Meditation is a practice that is gaining popularity at a rapid rate. It seems like everywhere you turn, something is telling you to be mindful or meditate. However, for individuals with multiple sclerosis adding in a practice of meditation or mindfulness can be very beneficial to disease management.
What is Meditation?
Meditation is a mind-body therapy where you focus your awareness on the present moment, in an open and non-judgmental way. The goal of meditation and mindfulness is to help you control your perception and then reaction to situations, feelings and emotions. In turn, you can react and respond more calmly and more thoughtfully, and by doing so, this hopefully lessens the effects of stress.
Meditation has been shown to have many benefits for individuals with MS. In one study, individuals who took an eight week mindfulness meditation class showed improvements in fatigue, anxiety and depression and reported and improved overall quality of life. The coolest part? These effects lasted for at least six months after the class ended.
Another benefit is the obvious, stress reduction. Recently doctors have been able to positively correlate stress with relapses, duh. (Considering stress has been one of my biggest triggers I knew this to be true already). Meditation has been clinically proven to be effective at reducing stress, so therefore it makes sense that it would be an important skill to have in your toolbox when the going gets tough.
Meditation can be helpful both in the moment when you are in session and afterwards. During a session, you are focusing on your breath, which slows your body down, quiet your mind, and brings your body into a parasympathetic state. When you are going about your daily activities, you are more able to handle setbacks and have greater feelings of control and self efficacy.
Getting started with meditation is quite easy as it can be done anywhere at anytime. As with most things, consistency is the name of the game. The more consistent you are, the more benefits you’ll notice. At first, you might need to start with shorter sessions then build in length. I suggest starting with 5 minutes then increasing as you see fit. If you don’t have any technology handy to assist you, that’s totally fine! Close your eyes, and focus on your breath. This sounded so vague to me when I started, so I assigned a word to the inhale and exhale. For example, when I inhale I think of the word “calm” and when I exhale I think of the word “body”. Depending on what’s going on in my day, I change up the words. If it’s a high pain day, I might think of the words “calm” and “release” or “body and “release”. Sometimes your mind will wander, that is ok, just find your words again.
If you have technology handy, like your cell phone, there are many meditation apps that make it easy. My favorites are “Insight Timer” and “Calm”. You can choose between sounds, guided meditations, stories and anything in between.
Meditation is a wonderful tool to help decrease fatigue, anxiety and depression. The biggest benefit is in stress reduction as it has been clinically proven to be helpful. Stress reduction is always helpful for us MSers, as stress is one of the biggest triggers of relapses for many. So what are you waiting for? Get your Om on!