Dealing with Depression & Pain

13 Mind-Body Techniques That Can Help Ease Pain and Depression

By Dr. Joseph Mercola

Contributing writer for Wake Up World

Many aches and pains are rooted in brain processes that can be affected by your mental attitude and emotions. While the mechanics of these mind-body links are still being unraveled, what is known is that your brain, and consequently your thoughts and emotions, do play a role in your experience of physical pain.

For instance, meditation appears to work for pain relief because it reduces brain activity in your primary somatosensory cortex, an area that helps create the feeling of where and how intense a painful stimulus is. Laughter is also known to relieve pain because it releases endorphins that activate brain receptors that produce pain-killing and euphoria-producing effects.

This line of communication between mind and body runs both ways though, and physical pain, especially if it’s chronic, is a well-known trigger for depression. According to psychologist Rex Schmidt at the Nebraska Medical Center Pain Management:[1] “Depression and pain happen to share a part of the brain that’s involved in both conditions, which means that mind-body techniques that affect those areas can be efficacious for both.”

Meditation and laughter are just two examples of a burgeoning new field of science that looks at mind-body therapies to address depression and chronic pain. Here are 13 such strategies…

#1: Add EFT to Your Self-Help Toolkit

The Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) is a form of psychological acupressure based on the same energy meridians used in traditional acupuncture to treat physical and emotional ailments for over 5,000 years, but without the invasiveness of needles.

Instead, simple tapping with the fingertips is used to transfer kinetic energy onto specific meridians on your head and chest while you think about your specific problem — whether it is a traumatic event, an addiction, pain, anxiety, etc. — and voice positive affirmations.

This combination of tapping the energy meridians and voicing positive affirmation works to clear the “short-circuit” — the emotional block — from your body’s bioenergy system, thus restoring your mind and body’s balance, which is essential for optimal health and the healing of physical disease.

Some people are initially wary of these principles that EFT is based on — the electromagnetic energy that flows through the body and regulates our health is only recently becoming recognized in the West. Others are initially taken aback by (and sometimes amused by) the EFT tapping and affirmation methodology.

But believe me when I say that, more than any traditional or alternative method I have used or researched, EFT has the most potential to literally work magic. Clinical trials have shown that EFT is able to rapidly reduce the emotional impact of memories and incidents that trigger emotional distress. Once the distress is reduced or removed, the body can often rebalance itself, and accelerate healing.

In the videos below, EFT practitioner Julie Schiffman shows how you can use EFT to relieve your physical pain and depression.

You can also learn more here: A Comprehensive Guide to the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)

#2: Massage the Pain Away

Massage offers real health benefits, so much so that some conventional hospitals are making it a standard therapy for surgery patients and others. Along with promoting relaxation and improving your sense of well-being, getting a massage has been shown to:

  • Relieve pain (from migraines, labor, fibromyalgia and even cancer)
  • Reduce stress, anxiety and depression, and ease insomnia
  • Decrease symptoms of PMS
  • Relax and soften injured and overused muscles, reducing spasms and cramping.
  • Provide arthritis relief by increasing joint flexibility.

Massage affects your nervous system through nerve endings in your skin, stimulating the release of endorphins, which are natural “feel good” chemicals. Endorphins help induce relaxation and a sense of well-being, relieve pain and reduce levels of stress chemicals such as cortisol and noradrenaline — reversing the damaging effects of stress by slowing heart rate, respiration and metabolism and lowering raised blood pressure.

Stronger massage stimulates blood circulation to improve the supply of oxygen and nutrients to body tissues and helps the lymphatic system to flush away waste products. It eases tense and knotted muscles and stiff joints, improving mobility and flexibility. Massage is said to increase activity of the vagus nerve, one of 10 cranial nerves, that affects the secretion of food absorption hormones, heart rate and respiration. It has proven to be an effective therapy for a variety of health conditions — particularly stress-related tension, which experts believe accounts for as much as 80 percent to 90 percent of disease.

As reported by[2]

“[A] new study from Thailand suggests that traditional Thai massage can decrease pain intensity, muscle tension and anxiety among people with shoulder pain. Meanwhile, research from the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami in Florida found that when adults with hand pain had four weeks of massage therapy, they reported a lot less pain, anxiety and depression.

