for M.E./Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Related Conditions
Meditation has powerful applications for many
forms of illness including ME / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia
and other stress related conditions. It is especially good for ME
sufferers because it can be directly tailored to their current level
of activity. From people who are bedbound, to those who are getting
back to working full time, meditation provides support in keeping
the body and mind in the optimum healing state. I personally struggled
with ME for eight and a half years, and meditation played a significant
role in my own recovery. The inspiration to teach meditation to help
others with this much misunderstood condition stems from this challenging
period in my life.
The Stress Factor and ME
Stress is now recognized as being an important
factor in ME and related conditions, both in events leading up to
becoming unwell, and in the myriad of distressing symptoms themselves. Meditation
can play a significant role in the management of and recovery from
these conditions because it works on so many levels. Not only is
meditation well known as a powerful stress buster, working directly
on the autonomic nerve system, triggering the relaxation response,[i]
but it also provides a gentle means for self-development, addressing
root causes in a non-invasive way.
When people clear a space to relax physically and mentally, they
inevitably get more in touch with themselves and their own needs.
Meditation provides a soft, fundamentally supportive structure in
which this can happen. Embracing a philosophy of self-acceptance
and non-judgement, meditation develops healthy levels of self-belief
and self-worth. And the practice of mindfulness[ii] opens up an understanding
of the bigger picture, facilitating those 'light bulb' moments where
things fall into place – often taking on a different perspective
and more positive light.
Dealing with the Challenges of ME
To make a connection with something bigger, through the spiritual aspect of meditation,
can be truly life affirming when dealing with the physiological and psychological
challenges of ME. All too often, the wide ranging distressing symptoms cause
feelings of isolation and of being misunderstood. The world of an ME sufferer
contracts as he/she struggles to manage debilitating levels of fatigue and to
make sense of bewildering symptoms, ranging from hypersensitivity to noise, light,
heat/cold, social interaction, (even thinking), to muscle pain, digestive disorders,
mind fog, blurred vision, dizziness and heart palpitations. In a very real way,
the ME world becomes a much, much smaller and often frightening place, revolving
around the illness and a desperate desire to recover. To feel part of a larger
whole expands this world and brings about positive experiences that provide much
needed support and the opportunity for change.
Providing a Catalyst for Change
At a basic level, it is experience that creates
change. We can know for half a lifetime, for instance, what is good
for us in theory, but this knowledge needs to be translated consciously,
into 'felt' experience in the body, for real change to come about.
This is because the body has its own system of learning – through
a complex network of neural pathways, hormonal release and cellular
memory. An integral part of the picture of ME is that the physiology
of the body has got caught in a stress pattern, and has normalized
it. In other words, it has learnt to be in a chronic state of stress.
We are by design, and thus by nature, creatures of pattern. This
stress state compounds imbalances within all of its major systems,
perpetuates the vicious cycle of being unwell and blocks the natural
Positive states consciously experienced during meditation can provide a catalyst
for change. Meditation enables the body's innate intelligence to recognize that
it has choices, allowing it to explore and learn other ways of being, wherein
its systems can rest, regain balance and flourish once again. In ME it's as if
the body has forgotten how to relax; meditation retrains the body how to 'do'
relaxation. It teaches it how to naturally access an optimum state for healing,
where energy normally used up by the ME system on maintaining the stress response[iii]
is channelled instead into allowing the body to heal itself.
Creating Skills for Life
In the spring of 2008 I launched a meditation course with The Optimum Health
Clinic, a leading UK clinic specializing in the treatment of ME, whose integrative
approach combines cutting edge psychology therapies with nutritional treatments.
The course is called 'Meditation For Life', because it opens people's lives up
in a positive way and literally offers them skills for life. It teaches Resourcefulness
Meditation* a soft, sensory based approach to meditation, particularly suitable
for stress related conditions. The body-focused techniques take into account
the heightened sensitivity/stress response associated with ME. It teaches people
how to live less 'in their head' all the time, and to establish, instead, a more
grounded, comfortable relationship with their body. It encourages a more holistic
approach to health-care by promoting a deeper awareness of the connection between
the body, mind and emotions and their direct impact on health and wellbeing.
The course aims to teach meditation as a set of natural skills to:
- Engage with the present moment consciously, with acceptance, through practising
- Calm and balance the nervous system through grounding in the here and now;
- Release tension, worries etc using intention, awareness and focus;
- Gain awareness of the connection between body, mind and emotions, through
developing cognitive and sensory perception;
- Recognize, acknowledge and respect our own emotional, physical and psychological
needs through practising mindfulness;
- Build self-worth through observing negative 'self- talk', practising compassion
and non-judgement, and the use of positive affirmations.
