Meditation is one of the central elements of the Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis Program and an important means of managing the effects of stress on the body.
Meditation is the fourth step in the OMS Program. Given the pace and pressures of modern life, everyone could benefit from practicing meditation, but especially people living with chronic illness and those with higher levels of stress.
Take a look at the video below about stress and meditation:
Why is meditation important when you have MS?
Stress triggers MS relapses which is why adopting practices such as meditation to manage stress is so important for people with MS.
Mindful meditation can also improve your quality of life by helping with pain, fatigue, depression and emotional balance. It does this by:
✔ Soothing the parts of the brain that stimulate learning and improve your state of mind
✔ Improving regulation of the immune system
✔ Reducing psychological distress
✔ Improving working memory
✔ Promoting a more restful sleep
Meditation is currently receiving huge levels of press and media attention, partly because the clinical evidence for meditation's health benefits is enormous and growing rapidly. In 2019 there were over 1000 peer-reviewed articles published on the subject.
There are many different ways to meditate. This website focuses mainly on mindfulness meditation, as a large and increasing body of evidence supports this approach. However, practicing any kind of meditation is likely to be beneficial and is encouraged. Here are a few options to get you started:
OMS offers a range of guided meditations on this site, so have a look. All you need are some speakers or headphones, and you’ll be on your way.
For an introduction to mindfulness and meditation, see the MS Encyclopedia.
For links to other useful sites on meditation and mindfulness, please see our Resources.
Dr. Craig Hassed talks about the long-term physiological effects of mindfulness and meditation, and answers the question: why is meditation important?
Benefits of meditation for people with MS
There are many reasons for people with MS to meditate, but one of the most important is meditation’s clinically proven effectiveness in reducing stress – and the clinically recognized link between stress and MS progression, both in terms of relapses and degeneration.
A surge in scientific research over the last decade has shown that meditation and mindfulness can help with depression, anxiety, pain, compassion and happiness, and can 'rewire' the brain, so that over time you don’t react to stress in the same way.
Dealing with pain and stress management
When we are stressed, our body triggers the release of certain hormones that cause inflammation. This inflammation increases the abnormal pain signals in already damaged nerves. Meditation focuses your brain on something in the present moment, perhaps even the pain itself. Over time this “brain training” causes the brain to rewire, which reduces the transmission of pain signals, and in turn can reduce the pain you experience.
Scientific studies have consistently shown that mindfulness meditation can reduce neurological (neuropathic) and physical pain. This is partly because while you are meditating your body is releasing a natural painkiller — endorphins. There is also a reduction in the release of stress hormones (adrenalin, noradrenalin, cortisol).
There are a number of different methods of guided meditation which can be used for pain and stress management:
The Body Scan requires you to focus on, and explore your current pain, rather than react to it or pretend it isn’t there. It seems strange to focus your mind on your pain, but by accepting it (different to resignation) it can help you to stop physically bracing yourself against it (becoming more tense and more stressed) and this itself reduces some of the pain.
Breath-based meditations also help to manage stress and pain as they help you to train your mind and slow your heart rate, choosing not to focus on negative thoughts, but rather to simply acknowledge them for what they are – just thoughts. Over time, this emotional regulation gives a sense of calm, clarity and self-acceptance.
You can read more about the different types of meditation for pain and stress management and the benefits of mindfulness here.
How the program can help
If you are a beginner, it can be hard to know where to start, so we offer some free guided meditations to get you started, so that you are not trying to do it alone.
Our guided meditations provide easy instructions to follow through a video. They will help you to relax into a calm state of mind. You can choose from a selection of guided meditations depending on the time you have available, and your emotional needs.
The benefit of following the OMS program is that the meditation forms part of a holistic approach to improving your overall physical and mental health and well-being. Along with daily meditation you will benefit from other lifestyle changes such as the OMS diet, increase in sunlight and exercise.
1. Burns MN, Nawacki E, Kwasny MJ, Pelletier D, Mohr DC. Do positive or negative stressful events predict the development of new brain lesions in people with multiple sclerosis?; Psychol. Med. 2014 Jan; 44 (2): 349-59. Epub 2013 May 17. PMID: 23680407