Another study at the Touch Research Institute found that when pregnant women who were depressed received massages from their partners twice a week, they had much less leg and back pain and fewer symptoms of depression during the second half of their pregnancies.”

#3: Remain in the Now…

Practicing “mindfulness” means that you’re actively paying attention to the moment you’re in right now. Rather than letting your mind wander, when you’re mindful you’re living in the moment and letting distracting thoughts pass through your mind without getting caught up in their emotional implications. Though it sounds simple, it often takes a concerted effort to remain in a mindful state, especially if it’s new to you. But doing so can offer some very significant benefits to both your mental and physical health.

For example, mindfulness training has been found to reduce levels of stress-induced inflammation, which could benefit people suffering from chronic inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and asthma.

This makes sense, since chronic stress heightens the inflammatory response, and mindfulness is likely to help you relieve feelings of stress and anxiety. In one eight-week study,[3] people who received mindfulness training had smaller inflammatory responses than those who received a control intervention, which focused on healthy activities to reduce psychological stress but without particular instruction on mindfulness. Similarly, according to[2]

“Mindfulness meditation — focusing on your breath and each present moment — can lessen cancer pain, low back pain and migraine headaches. Researchers at Brown University in Providence, R.I., found that when women with chronic pelvic pain participated in an eight-week mindfulness meditation program, their pain decreased and their mood improved.”

In many ways, mindfulness is similar to transcendental meditation, the idea of which is to reach a place of “restful” or “concentrated” alertness, which enables you to let negative thoughts and distractions pass by you without upsetting your calm and balance. This type of meditation is easy to try at home: simply sit quietly, perhaps with some soothing music, breathe rhythmically and focus on something such as your breathing, a flower, an image, a candle, a mantra or even just being there, fully aware, in the moment.

Researchers report that practicing mindfulness meditation for just four days affects pain responses in your brain. Brain activity decreases in areas devoted to monitoring a painful body part, and also in areas responsible for relaying sensory information.

For more information, please see: Why We Get Held Hostage by Our Emotions – and How Mindfulness Can Help

#4: Take Control with Biofeedback

In biofeedback, electrical sensors attached to your skin allow you to monitor your biological changes, such as heart rate, and this feedback can help you achieve a deeper state of relaxation. It can also teach you to control your heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension through your mind. According to psychologist Rex Schmidt:

“Through focus and mental strategies, biofeedback induces the relaxation response and gives you a greater sense of control.”

Biofeedback is often used for stress-related conditions, such as:

  • Migraines and tension-type headaches
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Back pain
  • Depression and anxiety

#5: Free Yourself from Tension with Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is achieved by tensing and relaxing all the major muscle groups, one at a time, from head to toe. By learning to feel the difference between tension and relaxation, you can more actively disengage your body’s fight-or-flight response, which underlies most pain, depression and stress. As reported by[2]

“Studies show that whether PMR is used on its own or with guided imagery, it helps ease emotional distress and pain from cancer, osteoarthritis, surgery and other conditions.”

#6: Harness Relaxation with Tai Chi

The 2,000-year-old Chinese practice of tai chi is a branch of Qigong — exercises that harness the qi (life energy). It’s been linked to numerous health benefits, including improvements in the quality of life of breast cancer patients and Parkinson’s sufferers, and has shown promise in treating sleep problems and high blood pressure.

Often described as “meditation in motion” or “moving meditation,” the activity takes your body through a specific set of graceful movements. Your body is constantly in motion and each movement flows right into the next. While practicing tai chi, your mind is meant to stay focused on your movements, relaxation and deep breathing, while distracting thoughts are ignored.

Part of the allure is that it’s so gentle, it’s an ideal form of activity for people with pain or other conditions that prevent more vigorous exercise. You can even do tai chi if you’re confined to a wheelchair. Even respected conventional health institutions such as the Mayo Clinic[4] and Harvard Medical School[5] recommend tai chi for its health benefits, especially as a stress-reduction tool. However, there are more studies available than you might think; suggesting tai chi has an impressive range of health benefits. To browse through them, please see the[6] web site. According to the study, A Randomized Trial of Tai Chi for Fibromyalgia:

“In a recent study at the Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, researchers found that when people with fibromyalgia participated in 60-minute tai chi sessions twice a week for 12 weeks, they had much less physical and mental discomfort. The researchers also reviewed the medical literature on tai chi’s effect on psychological well-being and concluded that it reduces depression, anxiety and stress.”

