Week 1: Understanding chronic pain

Week 4: Healthy thinking, healthy self

Week 5: Balancing your activity patterns

Week 6: Maintaining your gains and staying well

As we mentioned, mindfulness practice involves bringing your attention to the present moment without judgement. Mindfulness is linked to many health benefits, including reduced anxiety and improvement in chronic pain symptoms. When you practice mindfulness, you create space between yourself and your pain, making it feel less overwhelming. By helping you be in the here and now, mindfulness can help reduce your worry and uncertainty about the future.  

There are many ways to practice mindfulness in your daily life. The simple formula for any mindfulness exercise is to 1) simply observe something in the present, and 2) gently return your attention back to this thing whenever your mind wanders. In other words, you avoid judging or trying to change any thoughts or feelings that drift by. You simply learn to observe and let them go. This can be empowering and restore a sense of control in your life, as you learn that you no longer have to be pushed around by pain.

Your mindful focus can be on anything, whether it be your body, an object, action, sound, or inner experience. It is common for mindfulness practice to focus on the breath, because it is an ‘anchor’ to the present moment that is always available. Below, we discuss a few ways to practice mindfulness in more depth.  

Mindful breathing

You can easily bring mindfulness to the deep breathing exercise you learned above. The idea is that you focus your attention closely on your breathing as you perform the exercise. You become aware of the natural rhythm of your breath and the way it feels each time you inhale and exhale. Mindful breathing can be a particularly helpful way to gain a sense of calm and bring yourself back to the present moment when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed. 

Here’s how you can do it: 

    • Find a comfortable position. Take a seat or lie down in a place where you feel calm. Try to find somewhere quiet where you won’t be interrupted. 
    • Set your time limit. We suggest starting with a relatively short time limit, such as 5-10 minutes. You can set an alarm and build up gradually with practice. 
    • Notice your body. Observe any sensations, areas of comfort, pain and tightness. Don’t try to change anything, simply notice. Avoid judging what you observe, allow it to simply be as it is.   
    • Pay attention to your breath. Next, gently shift your focus to the breath. Follow the sensation of your breath as you inhale and exhale. Notice the rise and fall of your body. Focus on taking some slow, deep breaths and notice the difference in how you feel.  
  • Notice when your mind has wandered. Whenever this happens, congratulate yourself on becoming aware and gently direct your attention back to the exercise. Continue to pay attention to your breath for the duration of the exercise.  

Practice this exercise regularly, at least once or twice a day. If possible, practice several times throughout the day as a way to ground yourself to the present moment. 

Mindful movement

Mindful movement allows you to check in with your body and get moving in a way that can promote relaxation and decrease stress. It can be a great way to practice mindfulness with added benefits for physical health. When your body feels good, your mood often improves as well. Engaging in gentle movement can also improve energy and concentration. Mindful movement can involve walking, tai chi, stretching, yoga, and other forms of exercise. Here, we focus on walking and yoga/stretching.

Mindful walking can be a simple way to get started and explore mindful movement. The aim of mindful walking is to be fully present with the act of walking. Walk slowly as you try to focus on your experience. Notice your breath, how your legs move, the feeling of the ground beneath your feet, and the repetitive motions that move you forward. Each time your mind wanders, bring it back to the sensations of walking. Evidence shows that walking can help with chronic pain, but check with your doctor first to be sure it’s right for you. 

Yoga and stretching is another great way to practice mindfulness. It also helps to reduce stress and tension and is good for the body. It involves simply being aware of your body as you move, rather than being carried away by distracting thoughts. The same principles apply, simply redirect your attention back to your body whenever your mind wanders. We spend a lot of time in sedentary positions that are not good for our bodies or minds. Gentle movement can be a good way to feel physically refreshed and energised. Again, it is best to seek medical advice before trying this out.

Mindfulness of daily activities

Do you ever feel like you’re on autopilot, doing things without conscious awareness? Do you ever complete a task only to realise that you can’t remember doing it? These are signs that you are being mindless, rather than mindful. There are so many opportunities to practice mindfulness in our daily lives. For example, having a shower, washing the dishes, catching a bus or walking your dog. Throughout the day, look for opportunities to be more mindful.

Mindfulness of daily activities involves paying attention to any activity as you engage in it. It means tuning into your experience, noticing your emotions, and being aware of everything you do. As you focus on the present, observe your thoughts and feelings without becoming attached to them. Just allow them to come and go naturally. If you get distracted by a thought, simply redirect your attention back to what you’re doing.     

For example, Nina uses her morning shower as an opportunity to practice mindfulness. She focuses on the sensation of the warm water as it trickles down her body. She listens to the sound of the running water. She feels the sensations of her hands on her head as she washes her hair. She takes in the pleasant smell of her soap. She notices a sense of calm within as she fully participates in this activity. Of course, Nina’s mind wanders every now and then. Each time she notices this, she gently brings herself back to the present moment.