If you want to improve your relationship to your body and decrease pain and discomfort, start a meditation practice. Meditation has given me deep connection with and knowledge of myself, the ability to be in charge of my own energy, space from my thoughts and feelings, and choice instead of reactivity. In this post, I'll explain why meditation is so relevant for my massage clients, what meditation is and why it is important, and I'll share a guided meditation to get you started.
Massage and meditation
I see a lot of clients with pain and tension in their bodies. While massage is invaluable, meditation is available anytime and can address the roots of pain and tension in the long term. Science shows that pain doesn't even exist until the brain creates it. The brain interprets signals from the body together with our current situation, memories, thoughts, beliefs, and emotions, and all these come together to create what we experience as "pain." This is not to say that your pain is not real, it proves that you can influence your experience of pain. It explains why some people can have bodily harm without pain (ever notice a bruise later and wonder how you got it?) and pain without tissue damage (like an injury that you can see has healed but still hurts). To learn more, watch this brilliant 15 minute talk from renowned pain scientist Lorimer Moseley.
I find that meditation is extremely effective to ease uncomfortable and painful experiences. Meditation reconnects you to your body, allows you to identify unconscious thoughts or feelings that may be making your pain worse, and calms your nervous system allowing for healing and relaxation to take place.
What is meditation?
I define meditation as training your attention. A lot of people who haven't tried meditation, or have and feel as though they have "failed", may have misconceptions about what meditation is. Often these thoughts consist of: I can't quiet my mind, I can't do it right, I can't sit still for that long, or I don't have enough time. If this is you, that's ok! Acknowledge these ideas you already have about meditation, and then forget what you think you know.
Let me address these concerns and define meditation further. First, a quieter mind may result from meditation, but it is never a prerequisite. Second, there are many types of meditation and no "right way" to do it. Meditation is a regular practice and your experience will be different every time. As my friend's grandma says, it is just like mental flossing. Most people don't worry about how well you flossed today - you just do it consistently as part of your daily routine to care for your body.
What does it mean to train your attention? You strengthen your ability to focus your mind on one thing just like strengthening a muscle. When you focus on your breath, you are training your mind to put all its attention on the breath. You can also choose to focus on your body, on a visualization, on a mantra or phrase, on a concept or idea, or on witnessing your thoughts and feelings. Just like training a puppy, if you wander away from the thing you've decided to focus on, you just gently bring your attention back without believing the story that you are doing it wrong.
There is also no one proper position to meditate in. You can meditate while sitting still in various positions, while lying down, or while moving. Explore positions and choose what is appropriate for you in the moment - you want to be alert and relaxed.
Finally, here's the paradox: when you take time to meditate you have more time. After meditating, you are more focused, calm, present, and efficient throughout your day. This literally creates more time.
Why train your attention?
In our modern world, it is easy to have our attention split both in time and in place. Say you are at work, but you are thinking about the fight you had last night with your partner or you are worried about the future of your bank account. Maybe you are writing a blog post but you are also checking your phone and you have food on the stove. When your attention is in so many times and places at once, it is easy to feel frantic, overwhelmed, and tense. These emotions literally translates to tension in your muscles. When you are not present, you ignore your body, not noticing when you are hungry, tired, thirsty, or need to move. In other words, we are a shitty friend to our bodies when our attention is all over the place.
As humans, we have big beautiful minds that allow us to be creative, solve problems, and help others. Our minds also over-complicate things and keep us limited and stuck. Meditation creates space so you can notice your thoughts instead of being swept up in them. This allows you to accept your mind as it is and begin to choose your thoughts. Almost all my clients tell me they are stressed and most realize how this creates tension in their bodies. We all have challenges in our lives that are out of our control, but the way we think about and approach these challenges is entirely our choice. Meditation has helped me notice the ways my beliefs and habits influence the way I feel in my body, and I see this relationship all the time in my clients.
Where do I start?
By now, if you don't have a regular meditation practice already, I hope I've convinced you to give it a try or recommit to your practice. So what now? Start with a guided meditation. I recommend trying a few different types to find what resonates for you. I have learned many types of meditation and I see them like tools in a tool box. I use different types depending on the day and my mood.
As a massage therapist focused on helping people feel better in their bodies, I offer you a meditation called a body scan to begin. I have recorded one here for you to try. Enjoy!
I find the body scan incredibly helpful before bed to relax and separate from the day. Meditation is also my favorite way to begin each day. When I meditate in the mornings, I am more centered, present, and relaxed, and I cope better with daily challenges. It is also helpful anytime I am struggling with tension or discomfort in my body, even a few minutes focusing on my body makes a big difference whatever position I'm in.
Resources for your next step
If you enjoyed the body scan, feel free to use the recording as much as you'd like! You can also find body scans of different styles or lengths on YouTube.
I highly recommend meditating with a class or group of people to get started. Look for classes or centers in your area, and try out a few. If you live in the Bay Area, I highly recommend my school, Psychic Horizons. You learn extremely practical tools to center, ground, establish boundaries, and much more. They offer free introductory classes every Tuesday evening at 7:30.
If you'd rather learn on your own, I recommend downloading the free Sounds True app. They offer various guided meditations in different styles to try. It may point you in a direction you are excited to explore.
I'd love to hear your experience with the body scan. Feel free to email me or comment below to share or ask a question. Enjoy practicing meditation!