A Meditation on Meditating

For M.E. patients there are a thousand treatments for every thousand medical practitioners or patients they talk to. Trying to work out what you should and shouldn’t do can be near to impossible. There seems to be only two things everyone agrees on: you need to pace and you need to meditate.

For me the pacing thing is relatively easy although I’m not saying I never mess up (remember Easter Sunday). Pacing is logical however. It is almost mathematical. X amount of energy to be split between Y and Z activities. Where X is smaller than Y and Z – you’ve messed up!

Meditating is altogether different. It requires the suspension of logic, the suspension of thought. It also requires one to get over the fact that it has a can have a somewhat fruit loop reputation. It is often associated with Eastern mystics and the search to find oneself. I had only come across meditation in the five minutes at the end of yoga lessons. By the end of a lesson I was so exhausted anyhow that sitting there with my eyes closed was no hard task.

Meditation, as I am discovering, is a highly complex practice with many forms and many benefits. I, however, have been encouraged to practice two main forms. Firstly where I concentrate on relaxing specific parts of my body, one at a time, using intercostal diaphragmatic breathing to imagine breathing a heaviness into my limbs, enabling each muscle to relax.

The second method is often called visualisation: you imagine yourself somewhere relaxing – perhaps in a hammock on a beach with the sun shining on you and waves lapping. Alternatively you may imagine somewhere that you find relaxing; I personally choose an island in the archipelago near Stockholm where we holidayed last year. Sometimes you focus on just the tiniest of detail and imagine all your senses experiencing it. The one thing we are advised not to do, which you regularly find in meditation, is clenching up all your muscles then one by one releasing them. This is a great way to relax your muscles but is a big no-no for M.E. patients.

Meditating is so encouraged by medical practitioners because of it’s detox value. M.E. patients, as I have stated in previous blogs, have a bigger build up of lactic acid and other chemicals in their muscles than most people. They believe these chemicals are the reason why patients experience such high pain levels. Pain levels of course compound our difficulties in sleeping, lack of sleep compounds our difficulties with dealing with pain, poor sleep and pain reduces our ability to function during the day etc etc. Meditation allows the muscles to totally relax thereby reducing chemical build up and therefore reducing overall pain.

It also teaches the body and most importantly the mind to be still. The demands on your life as a sick person can be high. For me the biggest demands are the those that I set for myself. Demands unfilled or unfillable can lead to a sense of guilt, stress or worry. All three can only do one thing for an M.E. patient – make them categorically worse. Regularly providing your mind with opportunities to relax and empty it of worries helps to put your concerns in prospective thereby encouraging you to feel less guilt or worry in general.

My mind is never still. I have never been able to do one thing at a time. My mind flits from one project to another, from one idea to another. I can’t just sit and do nothing, I need to be doing something with my hands and my brain. My brain is rarely totally still. Training my brain to be still is therefore crucial to developing pure rest and relaxation. Total Rest for M.E. patients is not sitting in front of the TV or reading a book – this is known as Active Rest. While Active Rest is important and most of my day is spent doing it, it does not have as much restorative value. Total Rest is sitting or better again lying and doing absolutely nothing and that includes your brain. The only way for me to achieve this is through meditation.

My problem then comes in several ways: I feel really silly lying there deeply breathing in and out and trying to imagine myself on a Caribbean beach while I’m actually in wet England in the pouring rain; and secondly I find it boring! Yes I’m sure if I find it boring, I’m not doing it right. There are days where it is easy and the time passes in a flash but there are days where it just doesn’t work, I can’t relax into it! This therefore makes regular practice essential. I must train my brain to relax and just give myself up to relaxation.

In my head this is no different than training to run a marathon. You wouldn’t expect someone to run one if they had never run in their life. You would slowly build up to longer and longer runs. You would explain to them that they will have days where the shortest run is the most painful experience they can imagine and days where longer runs just fly by. Overall though if they practice consistently, you would expect them to eventually be able to run the marathon. Meditation practice it appears is no different.

