Many of you are under a great deal of pressure on a daily basis. You live life in the fast lane with work, family, and self-care all competing for your full attention. This can cause physical problems for you, especially if you are living with a chronic illness like MS. Stress, anxiety, fatigue, and depression can exacerbate your disease. So is there a way to actually lessen the effects of these problems?
Meditation is a conscious practice using your mind to promote relaxation, develop patience, and reduce the negative emotional effects of everyday life. Although a tremendous amount of research has been done in general terms focusing on meditation, mindfulness and brain health, it raises the question if it is good for overall brain health in general, is it also good for those with MS?
Meditation has been around for thousands of years. According to Wikipedia, “Early written records of the multiple levels and states of meditation in Buddhism in India are found in the sutras of the Pāli Canon, which dates to 1st century BCE. The Pali Canon records the basic fourfold formula of salvation via the observance of the rules of morality, contemplative concentration, knowledge and liberation, thus placing meditation as a step along the path of salvation. By the time Buddhism was spreading in China, the Vimalakirti Sutra which dates to 100CE included a number of passages on meditation and enlightened wisdom, clearly pointing to Zen.”
In simple terms, meditation is your mindful, nonjudgmental awareness of your experiences in the present moment. It helps ground you when you feel like everything is out of control. With practice, you learn to focus your awareness on your breath, a silently repeated phrase, or an image in your mind’s eye. As you investigate your distractions and notice whether they come from rehashing your past causing anger or frustration, or they come from worrying about your future causing anxiety or fear, you will learn to focus on becoming mindful instead of having a mind full. Slowly you will begin to access your subconscious mind in order to heal the issues that plague your conscious mind.
A regular meditation practice offers numerous health benefits. For example:
- MRI studies reveal that meditation is beneficial to brain health. For example, one study from Harvard proved meditation rebuilds the brain’s gray matter in just 8 weeks; further proving the theory of neuroplasticity (ability of the malleable brain to grow new synaptic pathways).
- Research shows it reduces the stress hormone cortisol, as well as lowers blood pressure, slows heart rate, increases blood flow, reduces perception of pain, and enhances the function of the immune system.
- Neuroscience studies show that the amygdala’s response to emotional stimuli is altered by meditation and this effect continues even when you are not actively meditating, thus bringing awareness and/or mindfulness into your everyday life.
- Finally, because meditation quiets the mind it can be a beneficial sleep aid. Fatigue is a common symptom of MS. With a regular meditation practice you can lessen your fatigue and better your sleep habits, leading to an overall improved quality of life.
There is a plethora of scientific evidence that meditation is beneficial for your body and brain health. However, it only works if you do it so it is essential to schedule some time on a daily basis to practice it. Initially it can be as little as 5 minutes a day. As your ritual develops, you will most likely want to extend that time.
Let’s face it; we all know that MS is an unpredictable disease causing you to feel good for possibly long periods of time and then out of the blue have an attack that can knock you off your feet. Developing a meditation practice can help you become more mindful thus better cope with whatever MS throws your way. You will feel more in control and perceive things as they really are without associating fear, anxiety or additional stress to it. You will remain present, aware, and nonjudgmental of your experiences so that you can maintain quality of life.
If you’ve never tried meditation before and want to start, check out my blog post, “Take a Breath. Relax, You’ve Got This.” Here I teach you how to begin a deep breathing practice that can lead you into a meditative practice. Leave a comment below if you’d like to learn more.
Be Present | Be Purposeful | Be Well