If you suffer from headaches, migraines or other pains, there’s good news, you can find relief through meditation. Trust me, I do.
I’m a meditation teacher and I often suffer from chronic neck pain that I got after my boss in an old job dropped a heavy box on my head. Today, years later, I still get the same sore neck. My solution is to meditate using very specific techniques. Let me show you.
In my experience from both my personal practice and from teaching meditation, the following are are the best meditations for pain relief.
Pain Relief Meditation
1: Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation is essentially the practice of focusing the mind on the present moment in a nonjudgmental way [READ: Mindfulness for beginners]
In one study, participants were subjected to hot temperatures and tested to see how they responded to the pain. The study revealed that people who practice mindfulness meditation react to sores less than those who do not.
There is a reason for this. Most of the time, when we experience aches, we dwell on it. The mind sinks into the feeling of soreness and the symptoms amplify. When we are mindful, we simply observe the feeling nonjudgmentally. In turn, this helps us to accept the discomfort and not to dwell on it.
- Sit comfortably with good posture and a straight spine.
- Close your eyes.
- Focus your mind on the sensation of your breath moving through the space between your lips and nose.
- Continue focusing on that spot. Now notice when your mind is distracted by your pain. Your mind will move away from your breath to the source of it. When this happens, label it. Say to yourself, “This is just a feeling of temporary pain”.
- Gently return your mind to your breathing.
- Continue for 108 breaths, noticing when your mind wanders and gently returning your mind to your breath.
A report in Psychosomatic Medicine magazine revealed people who meditate rarely get headaches.
Scientific research suggests we can use Mind-body techniques, including mindfulness, for headaches, migraines, and other aches. One of the best pain meditation techniques is the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program designed by Jon Kabat Zinn.
Kabat Zinn’s studies reveal that individuals who practise Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction have 1.4 fewer migraines per month than the average individual. Plus, headaches and migraines are less intense in meditators.
When we perform Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, we nonjudgmentally accept the feelings we are experiencing. The aim is to perceive the feeling precisely as it is: as pure energy. This reduces suffering, relieves stress, and reduces the psychosomatic aspects of pain.
For Arthritis And Muscular Discomfort
If you suffer from muscular sores, Taoist meditations help.
Taoist meditations are all about self-acceptance and harmony. They are designed to cultivate the flow of chi (prana) around the body.
Especially useful for muscular soreness and arthritis are tai chi and Qigong. These are slow movement meditations that improve coordination and help to reduce inflammation.
How Meditation Helps With Pain
Pain And The Brain
Meditation strengthens the pain-processing regions of the brain.
In an article medically reviewed by Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, R.N., CRNA, Adam Felman explains that “People feel aches when a signal travels through nerve fibres to the brain for interpretation.” When part of the body is damaged, communication is sent to the brain and the brain responds by producing the sensation of painfulness. This sensation may be different in different people because of the efficiency of the communication between the nociceptors and the brain.
A study by Wake Forest University showed that meditation reduces pain by up to 40% (based on perceived pain). And Cleveland Clinic states that “Meditation shifts your focus to something quiet and calm, reducing inflammation and pain.”
Pain affects you both physically and mentally. Even a type of ache that seems wholly physical (like a broken arm) will have psychological manifestations. That is precisely why placebos work.
In World War II, Dr Harry Beescher was treating soldiers for wounds. One day he ran out of morphine, so he switched to a saline solution. It was a switch that should have been obvious. Saline solution should not possibly be as effective as morphine. Otherwise, why would doctors in hospitals give you morphine when you’re in discomfort…?
But 40% of the soldiers that Dr Beescher treated said they didn’t feel the soreness afterwards.  The salt was a placebo.
A placebo is when you are healed simply because you think you are being healed.
If, for instance, your mother tells you that chicken soup will get rid of your cold and it works, it has worked because you believed it would (because chicken soup does nothing for a cold).
Science suggests that placebos could be as effective as medication in some instances. What matters when you are medicated is that you believe you are being healed.
This is how we know that it is mostly in the mind. And because it is in the mind, we can use meditation for pain relief. Migraines. Headaches. Shingles. Backache. Meditation works for all of them.
The role of emotions in pain regulation
Painfulness is made worse by negative emotions.
Some studies suggest that physical pain is the direct results of what is happening in the subconscious mind.
In the 1960s, Russian scientists discovered that every thought and every feeling produces chemical responses in the body. Thoughts and feeling cause chemicals called neuropeptides to be released.
Biologist Candace Pert learned that cells produce hundreds of neuropeptides, including endorphins, cortisol, hormones and adrenalin. Different emotions produce different frequencies that cause different neuropeptides to be released.
Prolonged negative emotions will cause an overabundance of stress hormones, which will damage the body. This is why experiencing a wide range of happy emotions helps reduce pain and inflammation.
Physical pain is caused by emotional suffering. And that means that emotional healing can cure physical discomfort.
Kathleen Oheeny says, “both negative and positive affective states play a role in pain… [For instance], sadness may worsen the feeling and influence cortical activity.”.
If you have mood swings or continual negative emotions, you can turn negative emotions to positive emotions, which in turn will reduce pain and inflammation and help with headaches, migraines, sore muscles, and other issues.
One of the best ways to heal emotional trauma is by meditating. When you meditate, you silence the mind and give your mind a chance to heal itself. This cures emotional suffering and in turn, alleviates physical discomfort. This is why meditation has been proven to help with pain relief.
Essentially, the healing powers of meditation start from the mind and extend to the body. This is perhaps why meditation can even help relieve discomfort for cancer patients.
When we use meditation to help with pain, we balance our emotions, and this reduces the psychosomatic factors.
I have many years experience in teaching meditation and, not surprisingly, some of my students were suffering migraines and other pains during our sessions. Indeed if you read my Google Reviews there is one from Lucy G. R. who says, “I had a headache when we started meditating. It was gone by the end”.
In my experience the best way to relieve pain with meditation is to do a simple method like mindful breathing and then, when your mind is inevitably drawn to the pain, say to yourself “This is just a temporary sensation of pain. It is not threatening”. If you do that routinely you will become less reactive to pain, and that will reduce your suffering.
Giving Is Caring
Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations and is the author of four books on meditation. He has been featured in Psychology Today, Breathe Magazine, Healthline, Psych Central and Lion’s Roar.
Paul studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
Paul’s biggest inspirations include Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat Zinn, and Jack Kornfield.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison