Yoga and Meditation for Multiple Sclerosis

Vicki Health Guide
  • Meditation and yoga can be beneficial to those of us with MS. Meditation is a contemplative mental exercise for complete relaxation or awareness. It may or may not be related to any one of many religions. Different disciplines reach distinctive goals such as a high state of consciousness, compassion or, as many people with MS want and need, a stress-free, relaxed and peaceful state of mind.

    The stereotypical image is the guru atop a mountain who has meditated for many years and knows the meaning of life. That may be one example, but there are many other methods, and some of them are easy for people with MS, regardless of their level of capability. The yoga posture most identified with meditation is the Lotus posture, with crossed legs, index finger and thumb forming an "O," and a good straight posture. MSers may not be able to position themselves, but we can work with any sitting or lying posture.

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    There are many types of meditation. They may be described differently by one or more of the schools of yoga, but all of them are helpful. Yoga is beneficial when becoming familiar with meditation.
    One common factor to meditation is proper breathing, something very important in all yoga activities.

    Meditation is particularly beneficial to MS because it decreases chronic pain, increases mental clarity, and avoids mental burnout caused by stress. Regularly practicing even the simplest form of meditation results in peace and a good overall feeling. All of these feelings typically add up to improving our life style and well-being.

    Many religions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, practice one form or another of meditation, including the habitual mental practice of paying attention to the process with no desired final outcome. Concentrating on energy-flow in the body, contemplation or "self regulation of attention" is a form of visualization. Besides religions, secular practices recommend meditation similar to yoga.

    A regular schedule of meditation helps transform your body and mind. Do not start after eating. You may keep your eyes open, but do not focus on anything. Try meditating for about 15 minutes a day.
    If you need guidance, there are yoga teachers or CDs that are helpful.

    Here is a simple meditation exercise especially beneficial for many MSers:

    General Technique —
    • To begin meditating, start with a quiet, comfortable, private place
    • Begin breathing normally
    • Start breathing deeply, preferably from the abdomen
    • Quiet your mind, don't dwell on thoughts but don't fight them either
    This is not a deep meditation, but it is the beginning of simple meditations.

    If your mind seems cluttered, try using a mantra by repeating a word or short phrase. It could be a foreign utterance or any word you find comforting. I find something as simple as "relax" helpful to get started. Say it slowly, but don't worry about being quiet. Choose a mantra that is personal. It doesn't have to make sense to anyone but you.

    Pain Management —

    • Sit or lie down, breathing slowly
    • Breathe deeply until you are relaxed
    • Visualize your body with lines from head to toe
    • Focus on the pain
    • Visualize the painful area with lines that crisscross the lines down your body
    • Focus only on the crossed lines
    • Slowly visualize and erase one crossed line at a time
    This may not eliminate the pain completely, but it's worth trying. It's similar to guided imagery that directs your thoughts to a particular goal.

    This was a brief introduction to meditation. Practicing meditation allows a connection between our mind and our body and is most likely to be achieved through practice, personal attention and instruction. Whatever type of meditation it is, it can all be beneficial.

    Notes and Links:
    General Meditation

    Stress Management
    Beginner Techniques

    NOTE: This is part of a series by Vicki Bridges on Yoga and MS.  For the other parts of the series, please check out Sit and Stay Fit with Yoga, Yoga and Breathing for MS and Stretching for Yoga with MS.

Published On: April 29, 2010