#7: Breathe Easy…

Deep breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which induces the relaxation response. There are many different breathing practices that you can try, but here I’m going to share two that are both powerful and very easy to perform. The first one I learned when I attended a presentation by Dr. Andrew Weil at the 2009 Expo West in California. The key to this exercise is to remember the numbers 4, 7 and 8. It’s not important to focus on how much time you spend in each phase of the breathing activity, but rather that you get the ratio correct. Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Sit up straight
  2. Place the tip of your tongue up against the back of your front teeth. Keep it there through the entire breathing process
  3. Breathe in silently through your nose to the count of four
  4. Hold your breath to the count of seven
  5. Exhale through your mouth to the count of eight, making an audible “woosh” sound
  6. That completes one full breath. Repeat the cycle another three times, for a total of four breaths

You can do this 4-7-8 exercise as frequently as you want throughout the day, but it’s recommended you don’t do more than four full breaths during the first month or so of practice. Later, you may work your way up to eight full breath cycles at a time. The benefits of this simple practice are enormous and work as a natural tranquilizer for your nervous system.

The second is known as the Buteyko Breathing Method, which is a powerful approach for reversing health problems associated with improper breathing, the most common of which are overbreathing and mouthbreathing. When you stop mouth breathing and learn to bring your breathing volume toward normal, you have better oxygenation of your tissues and organs, including your brain.

Factors of modern life, including stress and lack of exercise, all increase your everyday breathing. Typical characteristics of overbreathing include mouth breathing, upper chest breathing, sighing, noticeable breathing during rest, and taking large breaths prior to talking.

Controlling anxiety and quelling panic attacks is one of the areas where the Buteyko Method can be quite useful. If you’re experiencing anxiety or panic attacks, or if you feel very stressed and your mind can’t stop racing, try the following breathing technique. This sequence helps retain and gently accumulate carbon dioxide, leading to calmer breathing and reduces anxiety. In other words, the urge to breathe will decline as you go into a more relaxed state:

  1. Take a small breath into your nose, followed by a small breath out
  2. Then hold your nose for five seconds in order to hold your breath, and then release your nose to resume breathing
  3. Breathe normally for 10 seconds
  4. Repeat the sequence

To learn more, see: The Buteyko Method: How This Simple Breathing Technique Can Radically Transform Health

#8: Hypnosis for Pain Management

Hypnosis, which is a trance-like state in which you experience heightened focus and concentration, can help decrease pain by altering your emotional responses to your body’s pain signals and your thoughts about the pain. Contrary to popular belief, you do not relinquish control over your behavior while under hypnosis, but it does render you more open to suggestions from the hypnotherapist. As reported by

“Studies show that hypnosis can help manage the pain from childbirth and metastatic breast cancer as well as chronic low back pain. What’s more, cognitive hypnotherapy can lead to less depression, anxiety and hopelessness among depressed people than cognitive behavioral therapy does, according to research from the University of Calgary in Canada.”

#9: Soothe Your Mind and Body Through the Power of Music

If you’re a music lover, you already know that turning on the tunes can help calm your nerves, make stress disappear, pump up your energy level during a workout, bring back old memories, as well as prompt countless other emotions. When you listen to music, much more is happening in your body than simple auditory processing.

Music triggers activity in the nucleus accumbens, a part of your brain that releases the feel-good chemical dopamine and is involved in forming expectations. At the same time, the amygdala, which is involved in processing emotion, and the prefrontal cortex, which makes possible abstract decision-making, are also activated, according to recent research published in the journal Science.[7] Other research[8] revealed listening to music resulted in less anxiety and lower cortisol levels among patients about to undergo surgery than taking anti-anxiety drugs. As reported by

“…[R]esearchers in Cleveland found that when [burn] patients listened to music and used visual imagery as a distraction when their wound dressings were being changed, they experienced significantly less pain, anxiety and muscle tension. In a study in Norway, depressed people who had music therapy plus psychotherapy were less depressed and anxious and more functional than those who just did regular therapy.”

