We so often begin the day, our perceptions, our responses, a trip, a task, if you live with chronic pain, with the experience, the awareness, of pain. We routinely no longer even recognize the moment, the immediate, overwhelming sense of pain from which we approach all of life.
Holding pain in our bodies, a unique ” pain signature” for all individuals, can include such characteristic pain responses as a shortening of breath, tightness around the chest, the heart, and in the jaw, and an overall rigidity, the sense of guarding of one’s “hold” of the body. Such manifestations of pain, unfortunately, serve to compound the experience of pain. The entire cycle is far from the best of beginnings.
However, in each initial moment, in those beginnings, much positive, health inducing, change is possible if we learn to recognize our “Pain Signature” and relax this reflexive protection, tensing, of our bodies. We do this through learning to practice the skill of mindful body scanning.
It is a positive and powerful strengthening step to take the time to investigate, explore, and become easily familiar and aware of our unique “pain signature “.
By its knowing we can choose to work towards an empowered stance and outlook of choice, rather than feeling victimized and helpless in the face of pain.
If you suffer from chronic pain, pain is a given, the response to the pain however is our choice.
On a really bad day it may be beyond difficult to even contemplate the meaning of the word choice, let alone the conceptual understanding of it, however, like all other aspects of life, having knowledge of the options, tools, skills and resources available to us is a crucial key to our future well-being and success. Body scanning is one such powerful tool.
The practice of Body Scanning is composed of 8 steps:
- Find a place where you can be uninterrupted, alone and quiet for a few minutes.
- Find a comfortable, as you can manage, body position; for many this practice is done lying down or sitting, holding the body in a dignified manner.
- Close your eyes.
- Take several slow, deep breaths and allow your mind to rest in and settle upon the breath, the gentle intake and exhale of your breathing.
- Allow your mind to quiet and simply focus on your breath, gently in and gently out, for a few minutes. You will feel yourself begin to relax and let go.
- Beginning with your toes, moving carefully and slowly up your body, to all its parts until you reach your face and finally the top of your head, bring your awareness to each body part in turn. Take the time to bring your attention to your toes, then the bottom of your foot, then ankle, up to your calf and knee, continuing, with care up, up through your entire body.
- Ask yourself if there is tightness or a sensation of holding there, wherever your attention rests. Note the places in your body where you find these places of tension and/or discomfort.
Over time you will begin to notice these as “regular” places you hold your pain. These define your “Pain Signature”.
- When you complete the session take another deep breath and a moment to appreciate the good work and effort you are making to better manage your chronic pain and your overall well-being.
*If your mind wanders during the process gently and kindly, without judgement, bring your attention back to the breath and pick up the body scan where you left off.
On some days you may have to stop, perhaps only having scanned a leg or two; allowing yourself to become upset is never the desire. Simply recognize it and give yourself the gift of acceptance and the opportunity to try again tomorrow. And that’s okay. If it takes you weeks to be able to sit with focus for a full body scan, from your toes to the top of your head, it’s okay.
Tomorrow is always a new day, a fresh opportunity. Over time you will find that just the simple effort of beginning the process, the attention to your breath and, most importantly, to the moment and the seeds of possibility it contains, bring positive changes. And such a stance is always a good beginning.