MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
Every Moment Is a New Chance
Pain always seems worse at night. Something about the silence amplifies the suffering. Even after you've taken the maximum dose of painkillers, the aching soon returns with a vengeance. You want to do something, anything, to stop the pain, but whatever you try seems to fail. Moving hurts. Doing nothing hurts. Ignoring it hurts. But it's not just the pain that hurts; your mind can start to suffer as you desperately try to find a way of escaping. Pointed and bitter questions can begin nagging at your soul: What will happen if I don't recover? What if it gets worse? I can't cope with this. Please, I just want it to stop....
We wrote this book to help you cope with pain, illness, and stress in times such as these. It will teach you how to reduce your suffering progressively, so that you can begin living life to the fullest once again. It may not completely eliminate your suffering, but it will ensure that it no longer dominates your life. You'll discover that it ispossible to be at peace, even if illness and pain are unavoidable, and to enjoy a fulfilling life.
We know this to be true because we have both experienced terrible injuries and used an ancient form of meditation known as mindfulness to ease our suffering. The techniques in this book have been proven to work by doctors and scientists in universities around the world. Mindfulness is so effective that doctors and specialist pain clinics now refer their patients to our Breathworks center in Manchester, UK, and to courses run by our affiliated trainers around the world. Every day we help people find peace amid their suffering.
This book and the accompanying CD reveal a series of simple practices that you can incorporate into daily life to significantly reduce your pain, anguish, and stress.1 They are built on Mindfulness-Based Pain Management (MBPM), which has its roots in the groundbreaking work of Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn of the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. The MBPM program itself was developed by Vidyamala Burch (coauthor of this book) as a means of coping with the aftereffects of two serious accidents. Although originally designed to reduce physical pain and suffering, it has proven to be an effective stress-reduction technique as well. The core mindfulness meditation techniques have been shown in many clinical trials to be at least as effective as drugs or counseling for relieving anxiety, stress, and depression.2 When it comes to pain, clinical trials show that mindfulness can be as effective as the most commonly prescribed painkillers, and some studies have shown it to be as powerful as morphine. Imaging studies show that it soothes the brain patterns underlying pain, and over time, these changes take root and alter the structure of the brain itself so that you no longer feel pain with the same intensity. And when it does arise, the pain no longer dominates your life.3 Many people report that their pain declines to such a degree that they barely notice it at all.
Many hospital pain clinics now prescribe mindfulness meditation to help patients cope with the suffering arising from a wide range of diseases, such as cancer (and the side effects of chemotherapy), heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis. It is also used for back problems, migraines, fibromyalgia, celiac disease, and a range of autoimmune diseases such as lupus and multiple sclerosis, as well as for such long-term conditions as chronic fatigue syndrome and irritable bowel syndrome. It's also useful for coping with labor pain. In addition to all these uses, clinical trials also show that mindfulness significantly reduces the anxiety, stress, depression, irritability, and insomnia that can arise from chronic pain and illness. Researchers are continually finding new conditions that can be eased with mindfulness.
The Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation
Thousands of peer-reviewed scientific papers prove that mindfulness reduces pain, enhances mental and physical well-being, and helps people deal with the stresses and strains of daily life. Here are a few of the main findings:
Mindfulness can dramatically reduce pain and the emotional reaction to it.4 Recent trials suggest that average pain "unpleasantness" levels can be reduced by 57 percent while accomplished meditators report reductions of up to 93 percent.5
Clinical trials show that mindfulness improves mood and quality of life in chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia6 and lower-back pain,7 in chronic functional disorders such as IBS,8 and in challenging medical illnesses, including multiple sclerosis9 and cancer.10
Mindfulness improves working memory, creativity, attention span, and reaction speeds. It also enhances mental and physical stamina and resilience.11
Meditation improves emotional intelligence.12
Mindfulness is a potent antidote to anxiety, stress, depression, exhaustion, and irritability. In short, regular meditators are happier and more contented, while being far less likely to suffer from psychological distress.13
Mindfulness is at least as good as drugs or counseling for the treatment of clinical-level depression. One structured program known as Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is now one of the preferred treatments recommended by the UK's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.14
Mindfulness reduces addictive and self-destructive behaviors. These include the abuse of illegal and prescription drugs and excessive alcohol intake.15
Meditation enhances brain function. It increases gray matter in areas associated with self-awareness, empathy, self-control, and attention.16 It soothes the parts of the brain that produce stress hormones17 and builds those areas that lift mood and promote learning.18 It even reduces some of the thinning of certain areas of the brain that naturally occurs with aging.19
Meditation improves the immune system. Regular meditators are admitted to the hospital far less often for cancer, heart disease, and numerous infectious diseases.20
Mindfulness may reduce aging at the cellular level by promoting chromosomal health and resilience.21
Meditation and mindfulness improve control of blood sugar in type 2 diabetes.22
Meditation improves heart and circulatory health by reducing blood pressure and lowering the risk of hypertension. Mindfulness reduces the risks of developing and dying from cardiovascular disease and lowers its severity should it arise.23
MINDFULNESS DISSOLVES PAIN AND SUFFERING
Mindfulness-Based Pain Management uses ancient meditations that were largely unknown in the West until recently. In one typical meditation, you focus on the breath as it flows into and out of the body (see box here). This allows you to see your mind and body in action, to observe painful sensations as they arise, and to let go of struggling with them. Mindfulness teaches you that pain naturally waxes and wanes. You learn to gently observe it, rather than be caught up in it, and when you do so, something remarkable happens: it begins to melt away of its own accord. After a while, you come to the profound realization that pain comes in two forms: primary and secondary. Each of these has very different causes-and understanding this gives you far greater control over your suffering.
Primary pain tends to arise from illness, injury, or damage to the body or nervous system. You could see it as raw information being sent by the body to the brain. Secondary pain follows close behind, but is often far more powerful and distressing. Secondary pain can be seen as the mind's reaction to primary pain.
Pain's Volume Control
The mind has tremendous control over the sensations of pain that you consciously feel and how unpleasant they are.24 It has a "volume" control that governs both the intensity and the duration of the sensations of pain. This is because your mind does not simply feel pain, it also processes the information that it contains. It teases apart all of the different sensations to try to find their underlying causes so that you can avoid further pain or damage to the body. In effect, your mind zooms in on your pain for a closer look as it tries to find a solution to your suffering. This zooming-in amplifies your pain. As your mind analyzes the pain, it also sifts through your memories for occasions when you have suffered similarly. It is searching for a pattern, some clues, that will lead to a solution. Trouble is, if you have suffered from pain or illness for months or years, then the mind will have a rich tapestry of painful memories on which to draw-but few solutions. So before you know it, your mind can become flooded with unsettling memories. You can become enmeshed in thoughts about your suffering. It can seem as if you've always been ill and in pain, that you've never found a solution and that you never will. So you can end up being consumed by anxieties, stresses, and worries about the future as well as physical pain: What will happen if I can't stop this pain? Am I going to spend my life suffering like this? Is it going to keep on getting worse?
This process happens in an instant, before you're consciously aware of it. Each thought builds on the last and quickly turns into a vicious cycle that ends up amplifying your pain. And it can be worse than this because such stresses and fears feed back into the body to create even more tension and stress. This can aggravate illnesses and injuries, leading to even more pain. It also dampens down the immune system, impairing healing. So you can all too easily become trapped in a vicious downward spiral that leads to ever-greater suffering.
But even worse, such negative spirals can begin wearing tracks in the mind so that you become primed to suffer. Your brain begins fine-tuning itself to sense pain more quickly-and with greater intensity-in a futile bid to try to avoid the worst of it. Over time, the brain actually becomes better at sensing pain. Brain scans confirm that people who suffer from chronic pain have more brain tissue dedicated to feeling the conscious sensations of pain.25 It's almost as if the brain has turned up the volume to maximum and doesn't know how to turn it down again.
It's important to emphasize that secondary pain is real. You do genuinely feel it. It's only called secondary pain because it is the mind's reaction to primary pain and has been heavily processed before you consciously feel it. But this same processing also gives you a way out; it means you can learn to control your pain. For this reason, secondary pain is best described as suffering.
In practice, you can be in pain but you need not suffer.
Once you realize this, deep in your heart, then you can learn to step aside from your suffering and begin to handle pain very differently indeed. In effect, mindfulness hands back to you the volume control for your pain.
