The older we get, the more things seem to hurt. An ache here. A pain there. From arthritis to an aching back, it can be hard to make it through a week without heading to the medicine cabinet for a bit of relief.
But let’s face it, pain pills come with risks. And no matter whether it’s stomach bleeding for an over-the-counter NSAID, or developing an addiction to a prescription medication, regularly popping pain pills can come at a cost.
But you don’t have to choose between living in pain and taking risky pain pills. Researchers have uncovered simple but powerful techniques you can use to erase your pain without drugs.
Letting go of fight or flight is key to erasing pain
The key to controlling pain without medication is to break the pain-stress cycle. Pain causes stress (obviously), but the more stress you’re under the more pain you’re in – which leads to even more stress. It’s a vicious circle.
That’s where these potent breathing techniques come in. They allow you to refocus your brain, relax your body and relieve the stress that’s making your pain worse. And even better, unlike taking pain pills, there are zero side effects so you can use them as often as you need to.
1. Focused breathing:
The average person takes over 23,000 breaths in a single day. But few of us give much (if any) thought to breathing.
This easy-to-do focused breathing technique is designed to change that. Because as soon you refocus your thinking on your breathing, you automatically focus less on your pain. As a result your stress level plummets and your pain eases.
- Find a comfortable position, either sitting up or lying down. Just make sure you can relax.
- Take 20 breaths. Don’t inhale or exhale any differently than normal. Just take them, and count them.
- For the next 20 breaths, focus on slowing your breathing down just a little bit.
Whenever any other thoughts take your focus away from your breathing—no matter whether it’s the dishes in the sink or the pain—gently refocus on your breath and start counting again from one.
2. Belly breathing:
With belly breathing you will be changing the way you breathe. Most folks take shallow breaths using only the muscles in their chest, shoulder and neck area. They never engage their diaphragm, the powerful dome shaped muscle that sits at the bottom of our lungs.
You can test to confirm you are a chest breather by placing a hand on your upper chest and one on your belly and breathing as you normally do. If you find the hand on your chest moves more than the one on your belly you are chest breathing.
Belly breathing provides you with more oxygen and has been shown to lower stress levels which will, in turn, help you control your pain. Instead of just mindlessly filling your lungs this technique has you focus on using your diaphragm.
- Lie flat on your back, with your knees bent and your head supported. Place a hand on your upper chest and one below your ribs.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose while focusing on having the breath move your stomach up against your hand. The hand on your chest should stay as still as possible.
- Exhale by tightening your tummy muscles, letting them move inward as you breathe out through pursed lips. (Again, you want the hand on your chest to remain as still as possible.)
Take your time. This isn’t a race. Simply focus on making sure the hand on your belly is the only one moving. Once you master belly breathing you will be able to do it anywhere, even sitting in a chair or standing.
3. 4-square breathing:
Once again, 4-square breathing is a simple technique that’s designed to break the pain-stress cycle. It helps you focus on your breathing, relaxing your body and reducing your pain.
- Slowly inhale through your nose for a count of 4.
- Hold that breathe for a count of 4.
- Exhale through your mouth for a count of 4.
If you want to get even more benefits from these breathing exercises you can combine them with some easy visualization. For example, many folks find picturing their pain as a color, such as a red fog, allows them to imagine blowing it out of their body with each exhale.
Or try picturing yourself somewhere safe, happy and pain-free. Like a warm tropical beach. These kinds of visualizations can help keep you focused, and have been shown to help relieve pain on their own.
These simple exercises could help you take control of your pain once and for all. Give them a try. All you’ve got to lose is your pain.