Vipassana: Tamilla’s Freedom from Neck pain and Anger

Approach: Vipassana Meditation

Finding Vipassana Meditation

Tamilla recalled having a happy childhood, followed by a period of significant personal and environmental stress in her twenties. Her neck pain started around ten years ago when Tamilla was 45, and she also suffered greatly with intermittent knee pain. There was no clear cause, other than confirmed age and spondylotic changes. Finding Hatha yoga helped somewhat, as did physical treatments. However, the pain always returned, especially when driving on long journeys, but Tamilla reported that these symptoms changed shortly after her discovery of Vipassana.

There is fortunately a wealth of data on the effectiveness of the free resource, Vipassana Meditation (VM) in relation to both somatic and psychological pain, research consistently proving VM’s value. (Kabat Zinn., 1982) showed significant improvement. in chronic neck, lower back, headache and facial pain. More recently (Zeidan & Vago., 2017) highlighted the proven ongoing benefits and mechanisms behind the method.

Tamilla was a Yoga teacher for five years before starting meditation, prior to which she recalled a recurrent feeling that she was looking for something more.

Whilst Tamilla was staying in an Ashram (A spiritual retreat centre in Hinduism, where a sage often lives or lived) a friend recommended VM. She explained she was open minded and had no barriers or fears in trying it. Her first course in 2018, was in India, and Tamilla remembered how quickly she felt at peace. This was an emotion she had not experienced so deeply before in her life.

Tamilla had a strong determination to continue the practice at home and at other centres, and after three courses she confirmed her long standing issues with anger and fear resolved. She worked out that by using the VM technique, she was able to understand herself and her actions better.

Furthermore, after sitting three ten-day courses, her neck pain resolved and Tamilla described the various pains in her body, especially in her knees, became intermittent sensations of ‘tightness’ rather than the high pain sensations experienced previously. Tamilla has continued the regular practice of yoga and primarily VM, as her source of ‘medicine’. She quotes:

 

“Medi-tation is Medi-cine of all problems”

 

She stated multiple times over that the more you practice, the deeper you are able to go, and the better the results.

Tamilla is not the only case study who reports benefits from meditative practice. The Tibetan Monk: Minjur Lama, Pyschotherapist Nam, The Pain Free Athlete Dana and ME/CFS recoveree Fiona all use the skill on a regular basis.

 

Altruism, COVID and Menstrual Pain

A voluntary part of VM is the sharing of one’s time by serving on courses. Tamilla confirmed this altruistic work also brought her a deep feeling of happiness, and never expected anything in return. (Ricard., 2017) explains the mechanisms behind this phenomenon, and draws from the data as to why everyone can benefit.

Tamilla referred back to the time when she was locked down in an apartment in India during COVID. A period of intense stress for the whole world, VM was her management strategy. She was sitting two to three times a day. She said it helped her have no fear or sickness or feeling trapped.

During the pandemic a few studies were completed on how old students of VM coped during the lockdowns. Tamilla’s experience of lack of stress and anxiety due to the world situation mirrors that of 462 others who found similar fortitude with ongoing sittings. (Pradhan,. 2022)

She also shared some physical benefits she received from VM from when she used to menstruate. Before she started her Menopause, she had very painful periods and found she was very angry and irritated prior to their onset. Tamilla reported that these ‘PMS’ style symptoms resolved in the last few years of her periods which coincided with when she discovered VM. Although an under studied area, a small scale randomised control trial showed that meditation and physical exercise both significantly reduce dysmenorrhea. Unfortunately, as the trial did not include a control group, more vigorous testing should be carried out. (Widyanata et al., 2017)

Tamilla clarified that whilst she still sometimes felt sensations in her neck and knees, she described this as tension and not the pain she used to experience. Importantly, it didn’t give her mental anguish any more, as she was able to accept the discomfort without feeling she had to mask or change it with medications, and had learnt techniques that enabled her to not ruminate on the sensations.

This study (Wolkin., 2015), looked specifically at the decrease in rumination (worry and over focus on negative emotions and sensations). This decreased significantly, or completely, in long term meditators of various different types of mindfulness based meditation, which may explain the improvement in equanimity which Tamilla achieved.

 

Menopause

Tamilla was surprised when she started her menopause. She was expecting to feel irritation and pain in her body, but this did not materialise. In a meta analysis done by (Lui., 2022) mindfulness based meditation interventions were shown to significantly improve the stress levels of menopausal women. It was not possible to find any research completed on menopausal somatic change through meditation, but would be worth further research.

Whilst Tamilla considered that yoga was a very useful starting place to understand her mind and body connection, she believed VM worked at a much deeper level. Tamilla discovered that the deeper she practiced, the more pain she released and that through VM, she gradually released pain from her past she had unintentionally been holding onto.

 

Tamilla’s understanding of Vipassana

You start with the awareness of your breath, the patterns and the speeds, and learn to accept it without trying to change it. Most importantly, taking notice. When the mind drifts away or wants to react – this is when the practice of ‘equanimity’ or non-reaction comes into action.

For her, VM was about learning how to let things go.

She considered it was important for different people to try different methods, and find what works best for them. For her, this was VM and chanting mantras. She found the mantras helped to calm the mind. She reported both techniques worked for her on a deep level and they appealed to her as a perfectionist.

