Meditation for Stress Relief and Healing

Physical therapists employ a wide variety of therapeutic exercises to support the healing process of their clients. If you’re a physical therapist, then meditation is a modality that should definitely be included in your toolbox.

What makes meditation techniques so effective as an adjunct to your usual protocols? The answer is pretty clear and simple: meditation helps to reduce mental, emotional, and physical stress. And a reduction in stress can play a key role in reducing inflammation and pain in the body.

A Cawley physical therapist in NEPA can help patients to meditate along with their regular exercises for holistic healing in their bodies.

The Physical & Psychological Effects of Stress

How exactly does stress affect the body? According to Kara Hannibal and Mark Bishop (Physical Therapy Journal: December 2014):

“As your body perceives stress, your adrenal glands make and release the hormone cortisol into your bloodstream. Often called the “stress hormone,” cortisol causes an increase in your heart rate and blood pressure. It’s your natural flight or fight response that has kept humans alive for thousands of years.”

While stress responses can, in the short term, be an effective strategy to avoid harm, in the long term, such responses are maladaptive and can prevent timely and effective recovery from injuries. The overall review of the literature suggests that:

“… exaggerated psychosocial responses to acute pain are maladaptive and likely to intensify the pain experience and impede recovery.”

Basically, when the human body gets stuck in its sympathetic nervous system “fight or flight” mode, a cascade of effects create increasing levels of pain and dysfunction:

“Ultimately, a prolonged or exaggerated stress response may perpetuate cortisol dysfunction, widespread inflammation, and pain.”

The Benefits of Meditation

And this is where meditation comes in. One of the most well-documented effects of skillful meditation practice is stress relief. Meditation tends to calm the sympathetic nervous system, and restore the parasympathetic “rest and repair” functions. And while this would be reason enough to include meditation in your physical therapy protocol, it’s actually just the tip of the iceberg!

The full range of benefits of a daily meditation practice—that Western science has validated—include:

  • Stress relief & relaxation
  • Decreased worry & mind-wandering
  • Lowering of blood pressure
  • Enhanced vitality
  • Deeper and more nourishing sleep
  • Increased mental clarity and intelligence
  • Improved focus and concentration
  • More positive outlook
  • Lengthens attention span
  • Enhanced creativity & insight
  • Equanimity & compassion
  • Helps control pain

Meditation Can Help Control Pain

There are many different kinds of meditation—and while almost all are fantastic for reducing stress, some have been designed specifically to help relieve pain. Mindfulness training, in particular, can be especially useful in this regard.

And recent research—using functional MRI—has confirmed the power of these sorts of mindfulness techniques. In one recent fMRI study, scientists concluded that:

“The results suggest that mindfulness training can modulate the brain network dynamics underlying the subjective experience of pain.”

One great resource for this kind of mindfulness training is Shinzen Young’s audio instruction in Break Through Pain —which provides detailed guidance in how to use meditation to help control pain, and increase feelings of comfort, ease, and safety in the body.

Another excellent resource is Meditation Now: A Beginner’s Guide, by Elizabeth Reninger, which provides a general definition of meditation as:

“The art and science of silent introspection—of giving your body and mind a rest, while remaining fully awake and observant.”

One can also compare meditation to physical activities such as weight training or power walking. Ms. Reninger writes:

“Simply put, meditation techniques are tools for knowing, shaping, and liberating the mind. In the same way that cardio or weight-training helps you cultivate a healthy, strong, and flexible body, meditation practice helps you cultivate a healthy, strong, and flexible mind.”

This kind of definition can help your physical therapy clients better understand how meditation fits in and can support the other modalities that you are employing. And, of course, when they begin to notice a reduction in pain, they will understand firsthand the power of this ancient practice.

The Bottom Line: Meditation Enhances Physical Therapy

Including simple mindfulness meditations in your physical therapy sessions is a great way to help your clients relax more deeply, release unnecessary tensions and stress, and become more psychologically healthy.

Some people are afraid of physical therapy—and a gentle meditation session can also help calm these fears.

And most importantly, meditation can facilitate a more rapid healing process—by contributing directly to a reduction of physical inflammation and pain.

For help meditating as a complement to standard physical therapy, call Cawley Physical Therapy & Rehab today.