Mindfulness for Chronic Pelvic Pain
By Jayme Barr
Women’s Health PT
Living with any type of chronic pelvic pain (CPP) can be debilitating. You may feel no one believes your pain is real. You may have a wide range of symptoms that make you feel isolated including urinary, bowel, or sexual dysfunction, and emotional distress. Your CPP may have a name like pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis, irritable bowel syndrome, or interstitial cystitis. Maybe there is no name at all. Living with CPP can be challenging, both physically and emotionally. It can impact every aspect of your life, from work and relationships to self-esteem and quality of life.
No matter where you are in your pain journey, remember two things:
“Your pain is 100% real and only you can know what your pain is like.”
“Pain is produced by the brain 100% of the time, not by the tissues.”
Change Your Brain, Change Your Pain, by Carolyn Vandyken, PT
This means that to treat pain, we must start by understanding our brain.
Over time, pain can be experienced as an unpredictable and uncontrollable emotional stress. This leads to elevated stress levels that change how the brain perceives pain. Instead of experiencing pain due to actual tissue damage, pain may start to be experienced while sitting in traffic, on a stressful business call, or during a disagreement with a friend or loved one. But the brain is amazing and has the power to make changes for the better! This is called neuroplasticity-the ability to change neural activity in response to internal or external stimuli by reorganizing its structure, functions, or connections after injuries. We can achieve neuroplasticity through mindfulness.
Studies have shown that practicing mindfulness can help reduce pain levels in people with CPP. Mindfulness can help you become more aware of your pain sensations and learn to tolerate them without getting caught up in negative thoughts or emotions.
What does a mindfulness practice look like? Begin your journey in small, achievable steps.
- Start by paying attention to your body and mind without judgment. Be curious. Allow yourself to experience the present moment and note whether an experience is agreeable, disagreeable, or neutral
- Switch to using the words “sensation” rather than “pain” and “persistent” rather than “chronic”
- Visualize the Two Arrows approach to understanding disagreeable sensations. The first arrow that hits you is the sensation itself. The second arrow that hits you is how we react to the sensation. This second arrow is where we have power to make change
- When you notice an emotional reaction to a disagreeable sensation, try a calming visualization
- Use your imagination to picture yourself in a beautiful outdoor space. For example, imagine you are floating peacefully on the water of a calm ocean. The water is supporting you and taking away any need for stress
- Think of the mind like a camera lens. Zoom out to get a wide angle perspective. When you zoom out, see yourself becoming smaller. In doing so, the disagreeable sensation will also appear smaller
- Imagine your mind is opening up to the sky: open, vast, expansive, and spacious. Any sensations are just clouds floating by in an otherwise calm, clear blue sky. They are transient and do not stay forever
- Picture a golden light above your head. Each time you inhale, bring the light deeper into your body. Let it fill you up. Let it reach every corner of your body. Exhale out any tension or stress. Keep the light within you throughout your day
- Try a guided meditation that teaches body scanning and loving kindness
- Learn diaphragmatic breathing to automatically activate your parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system
- Breath awareness is my favorite way to relax the pelvic floor
- Meditation & Breath Work | Pelvic Health Support
- Add safe and gentle movement to your day
- Tai Chi or Qi Gong
- Dancing or movement to music
- Mindful Movement Practice | Pelvic Health Support
- Use mindfulness education to learn and validate your journey and experiences
Mindfulness can be a powerful tool. Start exploring the resources above and see how your body reacts. Most importantly, listen to your body, be kind to yourself, and find what resonates. You are capable of healing and living a beautiful life!
If you’re looking for more help and guidance, email me with the subject MINDFULNESS to learn more about my virtual wellness and mindfulness coaching. Mention Pelvic Health Support in your email for $20 off your first session.
Jayme Barr‘s mission in rehabilitation is to share health and wellness knowledge with as many people as possible. Wellness is a dynamic process of change and growth, building awareness of and making choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life.