Meditation and pain

Pain is no aid to concentration. For the person in pain, being in the body is often the last thing you want. However, many meditation techniques start by focusing a person on their body – on breathing especially, and deep breathing at that, and on awareness of physical presence. Some meditation methods are purely about being present to yourself. If you’re in a lot of pain, it’s not an appealing prospect.

It is possible to meditate while in pain, and to benefit from doing so, but many approaches won’t work at all.

For mild pain, and pain that comes from tension, it may be possible to get some relief using meditation practices that focus on relaxation. However, for many of us, this will make little positive difference and may just serve to unhappily increase personal awareness of pain.

Make sure that everything in your meditation environment supports and enables your comfort. Ignore any other advice you have to, to achieve this. Any restful position that improves your comfort, any mild activity you can meditate around is good. Don’t do anything that adds to your pain, no matter what anyone else has to say about its value. People who are not in pain can have some funny ideas about what’s going to be useful, I have found.

Pick meditations that don’t depend on you having good concentration. Guided meditation CDs may help, listening to meditation music, cloud watching, contemplating a physical object – things where you can drift away and drift back, but which do not focus you on your pain.

Alternatively, pick a scenario that you would find it good to be in, and contemplate it. A sunny beach, an isolation tank, a sauna, a woodland in spring – whatever makes you feel good and can be easily imagined. Flight is a favourite of mine when I want to be away from my body, as is visualising myself floating in warm water. If you drift, just re-start, as there’s no narrative and no goal, it doesn’t matter if you can’t hold the thought for very long.

Meditate only for as long as works for you. Some bodies stiffen and become more painful if kept still for too long, so especially ignore the old chestnut about how if twenty minutes seems a long time you should be doing it for an hour… A lot of mainstream meditation advice comes from people who are largely well and assumes the person on the receiving end is fine, too. You know your body and you know your limits and no one is entitled to demand that you hurt yourself for a spiritual practice.


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

8 responses to “Meditation and pain

  • Prepping is for Women

    I have never been able to tame my “Monkey Mind” when I started trying to lean meditation over 20 years ago and having a young child ended up just giving up. Then, after my divorce, I was working full time, still had that pesky child 🙂 and found a new supportive relationship. Still didn’t prioritize meditation. Now, I HAVE the time, pesky child is all grown up and living in another state, but the pain from years of working in retail prevents me from focusing on anything but it. If I medicate to the point I don’t hurt, I’m unable to focus and just fall asleep… This article will be a huge help in overcoming this. Thank you. I plan on trying some of these suggestions today. A Hundred Thousand Blessings on You.

    • Nimue Brown

      You know, meditating so that you get all relaxed and fall asleep is a good thing – sleep being such a powerful healing thing anyway. A lot of the conventional advice is not to meditate in bed, but that might work for you.

  • contemplativeinquiry

    ‘Meditate only for so long as it works for you’ – a good thought there. Our mutual friend Rosa Davis is currently doing a programme based on two 10 minute sessions a day. She is guided by the ideas of a book called ‘Living well with pain & illness: the mindful way to free yourself from suffering’ by Vidyamala Burch. It has the endorsement of such luminaries as Jon Kabat-Zinn & a foreword by Amanda Williams, who works as a health psychologist at University College, London. An evidence based, rather than purely anecdotal, approach which clearly sees the value of shorter sessions.

  • hejyork

    Thank you so much for this. I have been trying to explain this to my mental health nurse for months and was starting to think I was tge only person who felt like like this. I’ve been made to feel like an uncooperative patient so many times when I’ve explained that mindfulness and body scanning makes my physical pain more acute. Some kinds of meditation do work for me, such as guided journeys but anything focusing on my body is detrimental right now

  • Meditation Guidance - Moon Books Blog

    […] and meditation has been blogging about meditating in challenging circumstances. Posts to date are Meditation and pain, Meditation and mental health issues, Meditation and anxiety, and Meditation for […]

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