Crohn’s and Colitis UK’s Article About Meditation
The spring edition of Crohn’s and Colitis UK’s newsletter has an article entitled ‘Can meditation help people with IBD?’ I had been meaning to write an article about my experiences with meditation and it seems like a good time to write one what with the article that Crohn’s and Colitis UK have also written.
The article discusses a US study carried out by the University of Wisconsin-Madison neuroscientists who collaborated with the Centre for Investigating Healthy Minds. The study compares two methods of reducing stress and seeing how they affect stress induced inflammation. I have not yet read the actual study myself but I have found a pdf for it at:
The first method of stress reduction is based on mindfulness meditation practice. This consist of continuously focussing attention on to one’s breath, bodily sensations and mental content while seated, walking or practicing yoga.
The second method focusses on a programme to enhance health unrelated to mindfulness. It does this through a programme of nutritional education, physical activity (walking, balance, agility and core strengthening) and music therapy.
49 community volunteers were randomly assigned to one of the groups. Both groups had the same level of instruction form experienced instructors and required the same amount of home participation.
Both techniques were shown to be effective in reducing stress. The study showed that mindfulness based stress reduction was more effective at reducing stress induced inflammation. This suggests that being better able to control your emotional response to stress may benefit sufferers of chronic inflammatory conditions. Mindfulness techniques may also be better at reducing inflammatory symptoms than other activities which promote well-being.
It is a small study but it does seem to indicate that these techniques could benefit people with these symptoms. Meditation may not cure the condition or illness but it can help with the stressful nature of the symptoms and how people respond to them emotionally.
My Experience with Meditation
I am not fully trained in yoga and meditation. I am not a qualified yogi. I have not been to a class in a very long time. Any views or instructions are my own from what I have taught myself or remember picking up from instruction. The main books which I used as reference are ‘The Tibetan Book of Yoga’ by Geshe Michael Roach and ‘The Complete Yoga Book: The Yoga of Breathing, Posture and Meditation’ by James Hewitt. I have not read all of Hewitt’s book but from what I have it is a good guide to the practice of yoga and meditation.
I used to practice yoga very regularly, nearly every day, before I developed ulcerous colitis. I normally only meditated if I was going to a yoga class when meditation was part of the class. It was only once I developed UC that I put some effort into teaching myself to meditate on my own. This was not always easy as trying to get into a relaxed, calm frame of mind can be tricky when you are normally on edge because you don’t know when your body is next going to decide that it needs to go to the toilet. There were other occasional distractions such as cats (mewing at me or head butting me), phones ringing, ticking clocks and planes flying over-head (I live under the flight path in Greater London). Other than the planes and bowel movements all the other distractions could be dealt with. Despite the distractions I did manage to meditate a little bit. I am sure I will have more success now as I am getting my health back and have much more controllable bowel movements.
Since reading the Crohn’s and Colitis UK article and first drafting this post a few days ago I am trying to get myself back into the habit of meditation. So ensuring that any distraction I had control over were not going to be a problem (such as phones and clocks, there is not much I can do about planes) I settled down to meditate. I am still not very flexible so I can’t get into the lotus (Padmasana) position or the perfect (Siddhasana) position. I sit crossed legged with my bum on a cushion keeping my back straight. I like to meditate with my eyes closed and focus on my breath, in and out through my nose.
Though I do not think that meditation greatly help my symptoms when I was ill. I think it benefited my emotional state. I did attempt meditation a few times in hospital and this helped my frame of mind if not my bowels.
When you try to meditate you realise how much rubbish can float into your mind when you are trying to empty it of distractions and clear your mind in order to turn your attention inwards or focus on your breath and be calm. I can be quite neurotic as well and if I am not careful any little worry can increase while I am trying to meditate, in a sense defeating the whole point of meditating. As I get better at meditation this should be less of a problem. I have also noticed how blocked my nose is sometimes and then that is another distracting thought. You think you are clearing your mind but in the process you are allowing more and more little insignificant thoughts to pop into your head. I am sure someone much wiser than myself has come up with an allergy along the lines of trying to dam a river with pebbles or dig a hole with a sieve. A task being made more difficult due to an inadequate tool, in this case meditating with an untrained mind.
Nothing worth having comes easily. Practice and patience is the key with meditation as with any new skill or technique. The more you practice meditation the easier it should become to enter deep layers of consciousness. I aim to meditate for about 20-30mins, but the best I have been able to achieve is about 10mins.
I aim to write less about what I shall be doing and start doing it. I have been doing too much of saying “oh I’m going to be doing this and that” and not really doing anything. As a friend told me “less write more doooo!”
I hope people who know something about meditation and have experience in it don’t think this post comes across as naïve or trite.