I am not a trained meditation teacher. I have found meditation really helpful in my own recovery and I want to share the knowledge I’ve gained. However, if what I’m saying doesn’t help you then don’t give up on meditation, seek out a more experienced teacher. If you can’t find one locally, or you’re housebound, then I have found the wildmind website a great resource with written guides, audio guided meditations and on-line classes/support.
What is Meditation?
Meditation is not about sitting in a cross legged position chanting omm. Well it can be, if you’re into that sort of thing, but the good news is it doesn’t have to be. The main purpose of meditation in the recovery from ME/CFS is to induce the relaxation response and increase mindfulness. By doing these two things you will experience the benefits of meditation.
Many people think they can’t meditate because they’ll get distracted, but meditation is all about accepting we get distracted and bringing our attention back to the focus of the meditation, again and again and again. Just like working out in the gym changes our bodies, meditation gradually changes our mind, so we become a bit less distracted, or anxious.
Meditation is not about stopping thoughts coming, or focusing on good thoughts and pushing unpleasant thoughts and feelings away. It’s about observing what’s there, but taking a step back. As I’ve already said, this will be difficult at first, but don’t let that stop you trying again.
Start Slow and Small
Like everything else when you have ME/CFS I think it’s helpful to take a pacing approach. Don’t expect to be able to sit in silence for 20 minutes the first time you try and meditate. For most people (and certainly for me) that is too difficult when you are starting out. I started with guided meditation tracks that were about 10 minutes long. Even with these my mind would be very distracted and I would often only notice that I hadn’t been paying attention when the track finished.
Be consistent – make a commitment.
If you find meditation difficult, if you’re really distracted, find it difficult to stay still and don’t follow the guided meditation, don’t let that stop you meditating the next day. Also if you miss one day, then don’t let that stop you restarting the next day. Meditation is simple, but not easy, and it is the regular practise that is helpful and will bring about the benefits.
When I first read that meditation could help CFS/ME I decided to meditate for 10 minutes a day for 2 weeks (at this stage I did not know about the importance of complete neurological rest to improving our condition and spent a lot of time “watching” TV in a brain fogged state, just to pass the time. I also had a sleep every afternoon). I suggest you set out with a similar small daily meditation target. I found it very difficult some days to stay seated for the entire 10 minutes. Also I found my mind would drift and I would miss most of what was being said on the guided track. I did not allow this to stop me trying again the next day.
Is meditating like riding a bike?
When you first try and ride a bike it’s incredibly difficult to go even a short distance. You need someone to help you balance, tell you what to do and give you confidence. After a bit of practise you can ride on your own, and eventually you can ride longer distances. Sometimes you meet adults who can’t ride a bike. Unless they have a disability that stops them (and there are many specially adapted bikes these days to help overcome this) the reason they can’t ride a bike is because they have never learnt. You can learn to ride a bike as an adult, it’s just that most people learn as a child. How does this relate to meditation? Like riding a bike meditation is a skill that anyone can learn it just takes practise and perseverance.
Posture during meditation/relaxation
If you read guides into meditation they will often tell you to meditate in a seated posture. This is mainly so that you do not drift off to sleep. Since the main aim of meditation in ME/CFS recovery is to elicit the relaxation response I don’t think we should be overly worried about falling asleep during our meditations. However, I would recommend you set an alarm so that you do not sleep for too long and disrupt your night time sleep. When I first started meditating I got very dizzy if I sat up for long, and hence I used to meditate lying down. This was either on my bed, or on the floor, or (my favourite) on a sun lounger in the garden. As my condition has improved I gradually moved to doing more seated meditations. When I had a dip I went back to lying down. Just do whatever feels best for you. You should aim to have your spine straight, and your head in line with your spine whichever position you choose.
I’m lying comfortably. What do I do now?
If you’re completely new to meditation, then unless you are extremely noise sensitive I suggest you start with guided meditation tracks. There is a plethora to choose from, and many of them are free. See my resources page for help choosing. Simply choose your track, put some headphones in, listen and relax. That’s it. At the end of the guided track choose whether to stay relaxing or move on to another activity.
If you feel that you’ve been unsuccessful at relaxing, don’t worry. That’s fine. Accept it and don’t let it stop you meditating again tomorrow.
I’ve tried meditation, but I can’t do it
I suggest if you think you can’t meditate then you lower your expectations of what meditation is. It’s not about having a mind free of thoughts and feelings, or only having happy thoughts and feelings. Do not expect to be completely focused during your meditation. Thoughts will come and they will distract you. Over time you will find it easier to return to the focus of your meditation, but at first you may find you are distracted most of the time (I certainly was when I started).
I know one person who said that when she closed her eyes she got an overwhelming sense of panic. The solution to this is not to close your eyes. Instead focus on something in the room or outside the window it could be a pretty flower, a candle, a picture, or anything else that you choose.
If you can’t do ten minutes of meditation, start with five. If you can’t do five minutes do one minute. If one minute is too much start with thirty seconds. Meditation is exercising the mind and just like with physical exercise and ME/CFS it’s good to build up slowly. Start with a manageable amount for you, practise at that level until you are ready to increase. Of course if you’re only doing thirty seconds of meditation a day you’re not going to see as much benefit as someone who is doing ten minutes, but at least you’re making a start and moving in the right direction. Remember: progress, not perfection.
Just Do It
Like the advert says Just Do It. Head on over to the resources page, pick a guided meditation track and get started.
Other pages you may find helpful
- The Benefits of Meditation for ME/CFS sufferers
- Meditation Resources
- My Experience with Meditation
- Fight or Flight/the maladaptive stress response