Doctors in Ontario are taking a new approach in the battle against chronic pain, ditching the prescription pad and teaching sufferers how to harness the healing power of the mind.

St. Michael’s Hospital pain specialist Dr. Jackie Gardner-Nix developed the program targeting pain with mindfulness and meditative techniques. The classes are facilitated at St. Michael’s Hospital and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.

“I do nothing but teach chronic pain patients meditation and mindfulness,” she said. “I am so impressed with it.”

The classes, which typically run for nearly three hours, teach participants practical meditation skills.

“We learn to sit or lie in a comfortable position, as the space and furniture allow, and to adopt as natural an attitude as possible,” Gardner-Nix’s NeuroNova Centre website says.

Participant Maria Barnes has suffered from osteoarthritis for nearly three decades.

As is the case for many chronic pain sufferers, medications don’t work for her. Even large doses of pills don’t stop “an intense aching all over my body,” she says.

Now, she meditates daily.

“There’s a calmness that comes over me, enabling me to decrease the amount of medication that I’m taking,” she said.

The mindfulness treatment is so effective, the Ontario Health Plan pays for the training, creating long wait lists to get into the program.

Colleen McLachlan says just halfway through her 12-week program she’s feeling less discomfort. When she started, McLachlan was in so much pain she says she couldn’t even lift a cup of tea.

“I am becoming myself again and I have not been myself in the last two years,” she said.

Gardner-Nix says she’s seen some cases where the training has been life-altering.

“We’ve had some patients find that their pain dropped dramatically and they were able to return to more normal working lives,” she said.

With such positive results, doctors are holding classes via teleconference with other hospitals across Ontario, training others to teach the mind skills.

Sheri Van Dijk, a psychotherapist at South Lake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket, Ont., also works in mindfulness practice.

“I think it is a great way of getting the therapy out there to people who really need it, in the way that is more convenient and healthy for them.”

With a report from CTV’s medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip