New studies published in Neurology show mindfulness meditation improves symptoms in people with MS
by Kristen McClure
University Hospital in Basel recently discovered that a program of mindfulness meditation improved measures of anxiety, depression fatigue and quality of life in patients who have multiple sclerosis.
Mindfulness meditation is the practice of sitting with a concentrated awareness of your experience; it is not blanking out your mind, as most people think. When I ask my clients if they meditate they will frequently say no, because they think too much or they can’t sit still. There is also hesitation because the roots of meditation are normally considered to be eastern and are part of the practices of Hinduism and Buddhism. Christian monks have been using forms of meditation since 200 ad, for the purpose of getting closer to god. There are hundreds of different forms of meditation, all with different purposes.
In mindfulness meditation, the kind in this study, the practice is not to stop your mind from thinking, but to become aware of your entire experience, pay attention to it, and recognize that your mind can come up with some interesting ideas that we might need to challenge. In doing this, we are also able to slowly bring attention back to a focal point, training our ability to pay attention. These two practices allow us in moments of emotional dysregulation, to become centered and focused in a way that helps us act with more intelligence.
If for example, you sit and practice mindfulness meditation, and you find your mind wandering, you will become aware of the patterns that you were not aware of before. Very often, if we are fearful anxious or depressed, our thinking becomes distorted. Mindfulness helps you to see this. The practice of mindfulness meditation also helps you to recognize how your failure to accept circumstances may be causing you more distress. It creates a space in your mind between what you automatically think and how it is evaluated thus giving you more insight to live consciously, rather than be driven by your unconscious patterns.
Mindfulness can be taught without meditation. Any practice or exercise that enables you to observe your experience in the present can be a tool to become more mindful. Yoga , running, prayer, nature, all of these are vehicles that can help you to become more mindful.
So how does this help with depression and anxiety, and tiredness? Mindfulness trains us in the skill of acceptance in a non judgmental way. It also provides more insight into the way in which our mind might be causing us distress. Much of the distress we experience when we are anxious or depressed comes from judgment, or, difficulty dealing with uncertainty. Increasing our ability to be accepting of ourselves and our experience, can often decrease our stress and suffering.
Grossman P, et al "MS quality of life, depression, and fatigue improve after mindfulness training: A randomized trial" Neurology 2010; 75: 1141-1149.
Tavee J, Stone L "Healing the mind: Meditation and multiple sclerosis" Neurology 2010; 75: 1130-1131.