Mindfulness, the ability to be 'awake' to life in each present moment, has been around for thousands of years with origins in ancient meditation practices. Presently mindfulness is in the middle of boom, receiving the wide scale recognition it deserves.
Most people see mindfulness in terms of helping us to live with stress and mental health issues - and rightly so - but, in my view, what isn't getting the same level of acknowledgement is that mindfulness is also an incredible tool to helps us live better with physical pain and illness. I know this through my own life experience.
I am no stranger to pain. I injured my spine as a teenager and have lived with chronic pain and disability for over three decades; it is through my own personal journey of suffering that I came to mindfulness - and it has transformed my life from just existing to a full life of joy and opportunities.
Mindfulness in relation to pain is about being present in the moment, feeling the physical sensations in the body and noticing what you're thinking and feeling emotionally. This will allow you to make choices about how you respond to painful physical experience rather than being driven by automatic negative mental, emotional and physical reactions.
When you are experiencing ongoing pain or a long-term illness, suffering occurs on two levels. There's the actual unpleasant sensations felt in the body - the primary suffering. Then there's the secondary suffering which is made up of all the thoughts, feelings and memories associated with the pain - based on resistance - which often leads to depression, anxiety and tension.
Through mindfulness we can learn to tease apart the two kinds of suffering, meaning we can learn to accept the primary sensations and in turn, greatly reduce the secondary suffering which has a way of dissolving when looked upon with a compassionate eye.
It takes courage and dedication to develop an ongoing mindfulness practice. But, by turning towards something we find difficult, such as pain or illness, things will seem to get easier, and by allowing thoughts and sensations to rise and fall, without running away from them or pushing them away you can feel more grounded, more stable and more equipped to cope with whatever is going on.
The motivation behind all my work is remembering when I was a young woman with my life and body in crisis due to my spinal injuries and the pain that I live with, not knowing where to turn. I had to figure it all out by myself. Now I can offer a helping hand to people who find themselves in a similar situation of pain and illness. Hopefully they won't have to go through the lonely journey that I was on for so many years. Mindfulness completely transformed my life.
Meet the authors, Vidyamala Burch and Dr Danny Penman, of the international bestselling book 'Mindfulness for Health, a Practical Guide to Relieving Pain, Reducing Stress and Restoring Wellbeing' on Saturday 12th April 2014, 3.00 - 5.00pm at London Buddhist Centre, Bethnal Green Road, E2 0HU. Book here.