Mindfulness is an alternative therapy which has been shown to have benefit for people with MS. We look at the evidence for mindfulness in coping with MS symptoms, alongside interviews and guided sessions from Benedict Holt, a mindfulness teacher from Breathworks Mindfulness.

Breathworks mindfulness teacher Benedict Hoff discusses mindfulness and MS.

Multiple sclerosis can have profound consequences for your future goals and quality of life. Coming to terms with these changes and your symptoms can take time, and is sometimes challenging. Mindfulness is a psychological therapy approach that can be used to improve your outlook, provide coping strategies and help manage some of the symptoms of multiple sclerosis. 

Mindfulness is a meditative technique that involves learning to focus attention on emotions, sensations and thoughts in an accepting and non-judgemental way. By focussing fully on the present moment rather than on regret for the past or worries about the future, mindfulness helps to break the cycle of negative thoughts and emotions. Some people with MS have suggested that mindfulness helps them to be kind to themselves and put MS into context as just one part of their life.

Mindfulness is a well established therapy, with considerable research based evidence for its effects on people with MS. It is considered to be a complementary or alternative therapy that can be used alongside other medical intervention as part of active self-management. Getting the most out of mindfulness will involve a commitment to regular practice, but you may find significant improvements as a result.

How can mindfulness help with MS?

Studies in MS have shown that mindfulness can improve quality of life and help people cope better with their MS. Various studies found that mindfulness decreased pain, stress, anxiety and depression. People undergoing mindfulness training also reported better sleep.

Mindfulness is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as a way to prevent depression in people who have had three or more bouts of depression in the past. There is evidence that regular mindfulness practice can change your thinking habits. In effect, the idea is that you can train yourself to think more healthy thoughts. You might still have negative thoughts, but you will become aware that they are just passing thoughts. Reality is more than that.

The same is true when using mindfulness to deal with pain or altered sensations. The sensations may still be there, but by examining them carefully and non-judgementally, you should not find yourself over-reacting to them, or being scared or worried about your pain or altered sensations. By removing the fear or anxiety about the pain, you may make it easier to live with.

Trying mindfulness

Breathworks mindfulness teacher Benedict Hoff discusses what it's like for people with MS who have tried mindfulness.

Adapting mindfulness practice for people with MS

The classic mindfulness approach might involve an initial series of 8-10 classes where you are guided through thinking exercises by a teacher. After that, you would be expected to practise alone, although you might also be invited to follow-up sessions, mindfulness retreats or group practise opportunities. 

Traditional mindfulness classes often involve sitting still for long periods of time. Issues like spasms, pain or fatigue might make that difficult for you, but there is no evidence that shorter sessions are less effective. You can do as much as you can manage.

Classes specifically designed for people with MS may be found through an MS Therapy Centre, or your MS nurse may be able to direct you to a practicioner. If you go to a mainstream mindfulness teacher, do make them aware of any physical or cognitive limitations you might have in advance. You can then discuss a comfortable position in which to practise, and talk about aspects of the class that you might have difficulty with.

Ways mindfulness classes could be made accessible

  • Selecting a comfortable position in which you can relax and focus your mind.
  • Practising for 10-20 minutes at a time, rather than a prolonged period of time, to avoid fatigue.
  • Shortening the guided class sessions. Can your teacher get through the same material more quickly for you, so you don't get fatigued?
  • Using a free tool like Skype to allow your class instructor to reach you and give personal advice and support, even if you can't attend the class in person. Group calls or videocalls can help maintain the class experience and allow you to benefit from peer support too. 
  • Thinking about aspects of your MS that you can address directly in your mindfulness practice, such as altered sensations or the MS hug.

Benefits of mindfulness

Breathworks mindfulness teacher Benedict Hoff discusses the benefits of mindfulness and it how it can help on a day-to-day basis.

Mindfulness videos

Here are three short YouTube videos from mindfulness teacher Benedict Hoff. Try these simple guided exercises and see how they benefit you.

Breathworks mindfulness teacher Benedict Hoff introduces a three-step breathing space mindfulness practice.
Breathworks mindfulness teacher Benedict Hoff introduces a mindful movement mindfulness practice.
Breathworks mindfulness teacher Benedict Hoff introduces a short mindfulness practice called the treasure of pleasure.

Find out more

Senders A, et al.
Association Between Pain and Mindfulness in Multiple Sclerosis: A Cross-sectional Survey.
Int J MS Care. 2018 Jan-Feb;20(1):28-34
Full article (link is external)
Senders A, et al.
Perceived stress in multiple sclerosis: the potential role of mindfulness in health and well-being.
Journal of Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2014;19(2):104-111.
Full article (link is external)
Simpson R, et al.
Mindfulness based interventions in multiple sclerosis - a systematic review.
BMC Neurology 2014;14:15.
Full article (link is external)
Grossman P, et al.
MS quality of life, depression, and fatigue improve after mindfulness training: a randomized trial.
Neurology 2010;75(13):1141-1419.
Full article (link is external)
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