“A Sweet Retreat”: Meditating While Having Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – A Meditator Returns
I learned to meditate in 2007 and developed CFS in 2011. In the three years in between, I participated in some 20 retreats of 2 to 14 days in length. Yes, meditation is addictive (in the best way possible). Yet since I became sick, I’ve mostly discarded meditation as just one more activity that requires more mental resources than I have available.
I recently rediscovered meditation, though, and am excited to share with you the palpable and scientifically validated benefits of meditation, from improved concentration, better emotional health and reduced pain sensitivity to increased energy and more.
Meditation has been in vogue in the West since the mid-20th century, and the scientific research that has ramped up over that time has unearthed a wealth of tangible physical boons that rival even those of good diet and exercise. Meditators visit outpatient clinics just half as much, on average, as non-meditators do, and the effect increases with age: meditators over 40 visit outpatient clinics only 25% as much as non-meditators. Meditation alone has also been shown to reduce both blood pressure and cholesterol, which are implicated in heart attack and stroke (the #1 and #4 causes of death in America).
More pertinently, and most thrilling of all, is meditation’s impact at the genetic level. Researchers at Harvard found that meditating for just 8 weeks upregulates hundreds of genes conducive to health and downregulates hundreds of others conducive to illness. In long-term meditators, the effect was yet more pronounced.
So what does meditation offer for someone with CFS? I’m happy to report that even with my foggy brain, just 20 or so minutes of meditation a day makes my brain feel more efficient. My perception on both a literal and figurative level is clearer and I concentrate more easily. I’m less prone to repetitive or negative thoughts, and my mood feels smooth and elevated. You may be interested to know that meditation also aids sleep and reduces the size of the amygdala, the seat of fear in the brain, which may in turn help with the anxiety 50% of us grapple with.
On the research side, there is tentative evidence for the efficacy of meditation in CFS. Dr. Dawn Fleming Jackson completed a small 8-week meditation study on patients with both FM and CFS in 2009. The group of 10, who meditated 30 to 45 minutes daily, reported a significant increase in energy, improved sleep and a heightened ability to cope with pain at the end of the program. (See her presentation at OFFER here.)
If you’re wondering just how much mental ability you need to start meditating, my advice is to do some experimenting. I’ve often felt too tired to meditate only to find that once I start, I rapidly find my center and can sharpen my focus. Of course, I can’t meditate as long or as deeply as I could before, but meditation is still a sweet retreat from the usual.
Overcoming reservations and just starting – and keeping to – your meditation practice is a challenge all meditators encounter, particularly in the beginning. That said, I’m curious to hear whether or not meditation benefits those with more severe fatigue. Please do comment below!
The word meditation is somewhat vague in English, but it implies holding awareness in the present moment by bringing one’s attention to an object, such as one’s breath, a word, or a candle flame. Many forms of meditation are completely secular, such as my favorite, shamatha, which is purely what I defined as meditation above.
An Introduction to Shamatha Meditation
Here is a gentle introduction to shamatha meditation by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, the current head of the Shambhala school of Tibetan Buddhism.
Other forms of meditation align with particular religions; Centering Prayer, for example, is Christian, though it can easily be adapted to any faith. There are abundant and often free resources on meditation online; start on Youtube to find a technique you like. For the slightly more ambitious, try an at-home challenge like Deepak Chopra’s 21-Day Meditation Challenge or Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg’s once-yearly monthlong meditation challenge.
Besides the perks for the bodies, minds and emotional health of CFSers, you can enjoy meditation’s accessibility as well. No pricey classes or materials are required, and you don’t have to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to reach it. You don’t even need to exert yourself, as with exercise. If you have a chair or bed and a few minutes of quiet each day, you can support your health by training your mind. I hope you may benefit from meditation as much as I have, or more.
Other Blogs by Linn Cole
- To Live Longer and Better the Science is Clear – Just Meditate
- Heartmath Techniques for Managing Stress and Stress Reduction
- How to Meditate with the Power of Now – An exploration into Eckhardt Tolle’s teachings
- How to Relieve Stress with the Power of Now – more Eckhard Tolle
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