Are You Reacting or Noticing? How Mindfulness Can Enhance Chiropractic Care
If you've been hurt in an accident, your pain is in the forefront of your mind. Even though chiropractic treatments help you with the worst symptoms, you may find yourself in trouble again between treatments.
The fact is, when pain of any kind hits, all you want is for it to disappear. In most cases, pain ebbs and flows depending on its cause. But chronic pain is something else entirely. This is just one kind of pain that may respond well to the practice of mindfulness in addition to chiropractic treatment.
What Is Mindfulness?
At its core, mindfulness is purposeful thinking of present circumstances. Essentially, if you're mindful, you are able to focus on the present moment rather than the past or future. Quite literally, mindfulness is "now" thinking.
Mindfulness has its root in Buddhist tradition, but in our modern era it can be done effectively without a religious component. Modern mindfulness programs involve both body and mind.
One of the early pioneers in mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn of the Stress Reduction Center at the University of Massachusetts, once asked if he could work with chronic pain patients not helped by conventional treatments. The goal was mindfulness training that would help patients view their pain objectively.
By helping chronic pain patients unlock the power of their own "now" thoughts, Kabat-Zinn taught the entire medical community a powerful lesson about the brain's capacity to redirect pain. As patients became more mindful, they were able to find a small space between their pain's stimulus and their reaction to the pain.
To illustrate this principle, consider your response to a verbal attack by a co-worker. If you're not trained in mindfulness (and most of us aren't), you'll probably react to the attack by feeling disbelief and shock bubble up instinctively, coupled with a burst of adrenaline and an angry response.
The stress of the above scenario might make you think you had no other choice but the unconscious reaction just described. But pay attention to the word "unconscious." It also means "out of mind." When people say "I was out of my mind with (anger, grief, pain, etc.)," they are stating the literal truth. They were not in the present of their thoughts.
Therefore, if you mindlessly react rather than notice or observe, you are behaving in a manner opposite to mindfulness.
Those who learn mindfulness through daily meditation sessions begin to notice their initial thought, and then train themselves to notice the associated feelings that accompany it. As they become better at mindfulness, they begin to ask certain questions:
- What exactly am I feeling right now?
- Is my mind reacting to it, or just noticing it?
- Where in my body do I feel the feelings? Stomach? Head? Neck? Shoulders? Another area?
- What kind of feeling is it? (In the case of physical pain, ask whether the pain is sharp, dull, throbbing, tingling, or some other sensation.)
Once you begin to question your initial thoughts about any matter, you are learning the mental probing that is part of mindfulness.
How Mindfulness Complements Chiropractic Care
When accident victims enter into chiropractic treatments, they understandably exhibit certain stress-based symptoms beyond the physical injury itself.
After an accident, it's common to feel stress, anxiety, worry, depression, anger-even grief. Chiropractors know how important such psychological factors are in pain management. In fact, more chiropractors than ever recognize the mind-body connection in effective treatment plans.
When mindfulness meditation is practiced alongside regular chiropractic treatments, most patients notice:
- Fewer physical symptoms and a lower pain index
- A greater ability to cope with intermittent and chronic pain
- A capacity to fall asleep more easily and experience regenerative sleep
- A more positive life outlook, despite pain or ongoing difficulties
- An enhanced ability to notice thoughts without first 'reacting' to them
- A greater feeling of physical and emotional alignment
- Improved general health, not just spinal health
- Lowered stress levels and improved immune response
Small Steps Toward Mindfulness
To begin learning mindfulness, start small. It's more important to practice your skills daily for 10 minutes at a time than to jump into an hour-long session that you won't have time for every day. Over time, as your skill and capacity increases, you may increase the time frame.
Begin by trying the following exercise at least once a day, after you've silenced your phone and arranged to be completely undisturbed:
- Arrange to lie or sit comfortably in a manner recommended by your chiropractor.
- If you're lying on a bed or mat, cover yourself with a light blanket to keep warm.
- Allow your attention to be drawn to the flow of your breath, in and out.
- Notice your lower belly gently expanding on the in-breath and contracting on the out-breath.
- Notice the thoughts that flit through your mind without passing judgment on them or dwelling on them excessively.
- If you get distracted by a bodily sensation or thought, ask yourself the detailed questions mentioned earlier in this blog post.
- Identify the sensation, then return your mental energy back to your breath. Continue to follow your breath and the cycle mentioned in these steps for the rest of your practice period.
As you continue chiropractic treatment coupled with mindfulness, notice small improvements without demanding them. As you nourish your entire well-being in this way, you may experience more than just spinal health benefits. Enjoy the present moment-and be well.