The benefits of mindfulness on overall mental and physical health have been demonstrated in a wide range of scientific studies. Despite this, you might still be a little skeptical about meditation.26 When the word is mentioned, a whole cascade of stereotypes can spring to mind: Buddhist monks, yoga classes, lentils, brown rice ... So, before we proceed, we'd like to dispel some myths:
Meditation is not a religion. It is simply a form of mental training that has been proven in countless scientific trials to help people cope with pain, illness, anxiety, stress, depression, irritability, and exhaustion.
Meditation will not trick you into passivity or resign you to your fate. On the contrary, mindfulness boosts mental and physical resilience.
Meditation will not seduce you into adopting a fake "positive" attitude to life. It simply creates a form of mental clarity that helps you to enjoy life and achieve your goals.
Meditation does not take a lot of time. The program in this book takes around twenty minutes per day. Many people find that it liberates more time than it consumes because they spend far less time having to cope with chronic pain, illness, and stress.
Meditation is not difficult or complicated, although it does require some effort and persistence. You can meditate on more or less anything (see the Coffee meditation in Chapter 3). You can also do it virtually anywhere-on buses, trains, aircraft, or even in the busiest office.
A Simple Breath-Based Meditation
Meditation can be simple and does not require any special equipment. The meditation below demonstrates the basic technique and takes just a few minutes. It will leave you profoundly relaxed.
1. If your condition allows it, sit erect but relaxed in a straight-backed chair with your feet flat on the floor. If you cannot sit, then lie on a mat or a blanket on the floor, or on your bed. Allow your arms and hands to be as relaxed as possible.
2. Gently close your eyes and focus your awareness on the breath as it flows into and out of your body. Feel the sensations the air makes as it flows in through your mouth or nose, down your throat, and into your lungs. Feel the expansion and subsiding of your chest and belly as you breathe. Focus your awareness on where the sensations are strongest. Stay in contact with each in-breath and each out-breath. Observe them without trying to alter them in any way or expecting anything special to happen.
3. When your mind wanders, gently shepherd it back to the breath. Try not to criticize yourself. Minds wander. It's what they do. Realizing that your mind has wandered-and encouraging it to refocus on the breath-is central to the practice of mindfulness.
4. Your mind may eventually become calm-or it may not. If it becomes calm, then this may only be short-lived. Your mind may become filled with thoughts or powerful emotions such as fear, anger, stress, or love. These may also be fleeting. Whatever happens, simply observe as best you can without reacting to your experience or trying to change anything. Gently return your awareness back to the sensations of the breath again and again.
5. After a few minutes, or longer if you prefer, gently open your eyes and take in your surroundings.
MINDFULNESS FOR HEALTH
This book operates on two levels, which unfold week by week. The core mindfulness program takes eight weeks, and a chapter is dedicated to each step. Each week you'll be asked to carry out two meditations on six days out of seven. These take just ten minutes each.
You'll also be encouraged to break some of your unconscious habits of thinking and behaving. These can embed a surprising amount of suffering because much of what we think and feel is locked in place by ongoing ways of approaching the world. By simply breaking some of your more ingrained habits, you will help dissolve your suffering. Habit-breaking-we prefer the term habit-releasing-is straightforward. It can be as simple as watching the clouds from a park bench or waiting for the kettle to fully boil before making a cup of tea or coffee (rather than rushing to switch it off).
The program in this book is best carried out over the recommended eight weeks, although you can do it over a longer period if you wish. Many people find that mindfulness gives them so many benefits that they continue with it for the rest of their lives. They see it as a journey that continuously reveals their true potential.
It can be a long and fruitful journey. We wish you well.
* * *
The next chapter explains the science behind mindfulness and how it dissolves pain, suffering, and stress and restores well-being. Reading it will improve the effectiveness of the whole program. If you wish to begin the program immediately, feel free to do so, but try to come back to Chapter 2 when you get the chance. It enhances the whole experience.
The accompanying CD contains the meditation tracks that you will need to carry out the program. For best results, we suggest that you first read through the meditations found in each of the eight practice chapters to familiarize yourself with what's required. Then, it is best if you carry out the actual meditations while listening to the corresponding tracks. You can also download these as MP3 files fromhttp://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250052674.
Copyright © 2013 by Vidyamala Burch and Danny Penman
Foreword copyright © 2013 by Mark Williams