Mindful Meditation teaches mind over matter for pain control

by Betty Bardswich

MINDEMOYA—The Canadian Pain Coalition estimates that there are one in five people in this country living with chronic pain, a serious and long lasting condition for a total of 6.8 million Canadians. This reporter had the dubious distinction of joining that group a few years ago. A third try at the claustrophobia causing Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine showed a diagnosis of spinal stenosis and multilevel degenerative disc disease with effects on nerve roots which led to surgery for spinal fusion and a laminectomy.

Chronic pain shrinks your world. It is debilitating and nerve racking. Actions like getting in and out of a vehicle, cooking a meal, sweeping a floor, all things that were once done by rote are now almost impossible at times. Some people have to give up their jobs or lose their ability to help with community projects. Chronic pain is long lasting, indeed can last for the rest of your life, and can lead to depression and even death by suicide. It impacts on every facet of your life and affects your partner, your family and friends and even your pet.

A few months ago, I had the privilege of joining a group at the Mindemoya hospital to participate in a mindfulness meditation based chronic pain management teleconference, initiated here by the Family Health Team. People taking part in the classes were from Sudbury, Parry Sound and Noelville as well as Manitoulin.

This course was based on the book ‘The Mindfulness Solution to Pain’ by Doctor Jackie Gardner-Nix and her former patient and now colleague Lucie Costin-Hall and facilitated by Annie Hebert, a nurse and chronic pain sufferer. As Dr. Gardner-Nix explains in the book, “the formal practice of meditation involves intentionally setting aside a specific period (or periods) in your day to systematically cultivate mindfulness by focusing your attention moment by moment on some particular aspect of your experience, and actively noting when your mind wanders and then bringing it back into focus.” This practice is done using one thing to focus on, such as your breathing or a candle. Another part of the meditation process is to look at yourself, people and things without judgement when a thought occurs to you.

Kelly Gordon, who resides in Spring Bay, was part of the group at the hospital. She suffered a massive pulmonary embolism in 2006 and has pain throughout her body. She explained that she has probably been meditating for about seven years. “It is big time helpful,” she said. “It allows me to fall asleep. It is rare for me to fall asleep without meditation. It definitely helps with the quality and quantity of sleep. Before, I would be awake all night. And this course is good because it forces me to meditate.” Ms. Gordon went on to say that she had to give up a job she loved with Manitoulin Transport, but is grateful for the huge support system that she has with her parents and her husband.

Chris McCartney, from the Ice Lake area, also said that the course does help. “If I can keep doing it,” she observed, “it would be good for my sleep. I think it is a good idea to keep the electronics off and do meditation. Get rid of the excess noise. It makes you confront a lot of your boogey man things. I think it helps you confront the fears that limit us, that we can make boundaries.”

A Providence Bay resident, Bonnie Pegelo, has suffered from back and leg pain for many years and enjoyed taking the course. “At first it is hard to meditate,” she explained, “but as the weeks go by it gets better. And we learn from each other’s experiences. I found the course very interesting and if you have pain of any sort, you should try this course to bring peace to your pain.”

Joanne Longboat of Noelville has taken the mindfulness meditation course at three levels. “I have lived with chronic physical pain since 1985,” she told The Expositor, “and I came to understand my emotional pain that was unattended for over 38 years. Learning about the science of pain, chronic stress, meditation and their interconnectedness of their impact on my body, mind and spirit enlightened me to do what I need to do to keep balanced.”

Although meditation has been practised for thousands of years in Eastern countries, it, like acupuncture, has gone mainstream here for a few decades now. In just the past couple of months articles on the subject have appeared in a special report supplement to the Mayo Clinic Health letter, and in Prevention, Woman’s World and Women First magazines. In the latter magazine, actress Jane Seymour is quoted as saying, “I did a series last year about healthy living for people over 50. When I talked to the doctors, I asked if there is one thing we can all do for our health. I expected them to say exercise or nutrition. Every single one of them said there is science on meditation.”

The Medical Daily Internet newsletter states that meditation can alter the brain and new research shows that it can be used as therapy for cognitive impairment and migraines. It stated that a study was done with people 55 to 90 who had memory issues and that the authors believe that meditation can help fight Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Other studies have shown that the practice leads to stronger immune systems, boosts memory and empathy, reduces stress and improves sleep quality.

In Zoomer magazine, an article on the Science of Longevity Now stated that after two months of therapy that included mindfulness meditation and yoga, people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI)–a risk for dementia–had reduction of areas in the brain associated with anxiety and stress and increased volume in the area that deals with memory and learning.

For more information about the mindfulness meditation courses offered for Ontario go to neuronovacentre.com For interest in taking the course, contact a member of your Family Health Team.