You know how the saying goes — don’t knock it before you try it. Mind-body therapies for pain treatment are not some new woo-woo trend. In fact, mind-body medicine has been around long before modern conventional medicine. And there is good reason it has remained solid for centuries.
Mind and body are intricately connected. Restoring the mind restores the body. The opposite is true as well. A mind that is not at rest ramps up what is called the sympathetic nervous system and leads to a damaging state of chronic inflammation and increased pain.
In this state, healing of the body is interrupted. The use of mind-body therapies calms the sympathetic nervous system and chronic inflammation, which then allows the body to do what it is designed to do. Repair itself.
Meditation techniques have historical roots in religious and spiritual traditions. Today, meditation is also used outside of these purposes for the benefit of physical health and emotional wellness.
In meditation, attention is focused on breath or on repeating a word, phrase, or sound. This singular focus stops the constant stream of thoughts that normally enters your mind. Blocking out that bombardment of thought allows your mind to reset, leading to relaxation, calmness, alertness, and nervous system balance.
Practicing meditation can change how you respond to your brain’s constant flow of emotions and thoughts. It also can help to control how you react to challenges, like chronic pain, for example.
As evidence supporting the use of meditation grows for treating problems like pain, anxiety, depression, insomnia and stress grows, the more emphasis is being on the importance of creating a routine practice.
Biofeedback uses technology to teach you how to produce certain body responses to reduce pain.
During a biofeedback session, a trained therapist applies electrodes and other sensors to various parts of your body. The electrodes are attached to devices that monitor and give you feedback on a variety of body functions, including muscle tension, brain wave activity, respiration, heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature.
The therapist then uses relaxation techniques to calm your stress responses, such as slowing your heart rate, reducing muscle tension and slowing your breathing. You then learn how to produce these changes yourself.
The goal of biofeedback is to help you learn how to shift yourself to a relaxed state to calm your pain sensations.
Biofeedback is widely used and accepted for its potential to improve symptoms associated with many medical conditions. (1)
Hypnosis has been used to promote healing since ancient times. By inducing a state of relaxation through hypnosis where your mind is narrowly focused and open to suggestion, brain wave patterns are altered in much the same way as other relaxation techniques.
For treatment of chronic pain, you receive suggestions designed to help decrease your perception of the pain.
A form of martial arts, tai chi is a popular method for strengthening muscles, improving flexibility and balance, reducing blood pressure, improving anxiety and depression, promoting better sleep, and relieving pain. (2)
Tai chi is sometimes described as a form of moving meditation. As you concentrate on the motions of your body, you develop a feeling of tranquility. With slow and gentle movements, combined with deep breathing, tai chi is generally safe for people of all ages and levels of fitness.
Studies have supported the idea that those who have a regular spiritual practice tend to live longer. The reason may be linked to inflammation.
One study from Baylor University Medical Center showed that those who attend church were half as likely to have elevated markers for inflammation in blood tests. (3)
Many studies have examined the benefits of a spiritual practice for recovery from illness. What has been found is that anything that gives your life greater meaning has a positive impact on not only your emotional health, but your physical as well.
Taking that one step further, focusing less on daily challenges and more on the bigger picture of higher purpose can elevate feelings of peace, contentment, hope and joy. Those who report not having a higher purpose tend to have poorer outcomes from a health crisis, more depression, and less life satisfaction.
Another study shows that those who have a sense of spiritual well-being have a better quality of life, even when they have chronic pain.
Ultimately, the goal of yoga is reaching complete peacefulness of body and mind by way of breathing, meditation, and posture.
For some, it’s a spiritual path. For others, it’s a path of physical flexibility, strength, and endurance. Regardless, yoga can help balance the nervous system to promote healing, reduce stress, lower blood pressure, improve mood, increase circulation, and reduce pain perception. (4)
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