What is Mindfulness and How Can it Help Pelvic Pain?

In Pelvic Pain by Shannon PacellaLeave a Comment

By Shannon Pacella, PHRC Lexington

If you’ve been a patient of mine, you probably remember me talking about the mind-body connection. This is especially important when it comes to pelvic pain and pelvic floor dysfunction. The pelvic floor muscles are innervated by the pudendal nerve which contains both motor and autonomic nerve fibers. Most other skeletal muscles (like your hamstrings, quads, glutes, etc.) are innervated by nerves that only contain motor fibers, not autonomic. Because of this special physiology, the pelvic floor muscles will respond to training in mindfulness, and this should be incorporated into the treatment of pelvic pain. 

The word mindfulness gets thrown around quite a bit, and you may often hear it connected to meditation. But do you really know what mindfulness is all about? Hopefully by the end of this post, you’ll have a better understanding!

Mindfulness is a process of regulating attention in order to bring a quality of non elaborative awareness to current experience and a quality of relating to one’s experience within an orientation of curiosity, openness, and acceptance.

Let me break this down for you. There are two components of mindfulness:

  • First component: 
    • Involves the self-regulation of attention so that it is maintained on immediate experience, allowing for increased recognition of mental events in the present moment. 
  • Second component: 
    • Involves adopting a particular orientation toward one’s experiences in the present moment, characterized by curiosity, openness, and acceptance.

Mindfulness is a form of mental training used to reduce cognitive vulnerability to reactive modes of mind that might otherwise heighten stress and emotional distress, while meditation is a tool/technique used to enable mindfulness. 

Training in meditation can be used to cultivate the capacity to evoke and apply mindfulness to enhance emotional well-being and mental health.

Here’s a quick ‘how to meditate’ guide*: 

  • First, try to find a comfortable position, this may be laying down, sitting, standing, or even walking. 
  • Attempt to maintain attention on a particular focus, most commonly it is on your own breathing.
  • Whenever your attention wanders from the breath to inevitable thoughts and feelings that arise, you simply take note of them and then let them go, as your attention is returned to your breath. 
  • Do not try to suppress your thoughts or feelings, they are welcome, however, do not dwell on them. Allow them to come, but then allow them to go as you focus on your breathing. 
  • This process is repeated each time that your attention wanders away from your breath. 

*There are many ways to meditate, but most varieties are similar in their basic procedures and goals.

There is an emphasis on simply taking notice of whatever your mind happens to wander to and accepting each object (any stimulus: thoughts, feelings, sounds, etc.) without making judgements or elaborating on its implications, additional meanings, or need for action.

It is encouraged to use this same general approach outside of formal meditation practice by bringing awareness back to the here-and-now during the course of the day, using the breath as an anchor, whenever attention has become focused on streams of thoughts, worries, or ruminations. By going through the procedure of meditation, it will lead to a state of mindfulness. 

In a state of mindfulness, thoughts and feelings are observed as events in the mind, without over-identifying with them and without reacting to them in an automatic, habitual pattern of reactivity. This state of self-observation is thought to introduce a “space” between one’s perception and response.

Mindfulness is thought to enable one to respond to situations more reflectively (instead of reflexively). When you respond reflexively, you are not giving yourself time to think about how you are responding to the situation; you may say something or do something that you did not truly want to say/do. By being mindful and allowing yourself to respond reflectively, you are able to create a space where you can react thoughtfully. 

Mindfulness can be described as a kind of non elaborative, non judgemental, present-centered awareness in which each thought, feeling, or sensation that arises in the attentional field is acknowledged and accepted as it is. 

Did you know that mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) is a treatment program originally developed for the management of chronic pain? If you like to learn more about the connection between mindfulness and chronic pain, check out this previous post: Mindfulness Meditation: Is it actually effective for treating chronic pain? 

I hope this has inspired you to try and be more mindful throughout the day, and I urge those with pelvic pain to incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine. 

Here’s a quick and simple guided meditation to give you a place to start!

 

References:

  1. Bishop SR, Lau M, Shapiro S, et al. Mindfulness: a proposed operational definition. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice. 2006;11(3):230-241. doi:10.1093/clipsy.bph077

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