Meditation is a topic that I’ve been interested in for a while, yet on the borderline. I’m interested and I’ve stuck my toe in the water a time or two using meditation apps but I’ve never really taken the plunge or made meditation a regular part of my life.
I’m reading The Whole Health Life by Shannon Harvey, which talks about the Mind-Body connection and how we can heal by using that connection. The first chapter is on meditation and once again it got me fired up about the idea of meditation. I love the idea, I’m just lazy. But, it’s something I plan to work on and one of the things I will really be focusing on changing in 2017. I love the fact that Shannon Harvey cites tons of studies in her book. Reading it got me wanting to read those studies, so I thought I’d do just that and share a bit of what I’ve found. There actually have been quite a few studies that have looked at the power of meditation to improve pain and fatigue, and specifically how it can help those with Fibromyalgia.
A 2015 study published in Annals of Behavioral Medicine discussed the differing Cortisol Awakening Response in those with Fibromyalgia. Cortisol is also known as the stress hormone, and at this point we should all be very aware that stress plays a huge role in Fibromyalgia. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is the most studied type of meditation. It’s an 8-week course created by Jon Kabat-Zinn created to cultivate mindfulness and awareness of the present moment, through a combination of meditation and yoga.
Completed studies [of MBSR] have found that pain-related drug utilization was decreased, and activity levels and feelings of self esteem increased, for a majority of participants.” – MindfulLivingPrograms.com/WhatMBSR.html
The program helps you develop a non-judgemental focus on your experiences and learn to pause and choose the way you will react rather than reacting without thinking (as we too often do). Previous research has shown that those who go through a MBSR training have a decrease in symptoms including pain, stress, and fatigue.
The MBSR Study
91 female patients with Fibromyalgia participated in this study. 51 patients participated in MBSR (only 42 completed) while the remaining 40 patients were the control group. The participant group was larger to allow for the likelihood that not all would complete the therapy or would likely miss some training. Participants were assessed at baseline, at the end of the 8-week program, and again 2 months later.
Participants met weekly for 2.5 hours sessions during the 8-week course, which was instructed by an experienced MBSR instructor. Patients were introduced to both formal and informal meditation techniques including an attention focusing technique that focused on fully scanning the body and directing attention to various areas of the body, sitting meditation focused on breath and cognitive experiences, and a series of simple yoga poses. Participants were encouraged to practice three techniques for 45 minutes per day, 6 days a week. At each follow up session, participants were asked to report the number of times during the week that they had participated in meditation.
The control group was used as a comparison during the study, but were offered MBSR training after the study ended.
Patients were assessed using questionnaires for:
- perceived stress,
- sleep quality,
- physical functioning,
- symptom severity,
Additionally, cortisol levels were measured at waking and throughout the day for two consecutive days
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Helps Fibromyalgia
Results at the end of the study showed a decrease in both perceived stress and severity of symptoms. These improvements were still visible at two months after the treatment ended (we can only assume that these patients continued with what they learned after the the study ended). Improvements in sleep and fatigue were also noted. There was a correlation between the number of times per week that participants actively meditated on their own and their improvement scores. The more they meditated the better they felt.
One problem with this study is that those who participated were already functioning at a fairly high level (obvious since they were able to attend weekly meetings).
The reality is that mindfulness, or meditation of any sort won’t heal Fibromyalgia, but it can play a huge role in helping to control the symptoms. Stress is a factor that increases symptoms, so through meditation people can learn to reduce and control their stress. Thus, stress has a lower impact on the symptoms of Fibromyalgia overall, allowing a better quality of life, fewer symptoms, and better sleep.