Musical preference varies widely between individuals, so only you can decide what will effectively put you in a particular mood. Overall, classical music tends to be among the most calming, so may be worth a try. To incorporate music into a busy schedule, try playing CDs while driving, or put on some tunes while you’re getting ready for work in the morning. You can also take portable music with you when walking the dog, or turn on the stereo instead of watching TV in the evening.

For more information, please see: How Music Benefits The Brain

#10: Take Up Yoga

Yoga has been proven to be particularly beneficial if you suffer with back pain, but recent research also suggests it can also be of tremendous benefit for your mental health. Duke University researchers recently published a review[9] of more than 100 studies looking at the effect of yoga on mental health, and according to lead author Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, a professor of psychiatry and medicine at Duke University Medical Center:[10]

“Most individuals already know that yoga produces some kind of a calming effect. Individually, people feel better after doing the physical exercise. Mentally, people feel calmer, sharper, maybe more content. We thought it’s time to see if we could pull all [the literature] together… to see if there’s enough evidence that the benefits individual people notice can be used to help people with mental illness.”

According to their findings, yoga appears to have a positive effect on:

  • Mild depression
  • Sleep problems
  • Schizophrenia (among patients using medication)
  • ADHD (among patients using medication)

Some of the studies suggest yoga can have a similar effect to antidepressants and psychotherapy, by influencing neurotransmitters and boosting serotonin. Yoga was also found to reduce levels of inflammation, oxidative stress, blood lipids and growth factors.

For more information, please see: Modern Science Confirms Yoga’s Many Health Benefits

#11: Visualization and Guided Imagery

According to, visualization techniques or guided imagery can serve as an important tool to combat both physical pain and depression by imagining being in “a better place.”

“Research shows it can help with pain from cancer, osteoarthritis and childbirth by providing distraction and promoting a state of relaxation. In addition, a study from Portugal found that when people hospitalized for depressive disorders listened to a guided imagery CD once a day for 10 days, they were less depressed, anxious and stressed over time, compared to peers who didn’t use visualization.”

Ideally, you’ll want to immerse yourself as fully as you possibly into your visualization, using all your senses: seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing, and feeling. According to Dr. Schmidt:

“Using all your senses changes levels of brain chemicals such as serotonin, epinephrine and endorphins, and with regular practice you’ll gain more of a sense of control, which is often lacking when you’re in pain or depressed.”

#12: Repeat a Calming Mantra

The repeated incantation of a mantra — a soothing or uplifting word or phrase of your choice — in a rhythmic fashion can help you relax in a similar way as mindfulness training. The focused repetition, also called autogenic training, helps keep your mind from wandering and worrying, and engages your body’s relaxation response.

“A study at the University of Manchester in the U.K. found that autogenic training helped female migraine sufferers decrease the frequency and intensity of their headaches. And research from the University of Melbourne in Australia suggests that autogenic training may provide ‘helpful longer-term effects’ on symptoms of depression,” according to

#13: Remove Pain and Dysfunctional Psychological Conditions with the Neurostructural Integration Technique

The Neurostructural Integration Technique (NST) is an amazing innovative technique developed in Australia. Using a series of gentle moves on specific muscles or at precise points on your body creates an energy flow and vibrations between these points. This allows your body to communicate better with itself and balance the other tissues, muscles and organs. The method of action is likely through your autonomic nervous system (ANS), allowing your body to better carry out its many functions the way it was designed to.

The main objective is to remove pain and dysfunctional physiological conditions by restoring the structural integrity of the body. In essence, NST provides the body with an opportunity to reintegrate on many levels, and thus return to and maintain normal homeostatic limits on a daily basis.

NST is done with a light touch and can be done through clothing. There are pauses between sets of moves to allow your body to assimilate the energy and vibrations. To learn more, please review the article, Gentle Hands Can Restore Your Health, by Micheal Nixon Levy who developed the technique.

