You Can't Change What You Don't Pay Attention To - Mindfulness and Self-Compassion


Many with low back pain often get frustrated and angry with themselves and their pain for the way it limits their lives. And for many, getting good at "tuning out" their pain is the only way they feel they can live their lives. This is very natural. As "self-compassion" researcher Kristin Neff explains, even when amoeba are studied under the microscope, they will naturally move away from painful or toxic stimuli.


So why is it important to get "mindful" in treating your back pain? As I've explained in previous posts, decreasing or eliminating your back pain requires listening to your body's signals so that you can make the adjustments needed, in the moment, to decrease the irritation building in your spine (the goal of this blog is to teach you what adjustments need to be made).


Brene Brown, popular shame researcher, instead of using the word "Mindful", prefers the term "Courageous Presence". It takes courage to stay in the moment and be present with the pain you currently feel. But that is the only way you will learn to listen to what your body is telling you, when your back is getting tired of the position you are in, or is signaling to you that if you continue doing this current activity, such as gardening, vacuuming, or even walking, your back pain will increase later. If you do not learn to listen to what your back is telling you in the moment, your back will continually get irritated, keeping the chronic pain cycle going.


And getting mad or frustrated at your pain, at yourself, is not the answer. You must learn to be gentle with yourself, practice self-compassion, and learn to honor what your back pain is telling you in the moment by making the necessary adjustment.


Being mindful and gentle with your pain looks like this: check your symptoms "at baseline", when you first get into a position or start an activity, for example, then if you begin to feel an increase in your symptoms (ie. increasing tightness or fatigue in your low back), make the necessary adjustment. What does that adjustment look like? Depends on the situation. If you are sitting, notice increase back discomfort, and realize your forgot to put a pillow behind your back, then the adjustment is to put a pillow behind your back. Or if you are slouched forward while sitting, lean back, or if still discomfort, walk around or lie down for a little while.


If you are standing doing the dishes and you begin to feel increased fatigue in your back, or increased sciatica in your leg, take a break and sit or lie down. It's not the end of the world if you do the dishes in 2 sessions instead of one.


Be gentle with your body, and let your back pain and the signals it sends you guide your choices.


If you continue to practice this gentle compassionate mindfulness day by day, you will develop better habits, change how you live with your back pain daily, and decrease your pain permanently, .


Here is a podcast with Kristin Neff, the self-compassion researcher mentioned above... please give it a listen to get a better understanding of what self-compassion looks like in your daily life.