Meditation for Fibromyalgia Care
Meditation is a simple and free way to reduce pain that’s accessible to everyone. Let’s discuss what meditation is and how to achieve a meditative state.
I posed a question to our Instagram community recently about what helps the most with their chronic pain, and the most common response was meditation. I tend to agree – meditation was incredibly helpful for me on my journey. That’s why I’m so excited to talk about this topic!
Popular Conceptions about Meditation
When most people think of meditation, they think of a serene, Buddha-like figure sitting cross-legged, with their hands in mudras, chanting “ohm”. But meditation can take many forms.
Sitting still or chanting mantras are just a few of the more obvious techniques associated with meditation. The most important quality of mediation is your own internal state of mind, so you don’t have to sit still or even sit at all to achieve a meditative state.
In fact, meditation isn’t really something that can even be taught! It’s a state of mind and a state of being – one of calmness and peace and relaxation. There are many tools you can learn and utilize to help you get to that state, however.
Benefits of Meditation
Why is this particularly helpful for those with fibromyalgia? Well, many in the medical community believe that fibromyalgia is the result of the sympathetic nervous system gone haywire. This is the primal brain function responsible for keeping your body alert in situations of danger, which is why it’s sometimes called the “fight-or-flight” response. Your muscles tighten and adrenaline is pumped throughout your body, readying you to respond quickly and decisively. It’s meant to be activated only a small percentage of the time, but with fibromyalgia it’s always activated to some extent, which wreaks havoc on your body and makes it very difficult to sleep, among other things.
Hollywood movies often intentionally stimulate this response to get us to feel a strong emotional reaction to what we’re seeing and hearing on screen.
The opposite of the sympathetic nervous system is the parasympathetic nervous system, a.k.a. “rest-and-digest”. This response is the “baseline operation” of a healthy person and allows us to maintain a continual store of well-regulated energy to get through the day. You can probably see where I’m going with this: meditation is an excellent way to tip the scale back in favor of the parasympathetic nervous system and restore more healthy body functions.
Some specific things happen when you engage your rest-and-digest nervous system through meditation:
- Your mind calms
- Your muscles relax
- Your heart rate decreases
- More blood flows to the gastrointestinal system (there’s that “digest” part)
- Your blood vessels relax
My Meditation Story
I chose to focus on meditation for one of my first posts for the blog because meditation made such a big difference in my fibro journey. In the early years of my struggle with the illness, meditation and yoga weren’t nearly as popular as they are today. My life at the time was very busy between work and school. I was constantly stressed, exacerbating the fight-or-flight aspect of my fibro. I was lucky to discover meditation during this time, because since then I’ve realized that the more hectic my life is, the more meditation helps and the more I need it to counterbalance everything else.
Later on I decided that I wanted to do a yoga teacher training course, and through the course of that I gained another level of appreciation for mediation and its benefits.
One of the things I love most about meditation is that it’s accessible to everyone no matter how disabled or poor you are. Anyone can see health benefits, from small to large, depending on the level of discipline and practice you put into it.
Barriers to Meditation
Why is meditation something people often say they do or admire, but rarely take the time to actually do it? I think one of the main complaints or barriers, conscious or not, is that they have trouble “just sitting there with nothing to do”. Our modern minds are used to constant stimulation by media and our phones in particular. Again though, sitting is only one way of meditating; there are other options.
An alternative to sitting is lying down to meditate. Now a new concern arises: Won’t I just fall asleep? Personally I’ve never found this to be a problem. Thanks to my fibro-induced insomnia (yay!), I can lie down even on a comfortable surface like a bed and maintain consciousness for meditation. However, if falling asleep is a problem for you and you don’t want to sit, I would suggest laying on a harder surface such as a floor. If this is too uncomfortable, put down a yoga mat to soften it up a little bit.
Over the years, I’ve tried many different meditation techniques. Some have worked better than others, but they should all be thought of as tools to get to a meditative state. I’ve also adapted some of them for myself and what I feel work better for my fibromyalgia. My increased sensitivity pretty much requires it.
Where to Begin?
If you’re interested in getting into meditation, your first question might be, “where do I start?” Luckily, you have plenty of options. A great starting point is guided meditations. These are simply recordings you listen to in which an expert walks you through a series of visualizations, breaths, or parts of your body to focus on. There are lots of digital copies you can purchase online or listen to for free on YouTube. You can find these easily if you google “guided meditation”.
The great part about guided meditation is that you can just listen and follow the steps, letting your mind relax without being preoccupied with remembering things in a highly conscious fashion. There is also less opportunity for worrisome thoughts or your “to-do” list to creep into your mind.
Music is another great way to let your mind drift into a meditative state. The best choices are light, simple compositions without words or with much softer words or chanting. Along these same lines, soothing nature sounds can be excellent meditation aids. Personally I love to listen to long tracks of just the sound of rain – I find this to be very relaxing.
Alternative Ways to Meditate
Beyond bodily stillness, there are plenty of physical activities you can do that can be meditative as well, if done with the right intention. The best activities are those that are repetitive and don’t require intense concentration. The best part is, a lot of these are things you have to do anyway, so you might as well get some additional value out of doing them! Examples include:
- Washing the dishes
Have you heard of this new adult coloring book fad? Sounds silly, but it’s becoming more and more popular, and I think the reason is because it elicits a meditative state of mind that is very relaxing and calming in our overstressed world. Give it a try!
Wrapping it all up…
To recap, meditation is very helpful for fibro folks because:
- It calms the hyperactive stress response (sympathetic nervous system) and activates the rest-and-digest response (parasympathetic nervous system).
- You don’t necessarily have to just sit still to meditate.
- There are many meditative activities you can fit into the flow of your daily routine.
Have you tried meditating before? What was your experience? Have you been benefiting from relaxing or meditative activities and didn’t even realize it? What else do you find to be meditative?
Please share your answers in the comments section below.
• The Fibro Manual by Dr. Ginevra Liptan (2016) http://www.drliptan.com/book/