Monday, February 13, 2012

Mindfulness and managing pain

Mindfulness is an acquired skill, particularly useful for dealing with pain. It means being aware of ourselves - in this moment, especially of how we fit into our surrounds and our responses to external stimuli. Learning Alexander Technique complements other approaches to mindfulness.
Alexander Technique teaches us this skill as part of daily life – it helps us to observe ourselves, inhibit our habitual response to stimuli, and then to make a conscious choice about how we respond. It also offers tips for breathing that help in managing pain.
An episode of severe pain last year showed me the need for, and value of, mindfulness. It also demonstrated how much Alexander Technique has taught me, and that I still have a lot to learn.

Reaching the pain threshold in mid-air

As I left Sri Lanka and approached Australia in September 2011, a pain in my abdomen intensified and became continuous. Despite a repeated urge to go to the toilet, little urine flowed. My concern grew – was a tropical bug damaging my kidneys? Sitting in the plane was close to unbearable … just like having kidney stones.
On landing at Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport, I took a taxi straight to the Austin Hospital, leaving bags still to be unloaded. The hospital was 30 minutes away. By the time I was in the Emergency waiting room, the pain was acute.

Mindfulness and Alexander Technique

Phew. It was tough, but I was able to draw back from the pain, and prevent at least some unhelpful responses.  It helped to keep my body moving, and to watch my reflection in the waiting room window - I could see that I was holding myself pretty well in the circumstances.  A nurse caring for me observed that I was calm compared to many people she sees in Emergency. Conversation and the odd joke with her also helped me manage.
Of course, this was not at all easy. My voice became huskier with the intense pain, and at times I was bent over. I found it really helpful to sometimes breathe using the Alexander practice of ‘whispered ah’. It is calming, and it draws your attention to your breath and to muscles in the head, neck and torso that might be unnecessarily tense. Reading this reminded my partner of using Lamaze breathing during childbirth.
The end result was that I didn’t have a tropical bug, just an enlarged prostate pressing on the urethra, that required an operation. The experience gave me plenty of opportunity to apply and reflect on the Alexander Technique.
You must see a doctor if in pain. This information is not a substitute for medical advice.

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