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Guest blog: 5 steps to kick-start mindfulness for your MS

Wellness coach and Director of Work.Live.Thrive Zoe Flint, discusses what you can do to boost relaxation which can help boost your immune and central nervous systems

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The first thing to do is to prioritise relaxation as an essential part of your health. My experience of delivering mindfulness courses for MS-UK, has shown me that very few clients typically think of themselves first. The vast majority are far more concerned about their family and friends than their own wellbeing. Whilst this is a lovely quality, “you can’t pour from an empty cup”, as they say. In order to be there for friends and family, we must prioritise our own wellbeing. There are many practices you can try, and below are my top recommendations for beginning to develop your relaxation practice. Give each a try and see which you enjoy most, set yourself some time daily to practice (like learning a musical instrument, learning a relaxation practice takes motivation, determination and regular practice, enabling your brain to physically rewire itself and prime your mind and body to be able to habitually slip into states of relaxation).

 

1.         Breathe

Probably the most important and effective way to induce the relaxation response, setting time aside to breathe slowly, deeply, and extending the out breath has remarkable effects at reducing stress, anxiety and panic

Try it - Breathe in slowly, filling the lungs completely to a count of 5. Breathe out, slowly and completely, to a count of 7. Repeat until you feel a noticeable sense of relaxation. Struggling? Download ‘Breath2Relax’ at the App store. 

 

2.         Learn Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a brain training meditation practice that originated in Buddhism 2,000 years ago. There is a wealth of research into its effectiveness at reducing stress and anxiety, increasing focus, reducing pain, boosting the immune system, reducing fatigue and increasing a sense of acceptance. There are also studies specific to MS that show a decrease in symptoms. 

Try it - Sit comfortably, in an upright position. The aim is to be relaxed but alert. Start by taking a few slow, deep breaths, letting go of any thoughts of worry, lamenting or busyness. Spend a few moments focusing on the sensations of breathing. Feel the air as it enters your nose; the temperature, the quality. Focus on its journey down into the lungs. The movement of the body and rib cage as you inhale and exhale.  Notice the change in temperature of the breathe as you exhale. Struggling?  Download the Apps ‘Calm’ or ‘Insight Timer’. 

 

3.         Progressive Muscle Relaxation

In addition to producing a feeling of calmness and relaxation, this technique helps you to notice areas of the body where tension is held and can ease headaches, muscle stiffness and bring a fresh supply of blood to important muscles.

Try it - Start with your feet and work up towards your head.  Scrunch up your toes, hold, and release.  Flex your feet, hold, point your toes, hold, and relax.  Squeeze your calf muscles, release.  Squeeze your thighs, relax.  Attempt to pull your tummy button towards your back.  Hold, and release.  Squeeze your shoulders up to your ears, hold.  Let go.  Make fists with your hands, tense them tightly, hold, release.  Clench your jaw, hold and relax. Sit for a few moments, absorbing the benefits of the practice. Struggling? Search ‘Progressive Muscle Relaxation’ on YouTube.

 

4.         Visualisation Techniques

Where’s the place you find the most relaxing? A beach, a walled garden, a meadow, a lagoon? Wherever it is, you can go there in your mind. 

Try it – Imagine the most relaxing place you can, using all your senses – what would you smell, hear, see and feel? Warm sun on your face, birdsong, cool, soothing water or soft grass under your feet? Let your imagination go wild and spend some time each day in your relaxing place.  Struggling?  Search YouTube for ‘guided relaxations’.

 

5.         Fun and Laughter

So good for our immune systems and wellbeing in general, fun and laughter are often little prioritised in our busy lives. What makes you laugh? Can you make a list of films, podcasts, friends, activities and books that make you laugh out loud?  Laughter released pain relieving endorphins and helps us bond with others. 

Try it – Use your list to do something daily that you find fun and induces laughter.  Struggling? Try a laughter yoga class!