Meditation is one of the most powerful techniques for pain relief and prevention. The word meditation conjures up many different meanings, but here we are referring to a simple technique that combines relaxation training with attention training. In this form of meditation we relax and focus our awareness on something in the immediate present, such as our breathing. When the inevitable distracting thoughts arise we simply continue to relax and return our attention to our breathing. How can something so simple help with pain relief?  It works because it operates strongly on three of the SEAT components of pain -- Emotion, Attention, and Thought. As we discussed in the last two lessons, relaxation training, which is part of meditation, helps eliminate the fight or flight Emotional response of pain. Second, meditation helps us learn to focus our Attention. We can learn to turn our attention away from the sensation of pain.  We can even learn to turn our attention toward the sensation, which in many cases has a paradoxical healing effect, as we will explore later.  Finally, meditation creates a distance between ourselves and our Thoughts and Emotions. As we sit and watch our thoughts and emotions arise and fall, it creates a separation from them -- an understanding that our thoughts and emotions are not us. They are always changing, and they will pass. This gives hope for the future. No matter how horrible our thoughts may seem, they will change. Meditation helps us become aware of our thoughts and emotions as they arise, so we can relate TO them rather than FROM them. For example, we may notice anger rising, and then we can choose how we want to deal with it. This is different from blindly reacting from the anger. Remember that negative thoughts feed negative emotions and create more suffering, so it is important to be aware of our thoughts and emotions, and not get lost in our thoughts and swept away by our emotions.  For the same reason, meditation helps with the depersonalization of pain, which takes pain out of the personal and puts it into the universal or global. It is not "poor me" suffering with this horrible pain anymore, it is simply THE pain. It is important to realize that meditation for pain relief requires practice, and it is best to practice when you are not in pain.  One of the best types of meditation for pain relief we call "Relaxed Focusing". In Relaxed Focusing you learn to get into a deeply relaxed state.  You also learn to maintain a highly focused attention on a single point. Both these skills require practice, just like learning to ride a bike. Neither relaxing on demand nor intently focusing attention come easily for most people, and combining them is even more difficult. We are trying to achieve a state that doesn't occur often in normal, daily life.  Usually, when we are paying rapt attention to something, our bodies tend to tense up. An example is when we are watching an exciting sports event. When we are very relaxed, on the other hand, our minds tend to wander.  That's why we need practice to be able to relax and focus at the same time. Here are some instructions for practicing Relaxed Focusing. First, sit up straight in your chair and relax. Close your eyes and rest your hands comfortably on your thighs or in your lap. Next, take a deep breath and hold it for a count of three, then exhale with a sigh, letting go of all the tension in your body. Repeat this three times. When you breathe in, remember to breathe into your abdomen. Relax and soften your tummy, and let it swell outward on the in breath, while keeping your chest relaxed. In the beginning, you may want to place your hand against your navel to make sure your tummy is relaxed and swelling on the in-breaths. The reason for this "stomach breathing" is that it is just the opposite of what happens with the defensive reaction. After the three deep breaths, continue breathing through your stomach, and with each exhale let go of all your body tension. As you continue to relax, search your body for any tension, paying particular attention to your face, your jaw, your shoulders, back, chest, and stomach. If you find any tightness or tension, focus your awareness there and let go of the tension with your exhale. When you are completely relaxed, bring your attention gently to one specific sensation or part of your body, and keep it focused there. You could bring your attention to the bridge of your nose, or to the top of your head, or to anywhere you want. Most people find it easiest to bring their attention to the feeling of air as it moves through the entrance to their nostrils, so try that first. You want to have a highly focused attention on one point, just like a cat stalking a mouse, but with a completely quiet and relaxed body. Your attention will wander occasionally. This is normal and it happens to everyone. When this happens, gently bring your attention back to the feeling of air at the entrance to your nostrils. Remember that the goal of this exercise is to relax and let go of struggling and defensiveness, so it is important that you do not get frustrated. The more you practice the easier it will be to remain focused on one point. When you find yourself thinking or daydreaming, just acknowledge that fact, and gently return your focus to your breathing. You want to remain calm and undistracted, so it is important that you