Friday, June 5, 2015

How To Use Mindfulness for Better Living with ALS

Feeling a little distracted lately? How about 'down in the dumps?' Zoned-out? Or just plain old preoccupied?

Anyone can feel that way at one time or another. But for those of us living with ALS, or other serious conditions, health worries can easily dominate our day-to-day thinking. Stuck in our own nonstop chatter, we become mind-LESS and end up navigating the day by way of our body's autopilot - - which is not always reliable!

What can we do?

The good news is that for the past forty years, Dr. Ellen Langer, a professor of psychology at Harvard, has been studying our mindlessness and how we can learn to avoid it. Her method does not require learning to meditate or sit quietly. In fact, she urges us to actively engage with our world and to recognize those moments when we're being mindless. Most recently, Dr. Langer's focus has been on helping people with challenging health issues including breast cancer, prostate cancer, PTSD, the common cold, diabetes and ALS.

In 2014, she helped conduct a four-month study* that measured how mindfulness influenced the health of 197 persons with ALS. The box on the left lists increases for the participants. On the right, what decreased - - pretty impressive results, I'd say!

LINK HERE to read the research article.

*Psychol Health. 2015;30(5):503-17. doi: 10.1080/08870446.2014.982652. Epub 2014 Nov 26.
"Mindfulness, Physical Impairment and Psychological Well-being in People with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis."   
Pagnini F1, Phillips D, Bosma CM, Reece A, Langer E.

How can we go from being mind-LESS to mind-FULL?

First off, we need to address our inner-voice, or the ongoing mental chatter. Think of it as the elevator music of our mind; a background noise that's always there. Problems arise when either: the mental chatter gets so strong it distracts us, or when we're doing something really boring. In both cases, we simply tune out and follow our wandering thoughts. 

In order to disconnect from autopilot and mentally re-connect with our surroundings, we need to consciously make the switch. For example, think to yourself: For the next five minutes, I will be engaged with everything around me. Then, heighten your senses; "see" and notice objects around you, "hear" the sounds and observe the activity surrounding you and your role within it.

This is not a "high alert," stressed type of awareness, but rather a soft focus; simply be attentive. I compare it to how animals remain keenly aware of their surroundings even while at rest.

Small Steps

Don't get discouraged if at first you manage to stay mindful, or actively engaged for only a few minutes. Falling back into autopilot is a habit, and through practice autopilot can be changed to mindfulness. Instead of expecting a full day of mindfulness right off the bat, build your successes through short time intervals. I suggest you pick easy activities such as: while brushing your teeth, eating a meal, getting dressed or moving from one end of the house to the other.

For me, active mindfulness does more than boost my memory and well-being. I use it during any activity that involves my personal safety such as: standing up and taking a step forward or, entering and exiting the car. Increased awareness has helped me to become better at listening to my body; catching the early stages of being tired, thirsty or noticing small physical changes.

Try It!

Try it today - - as soon as you finish reading this post. 

You'll be surprised how easy it is to do and all the good things that happen while you're being mindful. Like remembering the grocery list, where you put the car keys and even... that 'Big Gulp' beverage you just put on the roof of the car!
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Want to learn more?

Watch Dr. Langer's entertaining and enlightening presentation, Mindfulness over Matter.

Having trouble viewing the video? Use this LINK to YouTube.

In addition, her book, Mindfulness, the 25th Edition, is an easy read and full of great examples and motivation to give active mindfulness a try. 

Helpful websites:  or 

Read one of my earlier blog posts on mindfulness: "Your Attention Please!" with easy how-to steps.

Dagmar Munn
ALS and Wellness Blogger


  1. Thank you for this! I"m going to check out all these sites, including your blog. I write too about ALS on my blog. And I'm in the FB group. So it's nice to meet you!

    1. Great to'meet' you Jody! What is your blog site? I look forward to reading yours 😊


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