A wonderful technique for everyone who lives in pain to know is the body-scan. I wanted to share this practice in the hope it helps you too, as having now been using the following, adapted version, for some time, finding it truly is effective. Not only for the calm and relaxation it brings but also the accumulative effect that it has on chronic pain, whether from injury, illness or a complicated pain condition, try this every day and – I hope – it will lessen a little of your pain, maybe even bring a serene moment of calm to your day too.
Breathing into the Body with the Body-Scan
The body-scan practice, as taught in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness-based stress reduction program for people with chronic pain, does seem to have a cumulative effect on reducing pain levels. It can also help lessen and heal the disassociation patients with chronic pain so often have with their painful bodies. It’s also a very useful technique to use during flare-ups of pain. This is a slightly adapted version, where you ‘breathe into the body’ reducing the pain by increasing the flow of chi or prana (energy).
“People who are sick or in chronic pain often come to see their bodies as the enemy. This perception triggers emotions such as anger, fear, and sadness. In response to these emotions, people clench and tighten muscles in their bodies. This can lead to intensifying existing symptoms or to new symptoms in other parts of the body,” says chronic illness patient, health advocate, and author of How to Be Sick, Toni Bernhard in her wonderful article on the on the body-scan practice.
“I see the body scan as an opportunity to reverse this perception that your body is the enemy. Your body isn’t purposefully causing you discomfort and, despite its struggles, it’s still the most remarkable living organism on the planet. Your body is so much more than just your pain or your illness. Making friends with this remarkable organism is emotionally calming and healing. It can release tension in your body which, in itself, can reduce symptoms.”
Follow these simple instructions daily if possible:
- Start in any comfortable relaxation pose lying down, such as the yoga asana, shavasana (also known as the corpse pose), which is ideal. Lying down flat with arms out to the sides. If you need gentle support because of CRPS limbs or otherwise, rolled up towels and cushions can offer a simple solution. It’s important that you are as comfortable as possible.
- Breathing slowly and deeply, place your hands on your belly and feel the movement of the breath.
- Notice the belly rising and falling, and notice the breath moving in and out of your body. In this practice, you visualise and imagine that you can inhale and exhale through different parts of your body, as if your nostrils were moved to that part of the body. This has an incredibly calming effect on your nervous system and mystically reduces your overall pain experience.
- Start with your feet. Imagine the breath entering your body through the soles of your feet, and then leaving your body through the soles of your feet with each out-breath. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), there is a single acupuncture point on the soles of the feet called yuan quan or Kidney 1 so I tend to use this point as it is considered your connection with the earth and a useful point to overcome kidney imbalances, which include fear, anxiety, insecurity, also feeling disconnected or ungrounded but regardless of this, the point is to breathe through, in and out of the foot.
- Notice any sensations there. Feel, or imagine, that flow of energy in the feet as you breathe.
- Now repeat this visualization for other parts of your body: Your lower legs, knees, and upper legs. Your hips, lower back, middle back, and upper back. Your belly and chest. Your shoulders, upper arms, elbows, lower arms, hands. Your neck. Your forehead and the crown of your head. When you get to an area that feels tense, uncomfortable, or painful, don’t skip it.
- There are a few different things you can try that may make you feel more comfortable and pain reduce, such as pendulum visualisations. To do this, you alternate your focus from one painful area to the least painful area and back again.
- Stay with the visualization and direct the breath right at the sensations of discomfort or pain.
- Imagine that the breath is dissolving or massaging the tension and pain. Imagine the solidity of the tension or pain softening, as if by use of your magical breath, that hardness loosens, softens, eases.
- Find the space inside the pain.
- Also try moving your attention back and forth between the uncomfortable area and a more comfortable area as with the pendulum technique above, only this time, breathe into the painful area for a few breaths; for the next few breaths, breathe into another area. Switching back and forth like this can teach the mind how to give the uncomfortable sensations less priority.
- By using this princessely-adapted version, you are practicing a healthy kind of distraction: intentionally shifting your focus while still being present in your body, this can help mend and heal the disassociation that can so often come with severe chronic pain and conditions.
- When you have worked your way through the whole body, let yourself feel the breath enter the body through your nose, mouth, and throat. Imagine the sensation of breathing through your whole body, as if the body were gently expanding as you inhale and contracting as you exhale. Gently return yourself back to the moment and when you are ready, open your eyes and slowly move or simply go to sleep, as it is can be a lovely pre-bedtime practice, especially if your pain is hampering with your ability to fall and stay asleep.