If you are one of the 1.5 million plus people in the UK who live with fibromyalgia, it is likely that at some time or another you have looked for a way to relieve pain and soothe anxiety. NHS guidelines state that current treatment options, such as pain killers, relaxation therapy, and mindfulness have little evidence with which to prove their effectiveness
As part of a research project for my MSc in Consciousness, Spirituality and Transpersonal Psychology I chose to study the effects of spirituality on the wellbeing of people who live with Fibromyalgia. With the support of Fibromyalgia Action UK, I advertised for anyone interested in following a spiritual health programme online.
I need to reveal here I have a personal interest in doing this research, and the events which preceded it. A relative of mine has lived with fibromyalgia for several years, spending most of her time either resting or sleeping, and suffering with pain and anxiety. Despite the usual treatment from her GP, she did not improve until she was offered a course in natural horsemanship. As a lifelong horse lover who had started riding when she was two years old, Amy felt by taking part in the course she would be returning to what she loved which was working with horses. One morning a week she went to the stables and helped to groom the ponies and just be with them. At first, all she could manage was one hour, but over the course of a few months she was spending several hours there.
After a year, Amy’s health had improved so much that she decided to find a loan horse, one she could care for a few hours a week. Within a few weeks of finding a loan horse, Amy decided to realise a lifelong dream and get her own pony. Since that time, she has not looked back and now goes to the stables every day, all day, and is a different person.
So, what has this to do with spirituality, you may ask?
There is a general misconception that spirituality is all about meditation and yoga, but this is far from the case. The spiritual health programme I used for my project has been developed by the Spiritual Companions Trust to enable those who follow it to connect with the wonder and meaning of life through activities which make them feel good. These are wide ranging and can include being in nature, swimming, baking, painting, anything that helps you lose yourself in the activity. Of course, this can and does include yoga, meditation, and horse riding, but it is very much about doing your own thing.
Following the programme
The participants in my research followed the spiritual health programme for six weeks, this involved filling in a workbook and doing some guided relaxation and meditation exercises on most days. Some of the participants wrote down their experiences in a journal. The research was carried out online and participants were interviewed at the end of the programme.
Did the programme help?
Well, the results are encouraging but not a definite yes, so let’s look at what I discovered.
- This was a small study, so further research is needed using a greater number of participants.
- Some participants already had a spiritual practice, so were not starting from scratch.
- All of the participants were women and close in age range, a mix of age ranges and genders would be interesting next time.
- A definitive measure of pain is needed, to assess the benefits – or not – of the study.
What was good about the programme?
- The programme was easy to follow and could be done at the participant’s own pace.
- Participants found the programme relaxing and some felt it did help to relieve pain.
- The relaxation exercises helped some to cope with anxiety.
- It encouraged people to have a purpose, one lady decided to sit in the garden and listen to the birds, which made a huge difference to her as she usually spent the whole day indoors.
Were there improvements to be made?
- Not all the participants enjoyed the voices on the relaxation and meditation audio, although this has since been addressed.
- More ongoing support during the programme would have been appreciated.
- The programme was spiritual and not religious, but this needed to be made clearer.
The future of the programme
Feedback from the participants was certainly promising. Following the programme motivated the participants to do more of what they enjoyed whether that included spending time in the garden or creative writing, and it helped some to focus better on their own spiritual practice.
One of the important things about the programme was that it gave people the choice to follow it. Through my research I have realised that people who live with a condition such as fibromyalgia need to feel empowered and that they do want to have a choice of treatment options. So much of their treatment depends on decisions made by doctors and therapists, and it is important to this group that they have something they can choose to do which contributes to them managing their condition.
Fibromyalgia is a life limiting condition with no known cure and limited treatment options.
Many people who live with the condition experience pain and anxiety on a daily basis and often feel powerless and vulnerable.
From the interest shown in my research project, and from the emails I received even after it had finished, I believe this type of programme has a place in the lives of these people.
If you live withfibromyalgia, or know someone who does, please follow the link given for the Spiritual Companions Trust which will give you access to the programme. It does not cost anything to try, and you never know, it could change your life for the better!
With thanks to the Alef Trust and Fibromyalgia Action UK