Meditation for Easing Pain and Promoting Health

By Movement for Life | January 6, 2023

What is Meditation?


The term “meditation” broadly refers to practices intended to cultivate awareness of the present moment accompanied by feelings of improved well-being. Meditative techniques encompass a wide variety of formal practices, including cultivating compassion, breathing exercises, sensory awareness training, visualizations, and mind-body movement activities such as walking or yoga. While each person may prefer one or more distinct styles of meditation, all meditative tools share one goal - to optimize the quality of our lives.


Meditation Becomes Mindfulness


As practices of meditation begin to feel more familiar and natural, it’s not uncommon for the present-moment awareness and sense of well-being that arises during formal practices to become increasingly integrated into daily activities. When this happens, structured meditation transforms into “mindfulness”. A mindful state of being may be experienced as decreased stress, improved feelings of contentment, expanded compassion and altruism, increased adaptability to change, and overall enthusiasm for life.


Integrating Meditation and Mindfulness into Physical Therapy


The practices of meditation and mindfulness are now widely recommended by healthcare providers as self-care tools and lifestyle medicine. Physical therapists, too, integrate the well-known benefits of such practices into care plans to lessen chronic pain and improve healing outcomes.

A physical therapist might recommend a regular meditation practice as part of a home exercise program or as ongoing self-care following a course of PT. Various forms of sensory awareness practices are frequently integrated into fall prevention strategies, balance training, and vestibular rehabilitation. Many forms of neurological rehabilitation include visualization techniques as well as movement therapies integrated with cognitive training. With a growing abundance of research promoting meditation and mindfulness practices for easing chronic pain, physical therapists have been bolstering their knowledge of best practices for sharing these tools with patients to complement prescribed movement therapeutics.


Easing Chronic Pain with Meditation


While it’s important to consult your healthcare team regarding the appropriateness of alternative, complementary, and integrative therapies for your unique healthcare needs, the science behind utilizing meditation and mindfulness strategies for easing pain and promoting health is incredibly promising.

A large-scale review of research related to the role of mind-body therapeutics, such as meditation and mindfulness, in relieving chronic pain was published in 2020 by the Journal of the American Medical Association in response to the opioid crisis. The researchers, Garland et al, discovered that meditation and mindfulness techniques were associated with a significant reduction in pain as well as a significant reduction in misuse of opioids.1

An article published in 2022 in Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience champions a model of patient-centered healthcare and self-care that incorporates holistic Mind-Body Medicine practices, including activities for promoting mental and emotional well-being, exercise, relaxation, and nutrition. The authors, Esch and Stefano, explore the health-promoting physiological mechanisms behind these practices. They conclude that many of the practices regularly recommended by healthcare providers, such as meditation and mindfulness, activate our natural self-healing capabilities.2


Exploring Meditation Practices


Here are three short, sample practices. As you explore these techniques, approach each with a sense of curiosity and self-compassion. Each of us is unique in our response to various meditation techniques. It’s okay to go slow, simply exploring how these techniques feel to you. 

Breath-based activities should be discontinued if they cause light-headedness or dizziness sensations


1. Breath-Focused Meditation

  • Begin by finding a comfortable seated or reclining position.
  • Bring your attention to your breath, welcoming a slowing and deepening of each breath.

  • As you breathe, become curious and observe where you feel the movement of your breath within the body.

  • Notice the motion of your rib cage and surrounding muscles. 

  • Feel the gentle expansion and contraction of your abdomen.

  • Continue exploring the movement of your breath for several minutes.

  • When you feel ready to conclude, take a moment to notice how you feel.

  • Become aware of any benefits that may have arisen for you during this short practice. Observe how you feel without needing to feel any certain way. If you get distracted this is normal and ok. Simply invite yourself back to the activity as many times as you need to.


2. Meditating on Body Sensations

  • Begin in a comfortable, reclining position.

  • Enjoy a few moments of deep breathing while welcoming a sense of stillness in the body.

  • Bring your awareness to your toes. Simply observe and be curious about sensations you might experience. 

  • Then, move your curious awareness to your feet. Continue this slow progression throughout your body, pausing to notice each area for several deep breaths.

  • You’ll likely observe a range of sensations. Some sensations may feel neutral. There may be some awareness of sensations that feel unpleasant. And, still, other sensations may emerge that feel quite pleasant.

  • The goal of this practice is to welcome a wide range of sensations, without becoming too focused on any one sensation or any one area of the body. Observe how you feel without needing to feel any certain way. Simply invite yourself back to the activity as many times as you need to.

  • Take your time as you move your awareness throughout the body. This meditation may last 5 to 15 minutes, depending upon what feels best to you.

  • Once you’ve reached the crown of your head, enjoy a few more deep breaths before welcoming some gentle movements into your body as you notice the benefits of this practice.


3. Walking Meditation

  • This is an excellent way to take a break from your desk at work or to enjoy some time outdoors. This practice may last for a few minutes, or you may choose to incorporate these meditative techniques into a longer walk for physical exercise.

  • As you begin walking, notice your feet in contact with the ground. 

  • Then, observe your breath. Your breathing rhythm may change as you move, depending upon your walking pace.

  • Notice the feeling of the air on your skin. 

  • Become a bit more curious about the details of your environment. Perhaps even pausing for a moment to view the smaller details of objects and living things around you.

  • Listen for the sound of your walking, the sounds of your breathing, and then expand your listening towards sounds around you.

  • You may find that you naturally gravitate towards one or more of these sensory awareness practices (sight, sound, touch, etc.). Feel free to choose one that brings you into greater connection with present moment awareness.

  • When you feel ready to conclude your walking meditation, pause and enjoy a few more deep breaths. Notice how you’re feeling and the benefits of this practice.


If you resonate with the “Walking Meditation” practice, check out our article “6 Stretches for Happy Feet” which could be utilized as a lower body warm-up sequence before your next walk.


If you’re curious to learn more about how meditation and mindfulness practices may decrease pain and improve health, reach out to one of our clinics or explore our self-care tool Everflex Health to begin your own mindful movement journey at home.


Cited Research:

  1. Garland EL, Brintz CE, Hanley AW, et al. Mind-Body Therapies for Opioid-Treated Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med. 2020;180(1):91-105. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.4917.

  2. Esch T, Stefano GB. The BERN Framework of Mind-Body Medicine: Integrating Self-Care, Health Promotion, Resilience, and Applied Neuroscience. Front Integr Neurosci. 2022;16:913573. Published 2022 Jul 14. doi:10.3389/fnint.2022.913573.