A narrative review on the benefits of Mantra meditation showed three main areas where mantra meditation can be beneficial. Stress and hypertension (high blood pressure) seem to have the most significant changes after regular mantra meditation, with some positive change noted in immunity for participants at a smaller scale. (Tseng., 2022)

Tamilla described that when she talks to people, they tell her they are very aware of her calmness, and hopes she is sharing the benefits of meditation unknowingly.

 

If the pain returned

She instantly said she would continue VM. She observed she was a sensitive person, and being a part of the world – not isolated like a monk, from negativity and fear, beliefs, depression and stressors – naturally led to pain. Whilst others may experience symptoms from life stress in different ways, she has found her thing which stops this process affecting her.

 

Mind-body connection

VM works on the brain and consciousness. For her, yoga was about finding the balance between mind and body. When one was out of balance, it can cause issues for the other. When Tamilla practiced both VM and Yoga she was much more aware of her physical and mental state. After discovering VM, her yoga practice changed and she does much more work with her mind now than with her body.

She felt that the body pain, anger and fear arrived in her life, due to having a difficult time in her twenties. She was deeply affected by the lives of others at that time and that she used to feel powerless. It took around thirty years before this mindset started to change.

There have been some studies on the long term effectiveness of VM. Like all mindfulness based treatments, ongoing practise is essential. This study showed a significant improvement in stress and well being both post and six months post course. (Szekeres &Wertheim., 2014)

Tamilla reported she has no pain now.

She expressed clear understanding that each pain she had was an emotional pain. It was felt physically, but came from the brain. She felt sadness was the main reason for her neck pain. She stated she always knew the pain was emotional, thus when she discovered how VM worked, she knew it was the method for her.

An excellent documentary was made in the prison system in India showing the vast positive affects for inmates who were given the opportunity to sit a ten day course. Tihar prison was once considered one of the worst prisons in the country. Much like the Scandinavian prison system, the focus on personal growth showed improvements in anger, recidivism and accountability.

Doing time, doing Vipassana – 1997

Vipassana Meditation Documentary

Personality ‘Key elements’

  • Self determination

  • Curiosity

  • Unafraid of hard work

  • Love of service

  • Tamilla mentioned specifically two key personality elements – perfectionism and emotional sensitivity which are known to be linked to adverse childhood experiences. When personas are not aware of these ‘personality types’, they can unknowingly greatly affect our ability to cope with stress in life. – (Sarno, 1999)

 

Barriers and Learning

  • Language barrier- it is possible due to English being a third language that some questions would not have been understood in their full meaning. Translation services are currently out of budget, however Tamilla felt confident to answer questions in english

  • As discussed above, Tamilla’s improvement in her period pain may have been related to hormonal changes related to perimenopause rather than VM related.

  • Furthermore, there is minimal research on meditation for physical menopause symptoms. This has made it challenging to elaborate on her experience.

     

A few key features about Tamilla’s healing approach, which may be relevant in a wider perspective of all successful approaches to pain resolution:

  • Self led

  • Somatic and breath awareness, chanting/repetition practise

  • Equanimity Practise

  • Meditation

  • Challenge positive mindset – understands difficulty and takes on task vigorously

 

Fortunately VM centres run all over the world. If you are interested in taking your own ten day course, please refer to dhamma.org for centres near you.

 

‘Case Studies shared on Liberation Found reflect the individual experiences of people who have undergone different methods of treatment and have found a way that has worked for them. However, individual results may vary. We do not claim, and nor should you assume, that any experience recounted is typical or representative of what another person might experience. We cannot guarantee that anyone will achieve the same results. Before you undertake any methodologies that are new to you, please work with a medical professional to ensure this is a suitable technique in your circumstance. We encourage you to discriminate carefully and make your own decisions before signing up for any retreats, sessions, or healings.’

‘The opinions and beliefs shared in individual case studies do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of “Liberation Found”. The video content has been made available for informational and educational purposes only. We do not make any representation or warranties with respect to the accuracy, applicability, fitness or completeness of the video content. We do not warrant the performance, effectiveness or applicability of any sites listed or linked in relation to the video content’

Fact Files

  • Resolved Symptoms: Neck pain, Anger, Fear, Intermittent knee pain, Menopausal Symptoms
  • Approach: Vipassana Meditation, supplemented with Mantras and Hatha Yoga.
  • Non-Speaking technique: Vipassana
  • Guided method with a teacher
  • Non Touch Method
  • Time taken for result: 3 courses (30 Days)
  • Combination of techniques: Some use of Mantras and Yoga
  • Previous trials at solution: Physical therapy and Physical manipulation techniques
  • Language: English, Azerbeijani
  • Location: India
  • Culture of Technique: Non-secular
  • Cost: Vipassana is donation based and entirely at one’s own discretion
  • Work: Hatha Yoga Teacher

Links

(Widyanata et al., 2017)

https://tinyurl.com/42zuwanz

(Szekeres & Wertheim., 2014)

https://tinyurl.com/48cch88k

(Pradhan,. 2022)

https://tinyurl.com/2ynfsbky

(Kabat Zinn., 1982)

https://tinyurl.com/ekprpzxm

(Zeidan & Vago., 2017)

https://tinyurl.com/yw3nc89f
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