Researchers agree – meditation can help with a host of health problems. “Relaxing and quieting your mind by focusing on your breathing can reduce stress – even the stress that comes with arthritis flares,” says David E. Yocum, MD, director of the Arizona Arthritis Center in Tucson. His studies, as well as others, found that patients who meditated responded to stress with lower heart rates, better hormonal changes and improved immune function; and that meditation, in combination with traditional medicines, appears to help arthritis patients. People who meditate tolerate pain better, he adds.
Want to try some easy meditation techniques? Here are some you can do every day. Sit or lie in a quiet room, imagining your body is flowing with energy – feel it flowing through your fingers, up and down your back and all over your body. If there are places where you feel pain, concentrate on imagining the energy flowing through those areas easily, until you can feel energy flowing freely all over your body.
Yoga breathing. Each morning and evening, start and end your day with a two-minute session of focused breathing. Sit in a comfortable chair that supports your back, relax, inhale for four seconds and then exhale for six seconds.
Walking meditation. If your doctor has OK’d a walking program, you can turn it into a meditation routine, suggests Andrea J. Cohen, MD, associate professor of medicine and director of the Complementary and Alternative Medicine Research Program at the University of Colorado Cancer Center in Denver. Instead of listening to pop music through headphones, thinking about your to-do list or chatting, focus intently on your body’s movements as you walk, she says. It’s that simple.
Guided imagery. Relax in a comfortable position as you listen to a voice that helps you focus on a beautiful scene or visualize your “helper” cells healing your joints. Dr. Cohen recommends the guided imagery tapes and CDs at www.joanborysenko.com and www.healthjourneys.com. Focus on a word, phrase, prayer, sound or piece of music. Meditate for a few minutes but aim to work up to 20 minutes per session and two sessions per day. This focusing meditation can be done while you’re walking or sitting in a comfortable chair.
Mindful meditation. Focus on being in the moment, or on a specific feeling. Many hospitals have programs that use this method of quieting thoughts. It’s a good idea to have at least one lesson to learn how to do it, says Dr. Cohen. After that, books and CDs like Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life (Hyperion Press, 1994) by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, can be helpful.
Transcendental meditation. People with arthritis who learn to use transcendental meditation are likely to have milder and easier-to-control flares, says D. Edwards Smith, MD, rheumatologist and president of the Maharishi College of Vedic Medicine in Fairfield, Iowa. The learned meditation is performed while sitting comfortably with the eyes closed for 15 to 20 minutes in the morning and evening. During this state, the mind “transcends” all mental activity to open the state of consciousness. To find a class near you, visit www.tm.org.