No longer is meditation relegated to the back corner as a so-called “alternative” therapy for holistically minded people. It’s too mainstream now — and for good reason: the evidence is mounting that meditation’s deep relaxation exerts a true influence on people’s health. And that includes patients who suffer from chronic illnesses.
While pills and injections are standard treatment for severe pain, physicians and nurses across the country are increasingly adding a preferred style of meditation to their pain-relieving arsenal. It’s known as “guided imagery” and it’s no stranger to the pages of Doctors Health Press. Patients are being guided to use the power of their own imagination to erase what is often overwhelming pain.
With guided imagery, you sit or lie down in a quiet place and breathe deeply. You allow your mind to wander and then you start imagining yourself elsewhere — perhaps on a canoe drifting on a silent lake, maybe swaying with the breeze on a hand glider, or possibly strolling on a calm beach with the tide rolling over your toes. You do it for as long as you want and it proves the power of our mind because it takes you away from the present and away from the pain. It also induces biological effects such as relaxed blood vessels that could play a role in pain relief.
Guided imagery is an ancient practice that is now being studied by academic researchers in the U.S. as a way to complement pain-relieving drugs. There are positive results coming from pediatric areas, as one study gave tapes to children that instructed them to “close their eyes, take a deep breath, feel the air go in, feel it go out,” and to “go to their favorite place.” This sort of thing. These young patients suffering pain kept diaries about when and where they felt pain, and, as it turned out, those on guided imagery had more improved symptoms than those that didn’t use it.
For adults, the evidence is also piling up. Cancer treatment centers now routinely use guided imagery to help patients increase their quality of life by reducing nausea and pain. Some researchers have found success using imagery to help patients who have osteoarthritis improve mobility, reduce pain, and gain a better quality of life. In fact, many forms of arthritis seem to respond to guided imagery, including the mysterious condition fibromyalgia. This easy, inexpensive technique could potentially work for any type of pain from angina to migraines to gout.
Guided imagery has no side effects, and even if it reduces pain only slightly, couldn’t it still be worth it? This is one of the few things you can do that has absolutely no down side. If chronic pain is a part of your life, any potential course of relief is one worth trying.