Sources and References:

On Past Life Regression

Advancing Past Life Regression

The leading book in the field of past life regression has long been Dr. Brian Weiss’ Many Lives, Many Masters. Nine out of ten people who contact me for regression have read it. It stands as most people’s sole reference point. Without it, I don’t know that past life regression would have survived its initial surge in popularity in the 80’s and 90’s. Published in 1988, it remains a compelling tale of therapy and healing over 25 years later. The power of the story displayed the potential of the tool, though it did not tell us what to do with that power.

Over the last few decades, a handful of competent professional manuals, handbooks and journals have been printed, though few have revitalized the thinking that was presented decades ago. Many gifted practitioners have offered their methods in a clinical and procedural manner, replete with structured theories on specific times and places which occur before and after life that are inherently spiritual. The name itself, “Past Life Regression,” suggests a succession of past lifetimes, which can render the interpretation of regression experiences as something other than past lifetimes — or something more — as anathema.

Like meditation, sex and rollercoasters, past life regression is an experience. Having and sharing these experiences is often so intoxicating and evocative, you can easily lose yourself in devotion to it. Talking about these experiences is akin to describing music. You just have to hear it.

Interpreting Spiritual Information

When leading a workshop, I’ll sometimes ask, “Who here considers past life regression spiritual information?” Generally, everyone will raise his or her hand. Then I’ll ask, “What is spiritual information?” To which most people will look around and sit quietly until I admit that I do not know either.

My journey into the interpretation of spiritual information began in Turkey in 2007 when I was told that I would have what I wanted and it would come easily. She was an Istanbul local named Ferme, reading my coffee grinds. Before a reading of coffee grinds, you drink a cup of Turkish coffee which is generally a dark, rich, semi-sweet equivalent to an espresso, and when finished turns the cup over on its saucer, spilling the grinds. Ferme was studying to become a regression therapist under my father, the late Dr. Jeffrey Ryan.

Hypnosis and past life regression are the family business. English was not Ferme’s first language. When she told me “You’ll have what you want and it will come easily,” it was immediately followed by a rush of dopamine to my head confirming the good news. Until some time later when I began to consider its usefulness (and my naiveté), along with all the other information occupying this nebulous area of my understanding. The advice from psychics and intuitives, the passing commentary of therapists and teachers, the interpretations of astrologers and tarot readers, the wisdom of mystics and seers, my father’s words… How do we know what is useful? How do we measure truth without the benefit of mathematics?

I don’t claim to know the answers to these questions. They are philosophical and somewhat rhetorical. As the words are examined, I’m reminded that language is simply a set of symbols or tools. How then do we interpret the symbols? How do we use the tools?

I take no position — professionally or personally — on which of my client’s experiences are real and which are unreal. I do not see it as my job to qualify my clients and student’s experiences for them.

I do help them to interpret the information. I do offer my opinions and guidance where I think it will illuminate. My “belief” in reincarnation is a small observation with large implications. All I see around me are cycles of life beginning, ending and beginning again. Why would we be any different? Perhaps Voltaire said it best centuries ago: “It is not more surprising to be born twice than once; everything in nature is resurrection.” I make no claim to understand how it works, nor do I disqualify anyone else’s beliefs, but it does appear to me this happens.

About Past Life Regression

During a past life regression you are ideally in a deep state of relaxation that is easy, present, open and aware. The guidance you receive during the average regression will be much like a guided meditation, and will usually begin with progressive relaxation or guided imagery. In this state you will be walked through a series of immersive experiences that may or may not be memories of past lifetimes. The “memories” themselves should be produced by your subconscious mind, and appear to you as if they were being revealed (the dodgy nature of memory notwithstanding). Your attention rests with the senses as you explore the scene. Questions are asked and connections are made to and from the past; the origins of a phobia are finally understood, the roots of a difficult relationship are discovered, loved ones who have passed are reconnected with.

Practitioner methods vary widely depending upon where they trained, who with, the purpose of the regression, as well as their personal preferences, among other things. As with meditation, there is no right way or wrong way. Past life regression is a balance between technique and artistry, guiding the experience confidently and remaining open, intuitive and spontaneous. The practitioner provides the context for the experience; the client provides the content of the experience.

