Many people enjoy daily meditation to help deal with the stress of day-to-day life. Now, research is showing that the practice could be even more valuable. According to a recent study, mindful meditation could be key in combating the effects of the devastating neurodegenerative disease multiple sclerosis, or MS.
MS inhibits communication between the brain and the body, and can cause numerous debilitating symptoms including fatigue, numbness, weakness, dizziness, walking difficulties, pain, speech problems and depression. It has no known cure.
The only effective interventions are to manage the symptoms to try to help victims retain as much of a normal life as they can — and that’s where mindfulness comes in. A recent study conducted at the King’s College London and published in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal found that patients who were led in mindfulness sessions experienced less distress from their disease.
Mindful meditation teaches practitioners to focus on the present moment, let go of worries about the past and the future and observe emotions and thoughts without clinging to them. To study its effects, researchers conducted meditation sessions with 20 subjects who had MS for eight weeks over Skype, while another 20 people made up the control group.
The participants were then questioned about their quality of life immediately after therapy as well as three months later. Distress was reduced in the mindfulness group, which reported lower scores for pain, fatigue, anxiety, depression and impact of MS compared to those who hadn’t undergone the meditation sessions.
“A mindfulness intervention delivered through Skype video conferences appears accessible, feasible and potentially effective and cost-effective for people with progressive MS,” the study concludes.
Other research has had similar findings. A study published in the 2011 winter edition of the International Journal of MS Care found that patients who practice mindfulness experience better results in physical health, mental health, vitality and pain.
“The effectiveness of mind-body therapies may lie in their ability to facilitate stress reduction, relaxation, and improvement of mood,” the study noted, “which in turn may affect the degree to which psychosocial factors can negatively affect quality of life.” Over a quarter of the patients in the study withdrew, however, some due to transportation difficulties, so the Skype addition of the King’s College research could be a crucial step forward.
Furthermore, a paper published last year in Neurology Research International rounded up numerous surveys that looked at mindfulness and MS treatment, finding that in general patients reported relief from pain, fatigue and other symptoms. “It is reasonable to hypothesise that meditation may have a direct impact on MS disease course through its effect of modulating the stress response,” the authors wrote.
The evidence is piling up to the point that the website Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis lists meditation as an “extremely important part of the healing process.” All signs point to humans having the key to mitigate the damage of one of humanity’s most mysterious diseases within our own minds.
“Since I started to practice mindfulness, I can control my negative thoughts and fears about the future. My stress levels are the lowest they’ve ever been and I’m back at work full-time,” policeman Gareth Walker told the Daily Mail. “I think mindfulness is even having a physical effect on the progression of the disease — my disability progression continues to be slow, even though I’ve been diagnosed for five years now.”