Harvard Women's Health Watch

Treating pain with your brain

Mindfulness can be an effective adjunct to medication for chronic pain.

treating pain with your brain
Image: Tetmc/ Thinkstock

For a long time, people with chronic pain have had to make a trade-off—enduring the discomfort stoically or taking medications that pose additional health risks, including dependence and addiction. But in the last few years, medicine has added another approach that has no troubling side effects: mindfulness.

"Mindfulness is basically paying attention to the present moment without judging," says Dr. Sara Lazar, a neurologist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. It is a component of many relaxation techniques, including yoga, deep breathing, tai chi, massage, reflexology, journaling, and prayer.

How to do it

Mindfulness involves focusing your mind on the present and letting go of concerns about the past and the future. Several books and training programs are available to help you learn this technique. Here are the basics of a mindfulness meditation practice:

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