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The Benefits of Meditation for Individuals with a Spinal Cord or Brain Injury

June 04, 2019

Guest post by Craig Outpatient Occupational Therapist Ina Schakaraschwili, MA OTR/L

People have used meditation as a practice for thousands of years in their search for inner peace, emotional self-regulation, concentration, resilience and stress management as well as for improving overall physical and mental well-being.

Meditation is for everybody of all ages and backgrounds. It is not a religion. Meditation can offer many benefits to a diverse range of people; whether you are a patient, family member, friend, caregiver or clinician, we encourage you to sample meditation practice after reading this article by listening to one of our audio recordings of guided meditation at the end of this post.

What is meditation?

Meditation is a set of practices/strategies designed to help us calm and silence the mental inner chatter (feelings, emotions, thoughts) so we can relax the body, focus our attention, recognize and become aware of feelings, emotions and thoughts, and experience a sense of peace and serenity.

What is the meditation process?

During meditation, we observe various aspects of our experience, usually starting with our body sensations, and then moving to breath sensations, feelings, emotions and thoughts. As we recognize and become aware of all these aspects of our experience, they calm down.

During the body sensing or awareness stage, we rotate our attention through the physical body to observe sensations that are present with an emphasis on relaxation.

During the breath sensing or awareness stage, we observe how we breathe and how the breath affects our body, feelings, emotions and thoughts.

During the thought awareness stage, we observe thoughts, images and memories as messengers. We step back and become an observer or witness.

Basics: What happens during meditation practice?

  • Find the space. Find a place where it's easier for you to concentrate with as few external distractions as possible.
  • Find the time. Although there are times of the day that are more conducive to focus, such as dawn and dusk, the important thing is to find the time that suits your schedule.
  • Find a comfortable position. This can be seated or lying down.
  • Sense your body. Bringing your attention to body sensations helps anchor your mind in the present moment. This is where a systematic body scan can be helpful.
  • Be aware of your breath. Bringing your attention to your breath also begins to calm and focus the mind.
  • Be aware of your thoughts. Concentrating on a theme, images or memories allows you to focus your restless mind.

At first, all of these steps may be difficult as your thoughts may distract you frequently. Watch and let go without judgment. This is where the practice is.

Types of meditation and choosing your style

There are many types of meditation practices and techniques. It is very important that we choose a style that best fits our nature. Some people may focus better by following auditory guidance; others may prefer visual structure, and still others may prefer kinesthetic input or moving the body. It is important to try different styles until you find the most appropriate one.

What are the benefits of meditation supported by research?

Research outcomes indicate that meditation practice can have both physical and psychological benefits. It has been shown to alleviate or decrease anxiety/stress-related conditions, insomnia, chronic pain, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and high blood pressure. It has also been shown to increase emotional self-regulation, concentration and attention span, working memory, productivity and coping strategies.


Meditation for Patients

Meditation can have wide-ranging benefits for individuals recovering from spinal cord injury or brain injury at a physical and psychological level.

Meditation for Pain Management

Research on the mind/body relationship affecting health and overall wellness has shown that individuals who regularly practice meditation with emphasis on body and breath awareness can affect their heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, muscular relaxation and pain levels.

Studies have shown that positive thinking along with the use of breath can increase the production of endorphins, the "feel good" hormones in the body. As the body relaxes, there is increased blood flow to muscular areas that have been under tension. Thus, there is reduction of pain.

Meditation for Stress Management and Emotional Self-Regulation

Meditation can be a beneficial tool for managing stress and regulating your own emotions. Read more about this great benefit of meditation in this Craig Hospital resource.

Meditation for Self-Confidence

Meditation practice can have an impact on how we perceive ourselves through the use of visualization and affirmations. This can be a powerful practice. Thoughts, if directed in the proper direction, can have the power to bring about change in the body, feelings, emotions and self-image.

Meditation for Increasing Cognitive Function

Among many other research studies, a recent study, "Mindfulness Training Improves Working Memory Capacity and GRE Performance While Reducing Mind Wandering," published in the journal Psychological Science, showed that meditation practice can increase concentration and attention span.


Meditation for Family Members and Caregivers

Life after a loved one's injury can be stressful and wreak havoc within the normal state of things. It can also be demanding and taxing on the caregiver's inner strength, endurance and inner resources. At challenging times like these, meditation can help a person find relief from feeling overwhelmed, anxious, stressed, tired or fatigued. It can help them relax in particularly frustrating or stressful situations so they can step back and see the bigger picture and put problems into perspective. It can also help when feelings get overwhelming by allowing space to distance themselves from the source of worry, fear or anxiety.


Meditation for Clinicians

Research literature offers many results that point to the benefits of meditation practice for healthcare providers for the same reasons mentioned above, such as:

  • Relaxation
  • Stress management
  • Pain management
  • Emotional self-regulation
  • Self-awareness
  • Self-confidence
  • Increased concentration

Want to try meditation for yourself? Use one of our meditation recordings below to see what meditation is like and the benefits it can provide.

Three-Minute Guided Meditation - English

Three-Minute Guided Meditation - Spanish

Five-Minute Guided Meditation - English

Five-Minute Guided Meditation - Spanish

References/Further Reading

Ball J, Pike G, Griffiths P, Rafferty AM, Murrells T. RN4CAST Nurse Survey in England. June 2012. National Nursing Research Unit. kcl.ac.uk/nursing/research/nnru/publications/Reports/RN4Cast-Nurse-survey-report-27-6-12-FINAL.pdf

Burke M. Managing work-related stress in the district nursing workplace. Br J Community Nurs. 2013;18(11):535-8.

Dunlop J. Meditation, stress relief, and well-Being. Radiol Technol. 2015;85(5):535-55.

Farquharson B, Bell C, Johnston D, et al. Nursing stress and patient care: Real-time investigation of the effect of nursing tasks and demands on psychological stress, physiological stress, and job performance: Study protocol. J Adv Nurs. 2013;69(10):2327-35.

Kabat-Zinn J. Mindfulness meditation: What it is, what it isn’t, and its role in health care and medicine. In: Haruki Y, Ishii Y, Suzuki, M, eds. Comparative and Psychological Study on Meditation. Delft, Netherlands: Eburon; 2007: 161-170.

Lim MH, Chow YL, Poon E. Evaluation of meditation programs used by nurses to reduce stress: A literature review. Singapore Nurs J. 2013;40(3):11-20.

McIntosh B, Sheppy B. Effects of stress on nursing integrity. Nurs Stand. 2013;27(25):35-9.

Walinga J, Rowe W. Transforming stress in complex work environments: Exploring the capabilities of middle managers in the public sector. Int J Workplace Health Manag. 2013;6(1):66-88.

Watson J. Theory of Human Caring. Watson Caring Science Institute.