Oct. 9, 2001 -- Pick up a raisin. Look at it. Really look at it
-- like you've never seen a raisin before. Roll it between your fingers. What
do you notice about its texture, its color? Hold the raisin to your ear. Squish
it a bit. Does it make a sound? Bring it to your lips. Take note of any stray
thoughts you might have, but always come back to the raisin. Place it on your
tongue. When you finally swallow it, appreciate the fullness of its flavor. Now
imagine that your body is exactly one raisin heavier.
Sound like an odd exercise? Then consider this: For
thousands of people who suffer from chronic pain, spending quiet time with a
raisin has proven to be the first step to learning how to cope with their
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The raisin exercise serves as an entree to meditation -- an approach that
is gaining popularity among people in pain. In 1997, Americans made more than
100 million visits to alternative practitioners for relaxation therapies such
as meditation, according to a study by David Eisenberg, MD. That study is
available in the Nov. 11, 1998, issue of TheJournal of the American Medical
Association. Just how meditation relieves pain is not entirely clear,
though researchers are beginning to enumerate and examine potential mechanisms.
What is clear is that for millions seeking treatment for headaches, arthritis, and many other
conditions, meditation seems to work.
Mind Controls Body
"It changed my life," says Imogene Benson, who suffers
from the chronic, painful condition called fibromyalgia. Benson signed up for
the stress reduction program at the University of Massachusetts in Worcester
after a bad fall left her with neck and back injuries, too. "I've learned
to relax and be more in control of my body, instead of having my body
controlling me," she says.
An avid runner before the accident, Benson says that the pain
kept her from working for months at a time and made climbing even a short
flight of stairs a nightmare. Meditation has given her a sense of inner peace,
she says, and has improved her physical condition as well. "I have less
pain, my muscles are more relaxed, and I have much better mobility," she
Over the past 20 years, thousands of individuals have sought
help at the U. Mass. Stress Reduction Clinic, which has pioneered methods for
teaching meditation techniques to people with pain. Their symptoms vary -- from
headaches and back pain to anxiety and eczema -- but their stories are
"Most of the people we see have had long experiences with
pain clinics, doctors, and medications," says Elana Rosenbaum, a social
worker at the clinic. "But nothing has relieved their suffering."
Before coming to the clinic, Benson tried medication, physical
therapy, and a device that electrically stimulates nerves to reduce pain: none
offered more than temporary relief.
And then she tried meditation. "It's just wonderful. No
matter how stressed you feel before, afterward you feel relaxed, calm, and
filled with energy," says Benson. And meditation doesn't always require a
mantra or mystical music. For Benson, the key thing is finding a quiet place to
focus for 30 minutes.