Having a chronic illness like multiple sclerosis (MS) means facing the premise that your life may not be headed in the direction that you’d once envisioned. Although you cannot change your MS diagnosis, you do have the ability to come to peace with your chronic disease. Some people living with MS find that spiritual practices can help them find relief from their symptoms and accept their path with gratitude.
Spiritual practices include an array of activities, including prayer, mediation, and yoga, and they do not require a belief in a higher power to provide benefits.
Spirituality can be defined in many different ways, but it’s often considered a way to understand yourself and your place or role in the world.
There are many different ways to enhance your spiritual self to attain greater satisfaction while improving your mental health and general well-being. While some people find comfort in organized religion, others may prefer meditation or yoga to attain spirituality.
There are merits to any spiritual path that you might take, including cultivating peace, purpose, and forgiveness, and building resilience to stress, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Whether you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, or Hindu, those who pursue the path of organized religion can find peace and connection with the support of a like-minded community. One MyMSTeam member calls their place of worship “my place of refuge and my strength.”
Practicing your faith in a religious community can provide a feeling of comfort and safety, along with social connections. Social connections are particularly important for people with MS, who are at risk of experiencing social isolation. In addition to connectedness, religious communities also provide structure and dependability — a wonderful contrast to the sometimes unpredictable nature of day-to-day life with MS. As one MS Team member wrote, “God is with you! God will never leave nor forsake you!”
Along with fostering social connections, there is some evidence that religious or spiritual beliefs can help people with MS develop a positive outlook on their illness, appreciate their life as it is, and cultivate gratitude.
Prayer can take many forms. It can be part of organized religious services or informal groups, or it can be done alone. Some people choose to recite traditional texts; others speak in their own words or use a journal to write down their prayers. You can pray even if you don’t consider yourself a member of a faith community or believe in a higher power.
Prayer can be beneficial for several reasons. It can help you to cultivate feelings of gratitude and compassion, lower anxiety, and release control to a higher power or external force. There is also some research that prayer can help people better manage chronic pain.
Prayer is an important part of life for many MyMSTeam members. One member shared, “I am talking to God more, reading my Bible, and singing the song ‘I am the Lord that heals thee.’”
Another member commented, “Prayer is a free gift and one offered from the heart. It might work, and it might not, but what do you have to lose?”
Meditation has been used throughout time by many different ethnic and spiritual traditions. Meditations can be guided or unguided, and they can use visualization techniques, breathing, awareness, or reflection.
A systematic review of studies on meditation found measurable changes in participants. People who meditated experienced “reduced anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, stress, blood pressure, cortisol levels and other physiologic markers of stress,” according to the 2020 review from the Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine.
In the words of a MyMSTeam member, “Meditation is one thing I think everyone should do. Once you practice it enough, it's not too hard to get into that state of mind. At first it was almost too much effort to be worth it. Now I think it is about the most natural remedy anyone can do.”
Technology has significantly reduced the barriers to learning and practicing meditation. Free apps can be downloaded on your smartphone, audiobooks on meditation are widely available, and countless reflections, sounds, and sleep tracks are available online to aid with meditation.
Yoga’s origins date back to ancient India. It is both a spiritual and physical practice that improves mental and emotional health, sleep, and balance — while also helping to manage anxiety, depression, and symptoms of chronic diseases, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
Yoga classes are available online and in person. There are chair yoga classes and yoga for MS classes, which make the practice accessible to all. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society offers several resources for finding yoga instructors who can teach you proper alignments, adaptations specifically developed for your body, and ways to use props.
MyMSTeam members have high praise, in general, for the benefits of yoga:
Read more about yoga and MS.
There are limitless ways to cultivate spirituality in your life. The trick is finding what works for you. In addition to religion, meditation, or yoga, the following practices may be helpful.
Some people find that immersing themselves in art or music can be a spiritual experience. This can take many forms. You may enjoy studying a painting or sculpture by a famous artist, or you may enjoy listening closely to your favorite song or piece of music. You may even create art or music yourself, no matter your skill level.
Spending time in nature can boost your mood and help you connect to the outside world. You can connect to nature by taking a walk, spending time in your backyard, gardening, bird-watching, or simply looking out the window and focusing on the way the clouds look in the sky or the way the wind moves the leaves on the trees.
In the general population, feelings of gratitude are associated with lower risks of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Gratitude can also lead to greater feelings of enthusiasm and determination. There are many ways to cultivate gratitude in daily life. You can express gratitude in prayer, or you can focus on gratitude while meditating, listening to your favorite music, or spending time outdoors. You can also keep a gratitude journal in which you list things you’re grateful for on a regular basis.
MyMSTeam is the social network for people with multiple sclerosis and their loved ones. More than 166,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with multiple sclerosis.
What spiritual practices have you found beneficial? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on MyMSTeam.