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News Letter

Home Health Education Living With Joint Pain
Using Mindfulness and Imagery May Help Control Arthritis Pain Print E-mail

Sit in a comfortable position, and close your eyes. Focus on your breathing, paying attention to the way your belly rises with each breath in and falls with each breath out. Feel as if you're floating on the waves of your own breathing. If your mind wanders elsewhere, gently return it. Now listen to the sounds around you. Maybe there is music playing on the stereo, a baby crying next door, or a phone ringing in a nearby office. Don't strain to listen. Just hear the sounds that come your way and accept them, without thinking about what they mean. Listen to the silences between sounds, too.

Congratulations! You've just completed an exercise in mindfulness, a special form of meditation in which you are asked to focus on moment-to-moment awareness without judging or reacting to the things you notice.

A Mind Full of Mindfulness

Like other forms of meditation, mindfulness can help counteract the harmful effects of stress and arthritis pain. Studies have shown that it can help to control arthritis pain when combined with standard medical care. For example, in one study conducted at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center (Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 1985), 90 people who had chronic pain from various causes took part in a 10-week program, in which they were trained in mindfulness meditation and related relaxation techniques. Afterward, participants reported having less pain, using less pain medication, being more active, feeling more self-confident, and feeling less depressed and anxious than before the program started. A comparison group of people with chronic pain who received only standard medical care didn't show this improvement. Even more impressively, when the researchers checked on people's progress up to 15 months later, they found that those who got mindfulness training had maintained most of these gains.

Here is another quick exercise in mindfulness:

1. Have an apple (or another piece of fresh fruit that you like) on hand.

2. Sit in a comfortable position. Take a few deep breaths, and relax your body.

3. Focus on what is happening in the here and now, and let go of other thoughts.

4. Now focus your attention on the apple. Notice its color, shape, texture, and smell.

5. Take a bite, and notice the flavor as if you had never tasted an apple before.

6. Return your thoughts to the apple whenever your mind starts to wander.

7. Enjoy the feelings of pleasure that arise as you experience eating mindfully.

Imagine That! The Power of Imagery

Imagery is another technique that is closely related to mindfulness. But while mindfulness involves becoming acutely aware of what is actually happening, imagery involves focusing on experiences that you only imagine. The goal is similar, to achieve a state of relaxation, which makes it easier to manage arthritis pain.

Here is a simple imagery exercise for arthritis pain control: Take a few moments to breathe deeply and relax. Now imagine that you gather all of your arthritis pain into a little ball that you clutch tightly inside your fist. Visualize your fist opening slowly, one finger at a time, until your hand is finally open and relaxed. Notice that the ball has turned into a bubble. You can leave the bubble there, or you can blow it and watch it float away gently in the wind.

There are a number of books and audiotapes available to help you learn how to use imagery. The best ones are those that work for you. One good place to start: Rituals of Healing: Using Imagery for Health and Wellness, by Jeanne Acterberg, Ph.D., Barbara Dossey, R.N., and Leslie Kolkmeier, R.N., New York: Bantam; 1994

 

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