New York resident Ruth Geller has a no-nonsense approach to coping with her multiple sclerosis (MS).

“My aim is to be the best person I can be in spite of my limitations," says Geller, 82, who lives in Central Islip, on Long Island. "My focus is on what I can do today — not what I can’t do."

To achieve this goal, she practices mindfulness meditation daily, which she says keeps her grounded and living in “the now of life." Geller also teaches mindfulness to people with MS and Parkinson’s disease.

“Mindfulness is a technique that allows us to respond with more skillful control to whatever is happening right now, whether that is good or bad,” says Angeliki Bogosian, PhD, a lecturer in the department of psychology at City University in London and a researcher on mindfulness and MS. “It involves redirecting our attention from worrying about what has happened or may happen, [and] instead focusing on the present with an open-minded curiosity.”

As Geller says, "Mindfulness uses your mind to produce a positive energy,” and deep breathing is its instrument.

“You start to breathe and let that breathing take you into a relaxed, peaceful state,” she says. She teaches participants in her classes to feel the sensations of their breath going in and out and to visualize something like a beautiful beach or garden to create serenity. When distracting thoughts enter the mind, Geller tells her class to “observe them, but let them pass like clouds in the sky, and try not to engage them. Then re-focus on your breathing.”

Mindfulness for MS

Living with the pain, discomfort, and the uncertainties of MS can lead to feelings of frustration, anger, anxiety, and depression, Dr. Bogosian says. These feelings can lead to physiological changes such as increased fatigue and muscle pain, impaired memory and concentration, and poor sleep.

“Even if we try to shut out these emotions or ignore them, we usually still suffer the physiological effects,” she says. “By becoming mindful and aware of our thoughts, feelings, and body sensations, we can better control situations, and we have more choices. It also means that we are less likely to end up striving for too long toward goals that it might be wiser to let go. Mindful awareness helps us to become fully conscious of the world as it is, rather than how we wish it could be.”

One of the biggest benefits to using mindfulness is learning acceptance. “It doesn’t mean that you like the fact that you’ve been dealt a dirty hand," Geller says. "It means that this is what happened — yesterday is history, and tomorrow is a mystery. What I have is today, and how am I going to handle what’s happening today?”

Related: Mind Your Health: Using Mindfulness to Heal Your Body

What the Research Says About Mindfulness and MS

A review of studies on mindfulness and MS, published in the journal BMC Neurology in 2014, found that a 6- or 8-week course on mindfulness can help lessen fatigue and pain and improve standing balance, mental health, and quality of life. Bogosian was the lead researcher on an MS and mindfulness study that included people with primary-progressive MS and those with severe disability, published online in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal in March 2015.

Forty people were either assigned to a mindfulness course or put on a waiting list and received no training. The mindfulness group used Skype video conferencing to attend a weekly hour-long course from their homes.

At the end of eight weeks and also three months later, the mindfulness group showed improvements in levels of distress, pain, fatigue, and other MS symptoms, compared with those who didn't use the mindfulness technique.

Putting Mindfulness Into Practice

Mindfulness helps you experience your pain in a different way, Geller says. You learn to relax your body enough to not aggravate it, and that helps with the common MS complaint of fatigue. On days when you need more energy, that’s what mindfulness will give you, Geller says. And on days when you need to be more tranquil, she says, it will give you that, too.

Of course, like any other skill, practice is essential, Geller says. “You just don’t come to my class and I say meditate, and therefore you meditate," she says. The more you do it, the better you get at it, and you can get what you need from it that much easier, she adds.

Put it into practice every morning to get in tune with what’s going on with your body, Geller suggests. Ask yourself: How am I feeling this morning? Is there anything specific bothering me?

"You want to put stress — whether it’s physical, emotional, or social — on the back burner, because it’s a killer and will exacerbate symptoms,” she says. Mindfulness breathing and relaxation can help you do that.

Mindfulness teaches important life lessons aside from helping you manage chronic symptoms, Geller adds.

“What you learn through meditation is that life is not perfect, but the journey is very interesting," she says. "Along the way, you’ll examine the roses and smell the flowers. You’ll look at that rainbow and say, 'Wow, that’s incredible!'”