Hands down, meditation has to be one of the most important habits I have formed since becoming diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis. It’s been my savior in times of great stress, my companion for all medical procedures, and my friend in seeking calmness and inner peace.
As some of you may recall from my earlier article on meditation, I had a bit of a rough start with it. My mind wasn’t really into it. I thought I was more of a mountain climber than a meditator; though I’ve now since learned you can absolutely be both (though my mountain climbing days are long over). Also, try as I might, I just couldn’t get my mind to slow down. In short, I couldn’t get meditation to work for me. Thankfully I kept at it and it’s now one of the easiest states I can slip in and out of as needed. And it’s definitely been needed!
First a quick refresher on what meditation is (I keep this definition bedside as a reminder of this strategy that’s been so helpful to me).
A practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing their mind on a particular object, thought or activity – to train attention and awareness,
Meditation is used by people in various ways and for various reasons. Some use it often, others at specific times. I have found that there are three particular times that meditation has proven most helpful to me. Though I also find that starting and ending my day with meditation sets the right tone and pace for the day and also ends it on a peaceful note. But back to my top three…
During times of high stress: At first, this seemed like the worst time that I should stop to meditate. These times were often when I was running tight against a deadline or brain fog had caused me to lose track of time, making me run late. I quickly came to realize that these are the times that meditation could become my best friend. Even though I was often running short (or behind!) on time in these instances, stopping and taking even 10 minutes to meditate actually set me back on track quicker.
If you are like me, when you or your mind is racing around in a panic, that’s when mistakes happen the most and they set you back even farther. While stopping to meditate in these moments, I often save myself my panicked mis-steps and I am able to proceed with the task at hand and with my mind in a better place.
During medical procedures: Unfortunately, these can be a norm in our lives. Despite that, a blood draw still makes me queasy and nervous, let alone a lumbar puncture. My strategies during these procedures are two-fold – don’t look at the instruments and get prepared to meditate my way through the procedure.
Now, as soon as the procedure starts, I began by slowing my breathing down (which has already quickened at the thought of what is about to happen). I slowly start to relax my entire body and focus solely on my breathing, even letting the provider’s narration fall to the background unless there are instructions for me to follow. I’ve found that doing this makes the procedure go faster, it becomes more pain-free for me, and because my body is relaxed the procedure often goes smoother than if I had let my body tense up for it.
Trying to fall asleep: One of the most elusive things in my life – sleep! Even if I get it, it often has no restorative value. Yet I still crave it. Constantly. However, at times I find my mind is racing too much to let me even get to a place that comes close to letting sleep in. It may be that I had too much screen time before bed, have something stressful on my mind, or I’m just worrying because I’m so exhausted that I can’t think straight.
When I meditate in bed there’s two different methods I try. I will either slip into some deep breathing exercises. Often this quickly does the trick. It refocuses my mind on restfulness and slows it down to a pace more conducive to sleep. The second method I try at night is conducting a meditative body scan. I slowly focus on one small part of my body, starting at the top of my head and move my way down. At each body part, I focus on relaxing that part of my body, whether it’s my facial muscles, fingers, or abdomen. Quite often I find that I never even make it to my waist or knees. Getting so many parts of my body into a relaxed state often causes the others to get there too and before I know it, I’m asleep.
If you haven’t yet tried meditation, I encourage you to consider it. It can be a wonderful resource to tap into when you find yourself winding up, pacing too quickly, or simply unable to relax. Try not to get discouraged if it doesn’t “work” at first though. As you can see in my earlier article about my introduction to meditation, it doesn’t come natural to everyone. Like anything in life, it takes practice. But dare I go so far as to say it’s been a magical tool for me quite often now!
For those of you that are more experienced with meditation, please help spread the magic around! I’d love for you to share how and when you use it.