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How mindfulness for health can help tackle chronic pain and illness

Mindfulness for Health


If you suffer from chronic pain or the stress and anxiety caused by ongoing illness, Mindfulness for Health by Vidyamala Burch and Danny Penman offers hope and healing.

The sister volume to the bestseller Mindfulness – Finding peace in a frantic world, this book provides a set of gentle, easy-to-follow practices that take very little time but build into a truly transformative programme to lessen your suffering and optimise your long-term wellbeing.


Extract from Chapter 1


We wrote this book to help you cope with pain, illness and stress. It will teach you how to reduce your suffering progressively, so that you can begin living life to the full once again. It may not completely eliminate your suffering, but it will ensure that it no longer dominates your life. You’ll discover that it is possible to be at peace, even if illness and pain are unavoidable, and to enjoy a truly fulfilling life.


We know this to be true because we have both experienced terrible injuries and used an ancient form of meditation known as ‘mindfulness’ to ease our suffering. The techniques in this book have been proven to work by doctors and scientists in universities around the world. In fact, mindfulness is so effective that doctors and specialist pain clinics now refer their patients to our Breathworks centre in Manchester and to courses run by our affiliated trainers around the world. Every day we help people find peace amid their suffering.


This book and the accompanying CD reveal a series of simple practices that you can incorporate into daily life to significantly reduce your pain, anguish and stress.They are built on Mindfulness-Based Pain Management (MBPM), which has its roots in the ground-breaking work of Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn of the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in America. The MBPM programme itself was developed by Vidyamala Burch (co-author of this book) as a means of coping with the after-effects of two serious accidents. Although originally designed to reduce physical pain and suffering, it has proven to be an effective stress-reduction technique as well.


Many hospital pain clinics now prescribe mindfulness meditation to help patients cope with the suffering arising from a wide range of diseases such as cancer (and the side effects of chemotherapy), heart disease, diabetes and arthritis. It is also used for back problems, migraine, fibromyalgia, coeliac disease, and a range of auto-immune diseases such as lupus and multiple sclerosis, as well as being effective for such long-term conditions as chronic fatigue syndrome and irritable bowel syndrome. It’s also useful for coping with labour pain. In addition to all these uses, clinical trials also show that mindfulness significantly reduces the anxiety, stress, depression, irritability and insomnia that can arise from chronic pain and illness.


The benefits of mindfulness meditation


  • Mindfulness can dramatically reduce pain and the emotional reaction to it. Recent trials suggest that average pain ‘unpleasantness’ levels can be reduced by 57 per cent while accomplished meditators report reductions of up to 93 per cent.
  • Clinical trials show that mindfulness improves mood and quality of life in chronic pain conditions such lower-back pain and in chronic functional disorders such as IBS, and in challenging medical illnesses, including multiple sclerosis and cancer.
  • Mindfulness is a potent antidote to anxiety, stress, depression, exhaustion and irritability. In short, regular meditators are happier and more contented, while being far less likely to suffer from psychological distress.
  • Mindfulness is at least as good as drugs or counselling for the treatment of clinical-level depression.
  • Meditation increases grey matter in areas associated with self-awareness, empathy, self-control and attention. It soothes the parts of the brain that produce stress hormones and builds those areas that lift mood and promote learning.
  • Meditation improves the immune system. Regular meditators are admitted to hospital far less often for cancer, heart disease and numerous infectious diseases.
  • Meditation improves heart and circulatory health by reducing blood pressure and lowering the risk of hypertension. Mindfulness reduces the risks of developing and dying from cardiovascular disease and lowers its severity should it arise.


Mindfulness-Based Pain Management revolves around an ancient form of meditation that was unknown in the West until recently. A typical meditation involves focusing on the breath as it flows into and out of the body. This allows you to see your mind and body in action, to observe painful sensations as they arise and to let go of struggling with them. Mindfulness teaches you that pain naturally waxes and wanes. You learn to gently observe it, rather than be caught up in it, and when you do so, something remarkable happens: it begins to melt away of its own accord.


‘My discovery of mindfulness has been life changing. I would say my chronic pain has reduced by approximately 80 to 90 per cent. Honestly – truly – I went from feeling pain each day, every day to feeling twinges once or twice a month, if that.’    Elaine

Mindfulness for Health is available to buy now from all good bookshops. It is also available to download as an e-book from all the major e-book retailers, so you can read it on your Kindle, iPad, Kobo, Nook or Sony Reader. To find out more, visit www.breathworks-mindfulness.co.uk.


‘Written by authors for whom pain is no stranger, and with many years’ experience of mindfulness, this wonderful book carries readers through ways of engaging with pain. All the mindfulness practices are described with gentleness and compassion, helping sufferers shift from anger and fighting with pain, to becoming accepting and compassionate to pain. In a world of much suffering, this book is a gift of wisdom and practical help’ 

Professor Paul Gilbert, PhD, OBE, author of The Compassionate Mind and Mindful Compassion, Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, UK