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​Living Well: Mindfulness meditation for MS

Mindfulness is the practice of maintaining moment-to-moment awareness of our experiences, thoughts and feelings. Through meditation, we may train ourselves to be mindful by focusing on our breathing and noting our thoughts without judgment.

Mindfulness facilitates a full sensation of the present and a diminished tendency to dwell on the past or worry about the future. While mindfulness has roots in Buddhism, the practice has grown in North America in recent years as a secular form of meditation.

For people living with multiple sclerosis, mindfulness meditation may be helpful in coping with an uncertain future that often accompanies a diagnosis of MS. If you’re interested in trying mindfulness as a way to improve quality of life, here are some tips to get you started.

#1 Get comfortable.

As mindfulness meditation requires conscious awareness, it is recommended that you practice in an upright, seated position with a soft, forward gaze. If this is not comfortable, however, you may also practice lying down and/or with your eyes closed.

#2 Start slow.

In the beginning, mindfulness meditation may feel mentally taxing, especially if you are stressed and preoccupied. Reserve no more than 10 minutes for your practice, either in the morning or before bedtime.

#3 Breathe naturally.

Mindfulness meditation does not require an alteration of the breath. Let your breath flow naturally, and use this natural breath as an object of focus during your practice. Try to become deeply aware of each inhalation and exhalation as it is happening.

#4 Forgive your mind.

It is natural for your mind to wander away from the focus on your breath. When this happens, simply acknowledge the thought and gently return your awareness to your breathing.

#5 Keep practising.

Mindfulness is a skill that requires practice. If you are unable to sustain a focus on your breath for an extended period of time, do not think of the practice as a “failure”; the practice is yours alone, and you are not required to achieve full awareness in any set amount of time.

What does research say about MS and mindfulness?

Anecdotal evidence and a recent study suggest tangible benefits from mindfulness meditation, such as anxiety, pain and fatigue management; however, more research is needed to explore the benefits of the practice for people with MS. The most recent comprehensive review of complementary and alternative medicine in multiple sclerosis has determined there is currently insufficient evidence to support mindfulness-based training as a therapy for MS one way or another. Researchers agree, however, that meditation is a relatively safe form of complementary therapy for people living with MS.

Read more stories like this in our latest issue of MS Canada.

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