All of this supports recovery, and helps maintain general good health, once re-established.
The ground-breaking course takes the format of an interactive conference call,
linking people all over the UK and from abroad. It enables people to learn meditations
specifically to help in their recovery in the comfort of their own home.
Improvements in General Well-being and Stress Levels
Post-course questionnaires show that after just
eight weeks of practising meditation techniques and philosophy, there
are significant improvements in general outlook, anxiety levels and
stress management in ME sufferers. Students report they
are able to be more positive about life and optimistic about their
recovery. They feel that more choices are available to them, gaining
in confidence and independence. Many are able to have more self-compassion
and self-wisdom, learning to listen to their body's needs and do
things on their own terms. They feel less desperate to recover, trusting
instead that recovery will come.
Grounding[iv] and mindfulness have been two of the most popular techniques. Students
notice they feel calmer, less wired, tired and anxious, and find it easier to
let things go and relax. By learning to monitor their state they can turn off
'worry brain', stop negative thought patterns, and go at their own pace. One
has managed to reduce the frequency of her headaches through clearing her mind.
Another, reports recognizing the importance of stepping back with his mind and
of being less intense when doing things.
Generally, there are also improvements in emotional balance. Participants find
they are more in touch with their feelings and have increased levels of self-awareness
and self respect; one student speaks of having greater core strength and of being
able to withstand knocks. Overall, there is more inner peace, and less being
driven by high self-expectations and the need to do.
Sleep patterns have improved for some, becoming deeper and more natural; in one
case a student has reduced her sleeping pills dramatically. Some find they have
less sensory over-whelm and that their energy level and zest have increased.
Meditating in a group rates high among the benefits for many participants. It
creates a sense of community where buddies can be made and the sense
of isolation lessens. The very nature of meditation, with its philosophy
of compassion, non-judgement, mindfulness and focus on relaxation,
creates a safe space where the Meditator can feel held and supported.
This extends beyond the group to individual practice. The feedback
speaks for itself:
Meditation Participants' Feedback
"I am able to focus down into my body and become
aware what is going on and allow it to be as it is. What a wonderful
thing! I feel really happy. I am OK with who I am and where I am
in my life. I know that the meditation has put me in a place of
peace and contentment. I am looking forward to witnessing all the
other benefits that may be heading my way from this daily settling
of my mind. Pauline McLeod, London
"I could feel my body coming down several notches and that
felt such a blessed, wonderful relief." Lucy Saunders, Bristol
"I felt so relaxed afterwards and quite surprised to feel
energized. There was certainly an improvement in my sleep last
night." Ann Hardwick,
"l feel that it is going to be a significant part of my healing
journey. It has helped me get out of the constantly anxious 'tired
but wired' state I had been trapped in for a while." Di Good, Sussex
"I've finally managed to walk as far as the village post-box
for the first time in years... I've been making so many improvements
since I started your course, and am so much more relaxed, it's
wonderful." Kate G,
"And now for a small miracle.....last Friday I went to Laura
Ashley for the first time ever!!"
Carole Balfe, Grantham
"I am meditating one to two times a day and really miss it
when I don't get to. I feel the meditation techniques have been
a huge influence of my recovering rapidly from ME." Gary Gill, London
i Relaxation Response: Triggered by the
Parasympathetic part of the Autonomic (automatic) Nerve System involving the
slowing down of brain wave patterns and release of muscular tension: lowering
heart rate, deepening breathing and improving digestion. The production of the
stress hormone cortisol is reduced and levels of 'feel good' hormones such as
endorphins are increased.
ii Mindfulness: The practice of neutral
observation of the moment as we engage with it. It allows us to see and experience
things as they really are rather than how they appear to be. It calms emotional
and physical reactions to stress and gives room for psychological insight.
iii Stress Response: Triggered by the
Sympathetic part of the Autonomic (automatic) Nerve System which takes the body
into the Fight, Flight or Freeze Response designed to help the body survive in
times of danger. The body's entire system is put in a state of emergency: stress
hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released, heart rate increases and
blood is diverted from the brain and gut towards major muscles.
iv Grounding: The practice of sensing
the connection of the body with ground. It supports and stabilizes the body and
draws the centre of focus away from the head, allowing the mind to calm.