Since birth, I was plagued with a lot of ear pain. I don’t remember much before 5 years old, but my mother would tell me of all the trips to the doctor’s office for my “achilles heel”–my ear, or both actually, never at the same time. My ears used to take turns as if they knew that two earaches would be too much for my low tolerance to pain could bear. Agonizing lancing of the eardrum, a release of the fluid, did help, but I was right back to ear pain two or three months later.
My mother was satisfied that my pain had gone away and never asked the doctor why. But somewhere around 12, I wanted to know why. The doctor explained to me, not having the information ever before, if the eustachian tube becomes blocked, fluid could build up, causing pressure behind the eardrum, and likely an ear infection. So too small eustachian tubes. Or too much fluid. I got it.
As a result, my mother always was fearful when I was invited to pool parties or beach trips that I could never ever go in the pool without a swimming cap or near the ocean, afraid that water could creep its way down to the eustachian tubes and cause another ear pain incident. So I missed out on the fun because of a congenital defect, and there was no arguing with my mother, stubborn and set in her ways as she was.
Fast forward to 50 when my earaches diminished. I had 10 years of mostly relief until I got a stroke at 61, and my right leg, due to the brain hemorrhage 14 years ago, is always throbbing. I decided then to launch into mindful mediation, not knowing what it was called until a decade later.
Research shows that meditation uses neural pathways that make the brain less sensitive to pain and increases use of the brain’s own pain-reducing opioids. So that is what I did. Lying down on my bed, I’d focus and virtually transfer my leg pain to my bed which caused my leg pain to reduce in severity. I wish I could have used that technique to transfer the ear pain.
So along comes Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor Emeritus of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, who recommends mindfulness meditation, as it’s now called, as the best form of mindfulness for pain conditions.
Kabat-Zinn calls it the body scan technique by following these simple steps:
- Lie on your back or in any comfortable seated position.
- Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Feel your belly expanding gently when you inhale and receding when you exhale.
- Focus on your feet. Feel any and all sensations in this area, including pain. Try to recede [or transfer] a little more into the floor [or bed or chair or sofa] every time you exhale.
- When your mind wanders, observe where it has gone and gently return your focus to the foot without judging yourself.
- If you notice pain, acknowledge it and any thoughts or emotions that accompany it, and gently breathe through it. See if by carefully observing the discomfort, you can help your body to relax. Don’t expect the pain to abate; just watch it with a mindful but non-judging mind.
- Gradually, let go of the focus on your feet completely—even if any pain there hasn’t gone away or has intensified—and move on to the ankles and repeat the process.
- Slowly and patiently, proceed this way throughout the body.
So using mindfulness meditation, and using the brain’s opioids, helped me to live with my pain, and not focus on it as much. Try it, with no drugs or special equipment to buy. It is the new “me” with less recognized pain. Enjoy!