Today, I want to discuss mindfulness and meditation for Fibromyalgia (and other chronic illnesses).
I’ll be sharing the definitions and benefits of mindfulness and meditation. Plus, I’ll describe how to easily incorporate both of these practices into your everyday life.
What is Meditation?
Stripped completely back, meditation is a set of techniques for focusing our attention and heightening our sense of awareness.
It’s not about changing who we are but, rather, it’s awareness training that helps us to achieve a healthy perspective on life.
This can be done in many different ways and I’ll explain how I personally practise meditation soon. The beauty of meditation is that it can be what you need it to be.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is something that we naturally possess but, with daily practice, it becomes more readily available to us.
Mindfulness is training your attention to stay in the present moment.
Whenever you are aware of what you are experiencing via your senses or you become aware of your state of mind via your emotions and thoughts, you are being mindful.
Couple meditation with mindfulness and you have a powerful combination that can produce many benefits.
The Benefits of Meditation & Mindfulness for People Living with Chronic Illness
There are many proven benefits of meditation and mindfulness that are helpful for those of us living with Fibromyalgia and other chronic illnesses.
Meditation and mindfulness can:
- Reduce stress
- Lower anxiety
- Help to treat depression
- Improve sleep
- Help to control pain
- Calm the nervous system (reducing your flight/fight response and promoting a slower heart rate, breathing and lower blood pressure)
- Enhance self-awareness
You may naturally be wary of the mind-body connection because our symptoms are physical. And, it’s important to say that meditation and mindfulness are not cures for our illnesses.
However, they can influence stress responses within the body, which in turn can have a positive effect on our overall health and reduce the impact of some symptoms.
Mindfulness and meditation can also help to change our perspective so we learn to better cope with the challenges of living with chronic illness.
In short, mindfulness and meditation are great practices to have in your chronic illness toolbox.
Simple Ways To Incorporate Meditation & Mindfulness Into Your day
1. Guided Meditations
Guided meditations are one of the simplest ways of adding meditation into your daily routine.
A guided meditation is when a narrator talks you through a meditation practice. You are guided into a deep state of relaxation before moving onto a specific goal.
That goal will be dependent on the guided meditation you choose to follow. It could be tailored towards positive thinking or emotional healing, as examples.
A quick google search reveals many apps, videos and podcasts available online for free guided meditation practices.
Guided meditation is great if you have no idea how to start or if you find your mind wanders too easily.
What If You Don’t Like Guided Meditations?
The unfortunate thing for me is that I have never enjoyed guided meditations for Fibromyalgia (or chronic illness in general). I know I am not alone in this.
For me, the tone of the voices tend to annoy me and I find I get distracted by what they are saying rather than going along with it.
I tried my best to incorporate guided meditations into my daily routine. But, because it felt like a chore, I wasn’t really seeing much benefit.
As time has gone on, I have actually learned to incorporate strategies into my day in place of those guided meditations (which I share below).
Guided meditation doesn’t work for everyone but that doesn’t mean we can’t meditate at all. It’s about finding a method that works best for each of us.
2. Set aside 20 minutes for Doing Nothing
One of my favourite mindful meditation practices is essentially doing nothing. Which is more challenging than you may think!
Try taking at least 20 minutes out to completely rest. That means switching off both the body and mind and being aware of doing so.
Many of us with chronic illness live with chronic fatigue. And, though we may spend a lot of time in bed or on the sofa, most of the time we aren’t truly resting because our brain is still engaged.
Our modern world actually makes it a challenge to completely rest. There is constant stimulation for our brains.
We may be watching TV, reading or scrolling through social media. While this may be enjoyable for us and require lower levels of concentration, it’s not allowing our bodies to fully relax and switch off.
Plus, we are made to feel like doing nothing is a complete waste of time. When you are chronically ill, that statement couldn’t be further from the truth.
It’s actually important to make time each day for complete calmness. Rushing and ‘doing’ are both products of our modern world that aren’t good for us.
In summer, I will sit outside in the fresh air and simply do nothing but watch the world around me. I’ll practise mindfulness by being aware of and acknowledging what is going on around me.
When the weather isn’t favourable, I simply get out my Mindfulness Mat and will lie on it for 20 mins while focussing on deep breathing. If my mind wanders, I will acknowledge this then bring it back to my breath.
If anything is particularly bothering or stressing me out I’ll take a note of it.
3. Body Scan Meditation
Body scanning is essentially where you “check-in” with different areas of your body and investigate how they feel. The benefit to body scan meditation is that it helps to connect your mind and body.
You can actually find guided meditations for this if you are someone who would find them helpful. If you are struggling with the technique, following a guided meditation a couple of times may be beneficial.
Once you are confident you know how to do it, you can then do it on your own.
With regular practise, body scan meditation will help you to become more attuned to how you are truly feeling. Thus, you will be in a stronger position to work on any stress, anxiety or physical pain.
How To Do A Body Scan Meditation
Start by sitting or lying down and bring your awareness towards your breath. Concentrate on slowing down your breathing to help you relax.
