Meditation includes many different practices of focused thinking and relaxation and studies show it can help people with arthritis. No matter what technique you choose, the goal is to improve coping strategies for pain and reduce symptoms like stress and anxiety. Maybe you’ve even tried it – but two minutes felt like two hours and after each 20-minute session, the result was the same: You created a mental to-do list and had a sore behind. You’re not alone.
“We are so used to multitasking that we find it difficult to sit down and turn off our thoughts,” explains Scott Zashin, MD, a rheumatologist and clinical assistant professor of internal medicine at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School at Dallas. “Meditation is not a quick fix; it takes time.”
Not sure it’s worth the effort? Consider this: A study published in Journal of Psychosomatic Research in January 2010 reported that patients with arthritis and back/neck pain who followed an 8-week mindfulness meditation program demonstrated a significant change in pain intensity and functional limitations due to pain. The study participants with arthritis showed the largest positive effects for health related quality of life and psychological distress.
While some forms of meditation involve deep thought, breathing exercises and chanting, you don’t have to spend a lot of time on the practice in order to see results, says Andrea Rudolph, a therapist who teaches people mindfulness/meditation techniques to cope with arthritis pain in Harrisburg, Pa. A few minutes a day spent in quiet contemplation can help you relax, cope better with arthritis symptoms and have a more positive attitude about life, she says. But remember, meditation is not a substitute for your treatment, but a complement.
These are some helpful tips to get you started:
Educate yourself. Go online and read about different forms of meditation so you can familiarize yourself with terms and details about the practice, Rudolph suggests.
Get an instructor. Meditation classes can be effective for beginners. Having an instructor to guide meditations and answer questions is one of the easiest ways to ease into the practice, Dr. Zashin says. Check yoga studios, churches and community centers for classes.
Know your limits. Pain and other arthritis symptoms won’t go away with regular meditation, but you can learn to cope with them more effectively. As you start out, set reasonable expectations for what you will accomplish by this practice.
Focus on one thing. Counting your breaths or repeating a word can help keep your mind from wandering. “Choose a word that makes you feel calm and relaxed,” advises Kate Hanley, a meditation instructor and author of the Anywhere, Anytime Chill Guide: 77 Simple Strategies for Serenity. Repeating the word with every exhale will help keep you focused on the meditation.
Forget the time. Does meditating for 20 minutes seem impossible? Stop watching the clock. Instead, sit quietly, focus on your breathing and repeat a calming word or thought for as long as you’re comfortable. Slowly work your way up to meditating for longer periods.
Remain committed. Make a commitment to practice your meditation regularly. “That’s why we call it a ‘practice,’” Rudolph says. “You’re not seeking perfection, but making your quality of life better.”
Forgive yourself. Don’t call it quits if you focus on a conversation with a spouse when you’re supposed to be clearing your mind for meditation. Instead, acknowledge the thought and redirect your focus. “Meditation is all about doing the best you can,” says Hanley. “It’s called a practice for a reason; it’ll never be perfect.”
Do what feels right. There are many different forms of meditation or mindfulness-based practices, including yoga-based meditation, contemplative walking, deep breathing exercises, and chanting. Find the one that works for you and feels comfortable to you, Rudolph says. If you simply want to sit quietly and focus on positive thoughts, that’s meditation too.
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