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Mind-Body Techniques for Chronic Pain & Illness

by Berlin Schaubhut |

You might know people who practice meditation, or yoga, or maybe you have a practice yourself. In general mind-body techniques and many businesses embracing these therapies are on the rise. 

Studies have shown those living with chronic pain and illnesses are more likely to try out relaxation therapy and other mind-body techniques than those without. This is good news because there is some evidence that certain practices can help alleviate symptoms in those with chronic illnesses and pain. Those living with chronic illnesses are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems, and for those with chronic pain; depression, stress, and anxiety can actually amplify your perception of pain. This means finding ways to help decrease these psychological stressors is a step towards alleviating pain and is important to maintaining a good quality of life.

There many different mind-body techniques and options out there. New apps such as  Calm and Headspace provide guided mediation. Some patients find relief with cognitive behavioral therapy or biofeedback. And many people enjoy moving meditation, such as yoga or tai chi. And many find comfort in their own form of meditation such as running, walking, gardening, painting, etc. 

Although more research into all mind-body techniques needs to be done, here are a few practices that have so far been studied to alleviate certain symptoms for the general population and those with chronic pain and illness. Keep in mind these might not work for everyone, and you might find something completely different that helios you. Finding what best for you is the most important thing!

Below are two techniques for guided mind-body relaxation techniques that you can do from home. For those just starting to explore this area it may be a good place to start; and for those with an established practice, try out these tools to maybe add to your wellness arsenal. 

Progressive Muscle Relaxation Therapy (PMR)

PMR was first developed in the 1920s by Dr. Edmund Jacobson. Since then, it has been clinically proven to decrease anxiety, depression, insomnia, and migraines. This can help with pain and symptoms associated with chronic illnesses such as fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis. The technique is to clench and release different areas of your body. For example, you might start at your head and clench your face muscles, hold for one breath, and then release. Then next clench and release your shoulders, and so on. This increases relaxation and releases tension. 


By practicing PMR, you teach your body to recognize the difference between the tensed state and the relaxed state. Therefore throughout your daily life by bringing awareness to the fact that you are tense, you can in response allow yourself to relax and release instead of holding on to it all day long without realizing it. This is why it is so helpful in preventing pain and other symptoms such as migraines and chronic headaches. 


PMR can be learned through a therapist or through a guided audio. You can do PMR sitting down or laying down. Studies have shown that you see the most benefits by practicing this 20 minutes every day. For example, every night before you go to bed, or on your lunch break. Eventually you learn how to do it on your own, and don’t necessarily need a therapist or recording to practice it.
There are many free recordings on youtube and other sites that you can try. Figure out which one you like best, or mix it up! 

Autogenic Training (AT)

AT was first developed in the 1930s by a psychologist Johannes Heinrich Schultz. Its goal is to use your body’s natural relaxation response help ease anxiety and depression, and to induce a calm heart rate. It employs verbal ques to bring awareness to six different aspects of your body: 

  1. heaviness of your limbs
  2. warmth of your body
  3. calm and regular heart function
  4. Breathing
  5. warmth in the upper abdomen area
  6. And a cooling sensation of the forehead

The therapist or audio recording will guide you through each of these, all you have to do is breath and follow along. 
You can find a variety of audio recordings and videos that will lead you through this on your own. Here is one to start out with:

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