Once you feel relaxed and your mind is calm, you can move on to doing the body scan.
You can work in any order you like, but I prefer to start at my head and work down to my toes. I bring my awareness towards each body part and ask myself the following questions?:
- Do I feel any tension, discomfort or pain?
- Do I feel any tingling, buzzing or pressure?
- Am I at a comfortable temperature or do I feel too hot or cold?
- Do I feel energised or tired and heavy?
Sometimes you won’t feel anything and I note that as being “neutral” and move on.
Should I come across any pain, discomfort or tension, I visualise my breath pushing that discomfort out of my body. It sounds a bit “woo” but it helps me to relax that body part, which in turn, releases tension which can help to reduce pain.
Once you have completed your body scan, bring your attention back to your breath. Think about how you are feeling overall.
During the body scan meditation, your mind may wander. And, that’s okay.
Try to bring to attention back to a specific area (or even back to your breathing). Don’t force it and don’t get frustrated if you find it difficult.
Like everything, meditation takes training and practise. Over time, you will find your mind wanders less.
4. Use Visualisations
If body scanning isn’t your thing, try visualisations instead. This can be deeply meditative.
Is there something that you used to love to do but can’t presently because of your chronic illness?
Or maybe there is something you dream of doing but haven’t been able to yet (though this requires more of an imagination).
Sit or lie down, close your eyes and visualise yourself doing it. Again, it sounds woo, but it can actually be very healing.
Be mindful as you do this: think about the sights, sounds and smells of the experience. How does it make you feel emotionally?
My Example of using visualisations
For a long time, my dream was to learn to snowboard. It felt completely unachievable to me, yet it symbolised complete freedom.
I longed to be able to do it.
I’d visualise myself snowboarding down a mountain. I’d feel the rush of the wind in my face, the freezing cold mountain air against my skin.
I’d hear the snowboard carving its way through the crisp, white snow. And, I’d visualise epic mountain scenery.
Most importantly, I’d experience the elation and joy of doing this activity.
I can’t begin to tell you how healing this was for me and it helped me to cope during the darkest days of my chronic illness.
And, do you know what? I can now snowboard for real. I swear that all the visualising I did helped me to pick it up more easily too!
5. Practise Being present
If setting time aside for a meditation practice isn’t for you, it’s actually easy to incorporate mindfulness into your everyday life. It’s simply about being present in the moment.
Rather than going through your day on autopilot– simply going from one activity to the next–start to experience it! Pay attention to the sights, smells and feel of those activities.
For example, if you are out for a walk, pay attention to how the ground feels under your feet. Listen to the sounds and acknowledge how you are feeling in the moment.
Look and take in what is around you. Notice and acknowledge the small details. I bet you there is a lot happening that you usually miss.
6. Slow down
Our modern life is all about getting things done quickly and efficiently. We can place so much pressure on ourselves and create an inner stress that simply isn’t necessary.
There is a lot to be said for living the slow life and going through each day more mindfully. As much as I wish I never fell ill, being forced to slow down has changed my whole perspective on life.
There is a beauty in single-tasking over multi-tasking. Put your full focus into the tasks you do, rather than spread yourself thinly between many things.
If something can wait, let it wait. Don’t stress about it.
When you are limited in how much you can do, it’s amazing how you learn to prioritise. You realise what is important and let go of what isn’t.
I think that’s something everyone can learn from.
A Couple Of Tips to Help You Succeed
Practising mindfulness and meditation doesn’t come easily to everyone. Below are a couple of tips I use:
Create a routine
Creating a new habit can be challenging. There are so many distractions around us and things we think we should be doing instead.
Personally, I find the best way to establish a new habit is by creating a routine. If you create a routine for yourself it quickly becomes second nature.
Use A Mindfulness Mat
For me, my meditation routine starts with bringing out my Mindfulness Mat, which I was kindly gifted by the company. This almost makes it feel like a little ritual I go through each day.
The Mindfulness Mat is an acupressure mat. It is made from 100% natural linen and is covered in triangular massagers made from HIPS certified plastic that create a modern day “bed of nails”.
The triangular massagers feel spiky to the touch but, with your weight distributed on them, they are incredibly relaxing. This is because the Mindfulness Mat stimulates acupressure points on your body that promote relaxation.
If used correctly, the Mindfulness Mat may relieve pain, induce deep relaxation, stimulate energy and heighten happiness.
I really enjoy using my Mindfulness Mat and find it helps me to achieve a relaxed state more quickly. It’s almost like a prompt for my body that says “it’s time to chill out and relax“.
Having something I enjoy using also makes me more likely to succeed at practising calmness and relaxation each day too. I look forward to getting my mat out and using it.
If you want to practise becoming more mindful, start journalling (perhaps try making a bullet journal). Take time each day to write down little things about your day.
If you know you want to record moments from your day, you will naturally become more aware of what is worth writing down.
Do you practise mindfulness/meditation? What are your favourite practices? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments.
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