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Practicalities

1. Find yourself a CD or mobile phone app that you can listen to during your meditation. Try and find apps with at least a 20 minute meditation. Have a selection so that you don’t learn the meditation off by heart therefore being able to predict what comes next – if you do this your brain is not switched off! I use the following mobile phone apps:
– Simply Being
– Relax Lite
– Meditation, Power of Mind
– Sleep Easily
– Headspace (only ten minutes)
2. Find yourself a quiet place to sit or lie where you won’t be disturbed.
3. Turn on airplane mode or don’t disturb on your mobile phone and take the phone off the hook
4. Make sure you are warm, your body temperature drops during meditation so grab yourself a blanket.
5. Make sure your spine is straight and your head is supported.
6. Ideally don’t lie on your bed. Your bed is for sleeping and the aim is not to fall asleep (at least not every time!)
7. Give yourself up to the meditation. Try not to let your thoughts of feeling silly or bored stop you. Persevere even when you can’t be bothered.
8. Don’t worry about not having a totally empty brain, just try not to follow any trains of thought. Each time your brain wanders off, bring it back to the meditation by concentrating on your breathing or whatever task you are being directed to do.
9. Try and keep to a strict time when you will meditate. The routine helps your body to heal apparently.

How often?

The advice I received from an M.E. expert was to meditate three times a day for 20-30 minutes at a time. I was also encouraged to meditate to help me fall asleep at night if I was struggling to.

I initially received advice from a non-M.E. expert but a medical practitioner to meditate three times a day but for only 10 minutes. I therefore started off my practice using the Headspace app. I found this really useful and easy to complete. I suggest if you struggle to do the full 20-30 minutes initially to do 10 minutes at a time for a week or so until you train your brain to cooperate!

I meditate at 11 and 3.30 everyday, I should do it again at 6.30 but this very rarely happens. By then my husband is home and I’d rather spend time with him. The advice I’ve received is to not beat yourself up over it. Try and stick to a routine, it won’t work everyday but it doesn’t matter. If I’m finding the third meditation normally impossible then so be it. If I get half way through a meditation and really can’t get my head in the right place then it is okay to stop. Remember the aim is total relaxation so stressing about whether you are doing it right defeats it’s whole purpose. I was also told, should I fall asleep after my afternoon meditation it wasn’t a problem! I shouldn’t sleep for more than 60 minutes however.

As one who normally struggles to sit still and do nothing, I’m finding that it is getting easier and easier to meditate. I found myself sat by the river yesterday for twenty minutes, completely still just watching the world go by. I was listening to music at the time but my brain wasn’t focussing on it. In other words by practicing meditation regularly it seems I’ve begun to train my body to be still at other times. My body therefore is having more opportunities of near Total Rest and therefore more opportunities to simply heal.

Of course I am no meditation expert and I’m not a medical practitioner so my advice is purely from my own experience.

Check out my other blog – Me Opinionated! Really?. This is a non ME related blog I have just started.

4 thoughts on “A Meditation on Meditating”

  1. Hi karen, yes meditation feels daft but is ever more necessary since we gave up old fashioned religion. The irish tradition ofvthe family rosary has been largely superceded by intelligence and education. A pity! a useful family tool too. Also prayers are useful tools esp in times of stress like funerals. But hey since ive lost the knack the biblical ‘be still, and know that I am with you’ is lost too. C of I are great at that skill.. remember.

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  2. I constantly tell myself I need to practise meditation. I have phases where I try to, but it never lasts long. I need to kick myself up the bum and make this a daily routine. A good app I downloaded is stop, breath and think. It gives you a choice of meditations for your mood and emotion that particular day, and you can track your progress. I should use it, rather than just looking at what it offers. Thanks Karen, you’ve inspired me.

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  3. You are doing it to me again, Karen; educating me so clearly and efficiently (and belatedly) on a subject I knew little about and never had any time for, Meditation. Residing in those bushes can be enlightening. My previous attitude over the past half century or more has been: I don’t need meditation as I am perfectly happy with my normal state of consciousness and mental functionality. Brain ain’t broken so don’t fix it! Now I am beginning to ask “Could life have been better if….?”

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