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ALS Worldwide
February 01, 2018

Benefits of Meditation

"One way to strengthen oneself to face inner and outer problems is through practicing meditation. For ALS sufferers like me, who are losing outer functionality, meditation can make one aware of an inner existence that does not depend upon outer circumstances. The ravages of ALS on the body become more tolerable in the awareness of this inner existence. Speaking for myself, I don’t think I could have remained as balanced and cheerful for the last twelve years if it had not been for my practice of meditation.

Even though meditation has become a buzzword, most people still have an unclear conception of what it actually is. Part of the reason is probably that meditation is an inner activity that you have to experience, and for that, you need practice, and most people are not willing to do that. In the beginning, one has to control the mind through some concentration exercises. When the mind is quiet, this inner activity of meditation can come forward and we feel our inner existence expand, bringing tremendous happiness."

Snatak Eymundur Kjeld
Reykjavik, Iceland

Most ALS/MND patients deal with different levels of anxiety or depression. Pain, though not a primary symptom of ALS/MND, is also sometimes experienced due to muscle changes and immobility. Meditation can frequently minimize or eliminate these symptoms, can be practiced at home without formal training, and has recently been validated as an effective tool through clinical trial results analyzed by Dr. Madhav Goyal and his team at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Anxiety, Depression and Meditation, published January 28, 2014 in News Medical, found that meditation offers a moderate but consistent benefit for those suffering from anxiety, depression and pain. This is true not only for ALS/MND patients, but also for their caregivers and those suffering from a full range of other illnesses and diseases.

The majority of meditation techniques are either Mindfulness Based Stress Reductions or Transcendental Meditation. Psychology Today defines MBSR as a technique that encourages practitioners to "focus on one thing in the moment--each breath you take, each step as you walk, the sights or sounds around you." This helps to calm the nervous system and break habitual ways of reacting to stress. TM, on the other hand, comes from an ancient Indian tradition in which the practitioner closes his or her eyes for twenty minutes while repeating a mantra. This helps the practitioner to transcend the ordinary thinking process and sink into a state of calm and attunement.

The best results come from daily practice of meditation for several minutes throughout the day. A concentrative meditation technique involves focusing on a single point. This could entail repeating a single word or mantra, staring at a candle flame, listening to a repetitive gong or counting beads. Since focusing the mind is challenging, a beginner might meditate for only a few minutes and then work up to longer durations. In this form of meditation, one should refocus awareness on the chosen object of attention each time the individual notices his or her mind wandering. Rather than pursuing random thoughts, simply let them go. 

Other meditation techniques include a daily meditation that envisions negative events and recasts them in a positive light and movement meditation techniques such as tai chi, chi kung and walking.  Whichever you choose, emptying one's mind is the unifying factor in meditation. An understandable, yet fulfilling, layperson's guide to meditation is Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Program by Sharon Salzberg, available on Amazon.

A free, friendly, simple tool to guide people of all ages and backgrounds through meditations for mindfulness and compassion is called STOP, BREATHE & THINK. can be used online or downloaded as an app for Apple or Android mobile devices. You can begin to meditate within 5 minutes.