Regulation and certification within the field are both commendable and dubious. I know countless inspiring therapists who do this work actively fighting to raise and maintain professional standards. And I know snake oil salesmen who have polluted the field. All forms of professional and spiritual competition are present, to equally dramatic and comedic effect. Even Dr. Weiss’ story in Many Lives, Many Masters mentions his own censure from the American Medical Association when he became vocal about past life regression. While giant strides have been made and many battles won, in my experience misconceptions and fearful thinking still pervade popular beliefs, especially concerning hypnosis.

Past life regression dates back centuries, though it has only been clinically studied for the past four decades, beginning with Ian Stevenson’s 1974 book Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation, in which he examines the spontaneous recall of previous lives by young children. It is self-evident that this phenomena deserves study and attention, as the insights it offers into the nature of consciousness, and the potential it offers for healing, are both grand and real. It is also clear that these experiences act as metaphors for what we’re experiencing in the present, which in turn points to other possibilities.

Perhaps these experiences connect to the unconscious through metaphor in a manner similar to dreams. Perhaps symbolic reasoning — the uniquely human ability that allows us to use language, exchange money, and comprehend layers of meaning — offers a meta-narrative for the expression of dominant themes in your life at the present moment.

During the past life regression experience, we appear to access a great storytelling machine that pulls out characters, connections and conflicts from an archetypal, Jungian collective unconscious. At the same time, it can be a tremendous creative aid for storytellers. Among my greatest joys have been working dynamically with creative professionals and artists who use past life regression in this fashion.

Moving Past Past Lives

As I see it, in order to advance past life regression the possibility space must be expanded. The groundbreaking discoveries of 40 years ago are reductive today. Regression taps into parts of the brain and the unconscious that we are only beginning to understand. The narratives that arise are immersive, surprising — simultaneously strange and familiar. The act of exploring these states and interpreting them requires great care.

I suggest to my clients and students that they resist the temptation to place their experiences “into a box.” Instead of deciding that what they saw was definitely a past life, or not (or a half-recollection of a book, or a film mixed with a dream…), we should first accept that these stories change as we do. They act as your own personal mythology, and offer new wisdom over time, just like Aesop’s Fables. If we limit our thinking and determine that the experience is definitively this or that, we limit our capacity to learn from it.

As we guess at what occurs after life, I’m often reminded that past life regression is neither a time machine nor a fixed perspective. My sense is that we do not travel into the past or future. But our minds do, all the time. There remains only one time and place where change can happen, and that is in the present. If any one of us somehow managed to possess all the wisdom in the universe, we could still only use it right now.

A teacher once told me that an ocean of knowledge simply cannot fit into the teacup of the mind. In my own practice and in my experiences of past life regression, I’ve come to see the investigation of the afterlife as a rich and seductive area of study, as well as a distraction where the truth can only be guessed.

The imperative, as I see it, is to continue these explorations into our consciousness, our selves. Tools like meditation, hypnotherapy and regression therapy remain mysterious. They are misunderstood largely because we lack a common vocabulary to discuss them and their efficacy. Today, when oceans of knowledge literally do exist on the Internet, available on our phones, studies into projections of the self, non-duality and cycles of life can be undertaken in any living room or on any park bench. We can learn to work with our brains, aligning our habits and diets to optimize relaxed learning states. We can use the past as a school and meditate peacefully in waking daily life, exploring the territory with one shared map.

In the Car, with My Dad

I was a teenager returning home from a past life regression workshop that my father had led. We were driving to Morristown, NJ. It was probably a Sunday. I had been with him all day as he worked with a group of about 20 people, leading them in and out of deep trance states and exploring what may be memories of past lives. I was half assistant/half participant.

After a pause in the conversation he said, “I’m kinda looking forward to dying.” Incredulous, I asked what he meant. He responded “I want to know if there are past lives or not.” My father served for a time as the President of the Association for Past Life Research and Therapies.

It remains thrilling to me, the candid omission of a spiritual teacher, expressing his uncertainty in private conversation with his son. The conversations I have with my clients, students, friends and family feel to me as if I’m still in the car with my dad. There we can comfortably express our doubt and marvel together at the mystery. If past life regression has taught me anything, it’s that we are all in this together.