Meditating Away Pain (Part 1)

2008 August 30


Today I want to start a three part Saturday Series to go with the last one on migraines. In this series, I will try to teach you basic meditation. The aim is to finish with my own meditation method to manage migraine pain. You should be able to use this method with other forms of acute pain – pain that goes away. I haven’t tried it on pain that stays – chronic pain. If anyone does find it useful, or not, for chronic pain please let me know.

Before we start one word of caution. Although I draw on Buddhist meditation, it is not my aim to teach Buddhist meditation. To learn this you should find an ordained, qualified teacher. You do not need to be a Buddhist or learn other forms of meditation! Anyone may follow the method I will teach to manage pain. You can also apply the method to coping with other things you may dislike, like noise and other distractions. You may, though, like to know the origin of the “counting the breaths” and “pleasant, neutral, and unpleasant” aspects. I give the references at the end of this post. If you are interested in Buddhist meditation, these books are a great place to start.

Finally, I have heard back from others who I have talked to. They suggest that pretty much any form of meditation can relieve pain. So if my method does not work for you, you may still want to try other ones.

“Counting the Breaths”

Meditation is a method to relax the mind and body while sharpening mental focus. Relaxation itself may help with pain management. The mental focus will help when we come to parts two and three.

The most basic form of meditation is simple. Anyone can learn to do it. But in order to learn to meditate, you will need a quiet, comfortable space free from disturbances. If you have others around you, you will need to make sure they will not disturb you. Later on, as you go along, this will be less essential. You may also need pain-free time in which to start to learn meditation.

Most teachers recommend some form of Eastern sitting posture. But for our purpose this is not necessary. The most important thing is that you are comfortable and undisturbed. You can sit in a full-lotus position if that works for you. But sitting on a chair, or cross-legged or lying down will each do fine. You can close your eyes, or keep them open. But you are more likely to fall asleep if you close them!

All forms of meditation start with the breath. This is because it is a simple process we all do. So to begin with, simply sit (or lie) and be aware of each breath. Let the breaths come naturally as they will. Simply be aware of breathing in, and then of breathing out.

After a while you may notice the slight, natural pause after each breath in and each breath out. This forms the usual cycle of breathing: breathe in, pause, breathe out, and pause, and so on.

Do not worry if thoughts stray into your head. This is normal even for seasoned meditators! Simply think “I acknowledge this thought”, and return to being aware of your breathing. Also, do not worry if sometimes you cannot relax. This too happens even to seasoned meditators! Just acknowledge whatever happens. The important thing with meditation here is to just sit (or lie) and be aware of your breathing.

After a while (in each sitting), or even straight away, you can move on to the “counting of the breaths”. This is the first method to get used to. It is a simple one that helps to focus on breathing and removing stray thoughts. With each in-breath count, and count the same number with the out-breath:

  • Breathing in, thinking “one”,
    Breathing out, thinking “one”,
    Breathing in, thinking “two”,
    Breathing out, thinking “two”…

And so on until ten. When you reach ten, simply begin at one again. If you should find yourself distracted, again simply acknowledge the distraction and begin counting at one.

This is the method of counting the breaths. You should start by practising this simple method for a few days or weeks. Once you get used to just sitting (or lying) and counting breaths, you can move on to part two.

Don’t worry! This series will be here when you’re ready to return!

Counting the breaths, from p. 35 of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s Breathe! You are alive.
Pleasant, neutral, unpleasant aspects, from the Satipatthana Sutta, from p. 20 of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s Transformation and Healing.

Nhat Hanh, Thich. (1990). Breathe! You are Alive: On the Full Awareness of Breathing. Rider.
Nhat Hanh, Thich. (2006). Transformation and Healing: Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness. Parallax Press.



  1. Hi Porillion,

    I like your post on meditation to relieve pain. I used to suffer from migraine headaches and what cured me–forever–of them was the phrase originated by Coue: “Every day, in every way, I am better, better, and better.” I would repeat this to myself many times a day. I have a new blog about diabetes and wrote a post on this phrase last week. Please come and visit: http://doablediabetes.wordpress.com.

    Your mind is a very powerful thing and is quite capable of healing. Another thing that works miracles is your belief in yourself that you are able to and can heal yourself.


  2. Hi, Gloria,

    Thank you for your kind comment. You are quite right, the mind is a powerful thing. I look forward to reading your blog posts.

    Take care,

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