sarno say that Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS)– the mind-body chronic pain condition I experience–results in no severe or lasting physical damage was a tremendous relief.
  • Secondly, my extensive background in Buddhist philosophy and mindfulness meditation had taught me that it’s possible to resolve our issues by working with our mind and emotions. In a way, I already had the knowledge and skills I needed to beat this thing. I just had to figure out how to apply them.

How I’m Applying Mindfulness to the Problem of Chronic Pain

Knowing how to relate to the thinking mind and process emotions are important skills to have yet few people take the time to acquire them. I’m, of course, still learning. And now I’m translating it all into ways to overcome pain. I do feel confident though. Things are moving in the right direction.

Since applying mindfulness directly to my condition, I’m experiencing much less pain overall. I’m also happy to say it’s been a while since I’ve had any serious muscle spasms (knock on wood). I’m always mindfully coming back to my body both in formal meditation and throughout the day. I have a lot of deep habits to work through though. Slowing down helps.

Most importantly, perhaps, I’m learning to relax with who I am (even with all my foibles and flaws). You see, perfectionism and people pleasing (yep, that’s me) are strong indicators of the personality type that tends to develop chronic pain in the first place. So, I’m using mindfulness to release self-judgment while appreciating myself just the way I am.

In the end, I do believe that when chronic pain is psychogenic in origin, it can be alleviated. Just knowing the source of the pain can be liberating in and of itself. Then, finding new ways to approach life, especially through the power of mindfulness, sets us squarely on a course of correction. This in turn opens up the possibility for a pain free life.

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Kimberly Holman

Kimberly Holman is a certified Mindfulness Meditation Teacher (MMT) with a B.A. in psychology from the University of Maine and an M.A in religious studies from Naropa University.