A pilot study has been launched to assess the immediate and enduring benefits of tai chi and mindfulness meditation on the physical balance and mental wellness of people with multiple sclerosis (MS).
This community-based study — currently enrolling participants — is being conducted by the Motor Control Lab directed by Richard van Emmerik, PhD, professor of kinesiology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass Amherst). The project was awarded a $54,972 one-year grant from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
While many MS symptoms vary from patient to patient, depending on the extent and location of the damage in the brain and spinal cord, difficulty in maintaining physical balance is a generalized complaint.
“Mind-body interventions are beneficial as they train dynamic balance, such as transitioning between postures, turning, reaching, etc., in a manner similar to movements in daily life,” Julianna Averill, a doctoral student at van Emmerik’s lab, said in a press release.
Postural control and balance confidence is crucial to prevent patients’ falls and reduce their fear of falling. Finding strategies that help patients cope and overcome this limitation is crucial, Averill noted.
Contrary to other studies, which focus on mental health benefits, this project will look mostly at the effects of mindfulness practice on physical balance. Tai chi also will be evaluated for its potential to improve patients’ balance, both while they are standing and as they move.
Participants will be randomly assigned to either eight weeks of free tai chi at YMAA Western Mass Tai Chi or mindfulness meditation classes at Downtown Mindfulness, in Hampshire County, Massachusetts.
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