Breaking Through The Pain

Break Through PainA few days ago, Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy canceled one of his regularly scheduled physical therapy sessions. (I had an appointment with my rheumatologist for the same date and time slot.)

When my feet flared big time the night before, I figured it would be best to call my physical therapist early the following morning and see if I could be squeezed into an alternative time slot. Luckily, I was told that they could accommodate me at 6pm. (My regular time is 3pm.)

When I showed up that evening, my physical therapist greeted me with a warm smile. When I had originally canceled, we decided that we would use my missed session as sort of trial run, where we were could see how my body reacted to four days with no PT treatments. Since I had to cancel my cancellation, it was obvious to both of us that any plans to reduce the frequency of my sessions were going to have to be postponed.

My physical therapist is a true unsung hero. (I think many people who enter this profession, by nature, have a caring heart and a healing mind.) While most of her patients are recovering from surgery, I am one of the few (if not only) patients going to physical therapy for a chronic illness like rheumatoid arthritis. During out sessions, she suggests things I can do to help when I am at home, and I take time to teach her a little more about the ins and outs of rheumatoid arthritis.

As we appraised this latest flare and came up with our action plan, I told her how bad things had gotten the night before, right around midnight. She told me that in the future, she would be more than happy to meet me at the clinic at any hour of the night for an “emergency” session – all she needed was thirty minute notice by phone. (I haven’t taken her up on that offer yet, but I have found a lot of comfort knowing that this option is available.)

My physical therapist asked me, with genuine concern, what options were available to me for immediate relief during my worst crisis moments. I told her that there are different medicines that can sometimes provide a limited amount of relief from the strongest flares, but that the results are often measured in days, not hours or minutes.

I told her that there was one things that recently has been providing me more immediate relief when I confront some of my most painful moments. It’s not a pill or other type of medicine that I have to take. It doesn’t require me to make any appointments ahead of time. It’s free. And the best part – I can do it in the comfort of my own house, at any time of the day.

It’s called mindfulness meditation.

I have multiple books and audio cd’s related to mindfulness based stress reduction authored by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is the leading practitioner in this field. (www.mindfulnesstapes.com) I haven’t completed them yet, so I don’t want to write about them right now…but I do hope to share more in the near future, once I am finished.

There is another book/audio cd, though, which has been one of my greatest sources of speedy relief during the past few months.

Break Though Pain: A Step-By-Step Mindfulness Meditation Program for Transforming Chronic and Acute Pain, by Shinzen Young.

“In Break Through Pain, meditation teacher Shinzen Young draws on his 20 years of scientific research on meditative states to create an easy, effective practice for pain relief. With him, listeners will learn how to: “Step outside” of pain as they learn to focus attention and awareness with meditation, and enjoy “breath pleasure,” a physiological tool to soothe the nervous system, improve circulation, boost energy, and promote overall healing, release anger, fear, or resentment negative emotions that actually amplify pain, and work with pain as an unexpected gateway to liberated states of experience, and much more.”

If you don’t have any experience with meditation, don’t be scared. No previous experience with meditation is required in order to benefit from this book/audio cd. When I started using these meditations a couple of years ago, I was wide awake and fully aware during the entire hour (approximately) that it takes to go through all the tracks.

When I listen to it now, though – even when my pain is at its worst – I enter a  blissful meditative state, where I am neither awake nor asleep. When I return to full awareness, I often find that while the pain is still there, the absolute worst has indeed passed.

Track 1: How To Use This CD (3:13)

One of the best aspect of these meditations is that they need not all be used in sequential order. This introduction tells you which tracks you can jump to, depending upon which aspect of the pain you want to focus on.

Track 2: Emotional Reactions To Pain (9:38)

This mediation provides me relief within seconds. It is a simple, yet powerful exercise where you spend about ten minutes addressing the different emotional reactions that you might be experiencing as a result of the pain. It could be anger, sadness, impatience, and a wide range of other emotions. On more than one occasion, I have gone through the entire exercise with only one emotion on my mind: fear. Once I become aware of the emotions that I am dealing with, I have taken the first step that is needed to work through the pain.

Track 3: Free-Floating Within The Discomfort (18:59)

The title of this meditation says it all – the goal is to free-float through the pain. I often find that free-floating is much easier to do once I have released my emotions during the previous meditation. I often enter my most meditative and healing state during this meditation.

Track 4: Working With Local Intensity And Global Spread (11:23)

My worst flares often involve a large number of joints. It’s somewhat easy for me to get used to problems in a few joints, but when the whole body gets in on the dance it become a whole other challenge. This meditation has worked wonders when my whole body is in pain. By bouncing one’s attention back and forth between high-intensity points of pain and mid/low- intensity points of pain, it is actually possible for all of the pain points to taper our slightly. (I wouldn’t believe such a claim if I haven’t personally experienced it many times.)

Track 5: Breath Pleasure (9:58)

This is a more traditional breathing based meditation. When all of the meditations are done in sequential order, this one helps to slowly transition your mind and body as it begins to transition back to a state of full awareness.

Track 6: Winding Up (6:58)

All exercises, mental or physical, need a cooling down period. This final meditation wraps up the full session.

My aim is to start practicing these meditations on a more regular basis, and not just wait to do them during moments of crisis.  If anyone else has been helped by meditation, please do share your suggestions and experiences.

Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!

4 Comments
4 comments
  1. Millicent says:

    Mind over matter, I would think. My yoga teachers say over & over that meditation can take you to a place free of worry & pain. Sometimes, not often, I get to a kind of hazy place where everything is good. This source you are recommending sounds like a very positive practice for people needing pain release.

  2. Cathy says:

    Excellent idea! Deepak Chopra talks a lot about meditation during pain in one of his many books. I have found it to help. I will have to check out this one.

  3. Kali says:

    You know, my shrink has been wanting me to start doing mindfulness meditation for some time, but hasn’t suggested specific resources other than finding a therapist who specializes in disability and/or pain and mindfulness.

    My PT is a champ, too. Vince has squeezed me in when he’s overbooked so often…by the time I have a referral to see him, I’m usually in such a bad state that I need to be seen ASAP. Everyone in the medical profession seems to think it takes multiple sessions of PT to start showing improvement, especially with the back, but I’ll tell you even my back starts responding in that first hour and a half – sure, only a third of that is spent with him doing body work on me, but he is That Damn Good. I’ve never met another PT like him. The fact that I trust him as deeply as I do only helps matters, as I can blow off steam about stuff while he works, and he doesn’t trigger the instinctive survivor flinch I have with most people (though he did the first time or two he worked on me)

    ~Kali

  4. RA Guy says:

    Cathy, I haven’t review any of the Chopra books, but I’ll put it on my list of things to look into.

    Kali, if you do start working with mindfulness meditation please let me know. Like I said in this post, anything by Jon Kabat-Zinn is a great place to look as well. He also has an audio cd with Andrew Weil.

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