not fight or vigorously reject the thoughts, or become attached to them and try to make them continue. In a nutshell, don't fight the thoughts and don't feed them. Just notice them and let them go. Another thing that will help you is to count your breaths. This gives your "thinking mind" something to do, so that stray thoughts will distract you less. Count "one" on the first out-breath, then count "two" on the second out-breath. Continue doing this until you get to ten, then start over. It's common to lose count, especially in the beginning. Don't worry or fret about this at all -- the most important thing is to remain relaxed. If you lose count, start over again at "one". Some people find it difficult to meditate this way and prefer to concentrate on a mantra or sound. You should practice this for about ten minutes, once or twice a day. You can do it for more than ten minutes at a time, but it is better not to try it for more than about 25 minutes or so at one sitting. One of the best times is in the morning, after you are fully awake, but before you get busy with other things. It will get the day off to a relaxed, aware start.  Another good time is at night, right before you go to bed.  Relaxed focusing will help you fall asleep.  The more you practice, the easier it will be to relax and to keep your attention on one point. Next lesson we'll explore how to use this technique for the relief of specific problems such as migraine headache and backache. ================================================= The Role of Trust in Pain Relief, by Dr. Denny Wayman [Note - We are pleased to present this contribution by Dr. Denny Wayman, pastor of the Free Methodist Church in Santa Barbara. Denny has done considerable work in how Trust influences the quality of our lives and our relationships. When we are in great physical or emotional pain, it often seems that life, the Universe, or God is against us. Yet a renewed trust may be just the thing we need to help soothe our anguish. Many thanks to Denny for this contribution. He can be reached at ] When a person faces the difficulties of life with little or no trust in God to both "see them through" and "work it together for good", their anxieties increase.  This increase in anxiety causes not only a heightened awareness of the physical pains of the body, but of psychological and spiritual seclusion as well.  Therefore a trusting relationship with God provides a person with a context in which to see and experience the pain as a minor part of a fulfilling life, rather than a major part of an empty one. But trusting God is not as easy as it seems.  Trust, as it develops over the course of a person's life, is dependent on the trustworthiness of others within a person's experience.  If, for example, an infant experiences their mother's care as consistent, kind, tender and nourishing, the infant builds at the basic level of their relationships a "trust in others."  But if the infant experiences a mother who is addicted to alcohol and is unable to provide for the basic physical and emotional needs of her dependent infant, this "trust trauma" creates a basic distrust in others that carries over into every relationship the person tries to have, including their relationship with God.  Distrust of God can be, therefore, a direct consequence of not having a trustworthy mother. If it only stopped at the level of an untrustworthy mother, the damage would be sufficient to cause anxiety throughout life, but untrustworthy people tend to be in relationships with others who are also not to be trusted.  Thus, the father may present an unhealthy codependence with the mother that causes the child to learn that his or her own reactions to life are not to be trusted.  For example, if the mother is passed out on the floor from drinking, and the father acts as though nothing is wrong, then the child begins to distrust his or her own sense that this is a calamitous situation worthy of alarm.  This second level of "trust in self" is therefore damaged and the person's sense of the accuracy of their own reactions to God and to life are not to be believed. Though there are other levels of trust that need to be developed in a trusting person's life, these two seem most basic to developing a sense that God is both present in our lives and that we have the ability to fully trust him.  When this is damaged and the individual lives life in the anxiety of spiritual isolation, the pains of life are intensified. The solution to such trust impairment is to seek the healing care of a pastor and people.  This care involves not only the worship of God with its opportunity to experience the nearness of His care, but also the healing touch of a community and pastor.  Reaching deep within the basic places of the soul where trusting others and trusting self reside, the community of faith is able to provide the consistent, kind and nourishing experiences which were lacking in earlier days of their life.  It is then that the possibility of having a personal relationship with the Good Shepherd and Caretaker of our souls is possible. Facing the world without God's care leaves a person open to unnecessary pain and anxiety.  When trust is healthy and God's care is believed, the opportunity to "rest in His care" sees us through the painful experiences of body and soul. © 2016 by Dr. Ken Pfeiffer

Meditation / Role of Trust