Wednesday, 3 February 2016


A Personal Take on Meditation and Guided  Relaxation-what works for me,
by Bridget

Life is short so we must move Slowly’
A Thai Proverb

Essentially the above proverb sums up what lies at the core of meditation practise. The benefit of meditation is in the actual doing, just taking time to sit or lie - and in so doing you are take time to initiate the body’s natural relaxation response. Indeed in a short course on meditation I participated in I learnt that:

20 minutes of relaxation is considered to be the equivalent of 3 hours sleep

Meditation and me were not a match made in heaven- in fact along my meditation journey there have been many times I have wanted to jump ship and just give up on the whole process- but here I am so pleased that I continued to try to make it work. I consider myself very much a novice and much of what I practise has evolved through trial and error- and encouragement to keep going. What follows is a very personal account of what has helped and hindered my own progress.

A bit about me
I am new to this site so just to say I am in my forties and have a diagnosis of ME/FMS and have two children who have been struggling for the past couple of years both with ME and other issues arising out of the condition. My ME is generally moderate, on my best days mild, and pacing myself is always a challenge as one or other of my children are sometimes housebound or sometimes needing to be taken out to attend various medical appointments. I say this as the idea for meditation for me was borne out of a need to find an oasis of calm in a sometimes really demanding home situation, as well as the necessity to find deep relaxation in the rare moments that I could lie down and take a rest.
I had two sources of inspiration- aside from a background in my more well past of practising Yoga and Pilates and enjoying the spiritual sides of these practises. The first was reading an article about and then the book ‘Teach us to sit Still’ by Tim Parks which chronicles how he learnt meditation to deal with chronic ongoing pelvic pain- and found it hugely effective. The second was persistent reminders from my very concerned reflexologist about taking my self- care seriously-as well as caring for my children.

My meditation journey
My early attempts to meditate were very flawed by an idea that this was an art I had to master and somehow get ‘right’- including assuming a sitting posture and attaining a still mind in a silent room. These attempts were awful- only serving to make me more stressed! Sitting up was very painful for my back and neck and trying to still my mind only served to make it more busy. I quickly enlisted the help of a Yoga teacher who specialises in Yoga and Meditation for people with ME. With her help we tried several short (maximum 10 minute) sessions practising different varied meditation/ relaxation techniques to find what worked for me. Refocusing is at the core of meditation practise in order to elicit the relaxation response. This is easier said than done- refocusing is a simple technique but our minds tend to be full of daily and sometimes racing thoughts and the trick with meditation is to take the mind back to focus on the breath or mantra, whatever is the focus for the beginner meditator.
I soon discovered I needed to lie down to be comfortable and I needed either image or mantra to keep me from racing off at high speed in my mind. In a few sessions we made our way through a variety of meditation and relaxation techniques. We tried using mantra and the breath - which I found very effective. 
Mantra involves using a word or phrase to focus on and repeat silently over and over in the mind- often helping to train the breath. Ones that have worked well for me include ‘Ohm’ and extensions and variations of this. I also enjoyed guided visualisations( more like a guided relaxation) in which you follow a voice (at this point my Yoga teacher’s) that takes you on a journey to somewhere you enjoy like a garden or a beach, taking in on a sensory level the things you pass by.  We also tried colour meditations and image meditations (focusing for example on a flickering candle image) and finding a fixed point to focus on like a distant point on a wall-but these were not so helpful to me.

However once my teacher left the house I found myself again unable to manage it. So-my next steps involved working my way through various downloads until I found a voice to meditate to I really liked. For me this was Deepak Chopra- but by lived experience I know how personal this is as my husband does not get on at all with Deepak’s methods!
There followed still more unsuccessful attempts to find ways to extend my learning eg-I joined a course at The Carer Centre only to get stressed by the fact I was more absent than present due to my kids medical appointments! Although the course was excellent the stress was very counter- productive- so I quickly realised my practise needed to work around the daily demands I was under.

What works for Me
What really worked for me was when I gave up ‘trying’ and just accepted what helped me in meditating and relaxing. I find lying on my bed most comfortable, I use a lovely cosy blanket, I have to feel I will not be disturbed, I only try to manage 10-20 minutes daily, and I always use some familiar audio meditation or relaxation aid to guide me. I tend to do this in the after lunch time period which is the time when I am most tired and at this time can find it rejuvenating. Alternatively I use it as a tool when pain is very intense and I need to relax to allow painkillers to kick in. The other time I have found it very handy is at bedtime when it helps me fall asleep.
I think key for practise is to have a ritual/ routine you can develop ideally on a daily basis as the more you do it the easier it becomes and the benefits gradually creep into daily life- giving a sense of more calm and clarity.

Benefits of Meditation

As my practise has developed the list of how it helps has got longer. I can find it gives me true periods of mental calm and stillness when things for me and my children in the home and with appointments and schedules are very hectic and demanding. For me I snatch an oasis of personal space back in my meditation. It can induce feelings of bodily relaxation, as well as being rejuvenating when fatigue is very high. On high fatigue days I try to use it more frequently- sometimes two to three times daily. It has helped me hugely in dealing with chronic pain as it gives a few moments to escape from this. And- on a theoretical level I believe it helps immune function, lower blood pressure if required and decreases muscle tension, improving sleep…..

I hope this very personal account of a novice meditator may help some of you to give it a go- or another go- and to keep going with it beyond some of its challenges- to reach the benefits. My next goal is to try Transcendental Meditation- but this involves time out of the home and financing that are not currently realistic.

I would love to hear comments from any of you about your own experiences of meditation and what has helped or hindered your progress.

Useful Links
I urge you always to listen to free downloads of Meditation material before buying as it is so easy to buy things then discover you hate the voice of the person reading. There are many sites to download meditations from.
My tried and tested materials are Deepak Chopra meditations- available on various CD from Amazon.
Also Deepak Chopra- if you like his voice runs frequent free 21 Day Meditation Challenges you can sign up to. In this way you are sent daily meditations for 21 day cycles.
I have heard many people recommend Oasis Meditation, though have not tried this site myself.
I have found it invaluable to have a couple of sessions with Meditation tutors and found mine by Googling my nearest teachers and speaking with a couple before choosing who I liked the sound of best.