Meditation is, in my opinion, the number one thing that everyone with ME should be doing to help themselves. However severely affected you are or however little money you have, you can still meditate. There are plenty of free resources, so it does not matter if you’re broke. Meditation can be done lying down and does not require any movement or noise, so it is suitable for even the most severely affected sufferers.
If you are not yet meditating read on. I hope I can persuade you to start, or if you’ve tried it and dismissed it then I hope I can persuade you to give it another go.
In this article I link to several research papers. This is because I wanted to demonstrate that my belief that meditation helps with recovery from ME/CFS is not wishful thinking, blind faith or optimism; it is backed by scientific research. There has been a lot of research into meditation. I have not done a comprehensive review of the research, but just highlighted a few papers that I have come across in preparing this article. I’ll be honest; mostly I have only read the abstracts, but access to the papers is there if you want to find out more detail. Even with my limited reading the evidence is compelling. There is also great article here which explains why meditation is so beneficial for everyone.
What are the benefits of Meditation if you have CFS/ME?
The Relaxation Response
In this post I explain the role of the fight or flight (stress) response in ME. Getting out of a chronically stressed state and into a relaxed (healing) state is key to recovery. Meditation is great way to get inducing the relaxation response. Research shows that amongst retreat participants there was an association between increased mindfulness and decreased cortisol levels. Cortisol is known as the stess hormone and is typically elevated when we are in a stressed state. A decrease in cortisol indicates a more relaxed state.
Improved immune function
Most ME sufferers are vulnerable to infection and have low immune function. Meditation has been proved to improve immune function. In this study participants were given a flu vaccine at the end of a short programme (8 weeks) of mindfulness meditation and were found to have improved immune function.
Most ME/CFS sufferers live with pain to a greater or lesser extent, and there is a lot of cross over with Fibromyalgia. This article summarises research which demonstrated that just 80 minutes of mindfulness training was more effective than morphine and other pain killing drugs at reducing the unpleasantness of pain stimuli.
If you have ME/CFS you know what a difficult condition it is to live with. Most sufferers find socialising difficult, and many are house or bed bound. Thus it is socially isolating. Having to change your life and being unable to do activities you used to enjoy is tough emotionally. Reactive depression is common. This study demonstrates that after a short program (8 weeks) in mindfulness meditation, activity was lowered in parts of the brain associated with negative emotions, and was increased in parts of the brain associated with feelings of wellbeing and happiness.
Research by Dr Howard Benson in the 1970s demonstrated that meditation can change the way our body works on a very fundamental level, by switching on genes that protect from things such as pain, infertility, high blood pressure and rheumatoid arthritis. This recent study from Harvard demonstrated how practice of the relaxation response enhanced expression of genes associated with energy metabolism, mitochondrial function, insulin secretion and telomere maintenance*, and reduced expression of genes linked to inflammatory response and stress-related pathways.
Change the brain and connections
MRI scans have been used by researchers to look at how the brain changes following mindfulness training. The amygdala is an area of the brain that has been linked to the stress response. This study concluded that changes in perceived stress, after participation in mindfulness training, was matched by changes in the Amygdala grey matter density. This study found increases in functional connectivity of the brain following 8 weeks of mindfulness training. The changes suggest participants were more focussed, had enhanced sensory processing, and better reflective awareness of sensory experience.
Improve Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms
Many ME/CFS sufferers have gastrointestinal symptoms, often diagnosed as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). A study of 75 women showed that mindfulness training improved IBS symptoms. A follow up 3 months after the study showed that participants had improved quality of life, less psychological distress and anxiety which were not evident at the end of the study.
Improve self image and relationships
This study by Stanford University showed after meditation participants were more likely to pick positive words like “admired” and “loved” and less likely to choose negative adjectives like “coward” and “afraid”.
Want to give it a go?
Hopefully after reading that list of benefits you’re ready to try meditating yourself. If so see How to Meditate if you have CFS/ME.
*sorry I don’t know what telomere maintenance is, but a quick google search leads me to believe it’s important for preventing cancer.
Other pages you may find helpful