You Are Not Your Pain– Book Review

Vid BurchThis is a wonderful book if you would like to learn to approach your pain with mindfulness. This 8-week program step by step teaches you to use mindfulness to relieve pain, reduce stress, and restore well-being. ” Every Moment Is a New Chance”, the title of the first chapter is a hope-filled reminder that we can take an active role in changing our experience.

Vidyamala Burch and Denny Pennman speak from experience and with a lot of compassion, as they teach about all aspects of bringing more presence to chronic pain. Like many books these days, they address the possibility of rewiring the brain, by working with the negativity bias of our “old brain”. “This rebalancing will help you see more clearly, act more effectively, and be less distracted and rattled by day-to-day- life… As this sense of tranquility builds, it will further reduce your pain and suffering, while dissolving feelings of anxiety, stress, unhappiness and exhaustion” (pg. 141-142).

The book, already reasonably priced, includes a CD with a guided meditation for each week, including a specific body scan, the Breathing Anchor meditation, and a Mindful Movement meditation. The meditations are short, each around 10 minutes, which means you can easily fit them into your day. I experience them as effective and deeply nourishing. Vidyamala guides you expertly with comfortable pacing, clarity, and warmth. These medititations are among the most helpful I have encountered. You can try a shorter one right now: The 3 minute breathing space.

Listen to an interview with Vidyamala

Today, while weeding my garden, I finally listened to the great 2010 interview with Vidyamala on Sounds True. They published her prior book Living Well with Pain and Illness. Vidyamala talked about her story. At age 25, after several years of chronic pain, she discovered that mindfulness. Despite having persistent pain in several areas of her body, mindfulness has helped her not only to lead an engaged and meaningful life for more than 25 years now, but her encouragement and teaching has helped countless others.

Here is an excerpt from the interview, listen to or read the transcript here.
Vidyamala: “Over many, many years I discovered …This thing I called pain was actually made up of many, many different components, and as long as I was running away from it, turning against it, trying to escape it I was never investigating it to find out, “what is this thing called pain?” What I teach now is that you can divide the experience of pain into two main elements: primary and secondary suffering. The primary suffering is the actual physical sensation in the body in the moment, which is in my case back pain, leg pain, neck pain on the whole. But actually that is very, very bearable and it’s changing all of the time, sometimes it’s quite bad and sometimes it’s really not very bad at all. And in the secondary suffering are all of the ways that I say to myself, “I don’t want this experience. I don’t want this to be happening to me.” So it’s mental tension—I’m talking in the first person here—but this is of course what everybody does I think in the experience of pain. So it manifests anxiety, depression, and fear mentally, and then physically, secondary tension, for this we’ve got the kind of impulse in your being of, “I don’t want this experience,” then you’re going to have secondary physical tension. So this is the thing you call pain, which is so dominant in the life of someone who’s living with pain. There’s one that you can’t change, which is the actual physical sensation in the moment, but everything else you can change. All of those sort of mental, emotional, and physical secondary reactions you can change. And by working with that, actually these sorts of pain become much, much diminished and your quality of life improves—well, in my experience—almost beyond recognition.”

Vidyamala is also offering classes and a lot of resources at  Breathworks, her center in the UK. She clearly is a gifted, kind and understanding teacher. Meet her via video at her website.
Photo curtesy of Breathworks