Basic Meditation Practices for ME/CFS:Alternative Nostril Breathing and So Hum Meditation

Following on from my post about the benefits of mediation I’d like to share with you the basics of my meditation practice. I always start with a breathing exercise called ‘alternative nostril breathing’ to help settle me down ready for the meditation proper
  • In a comfortable straight backed position (lying or sitting) use your right thumb to close off your right nostril as you breathe in through your left.
  • Then closing your left nostril with your little finger and ring finger of the same hand opening the right nostril and breathe out from it.
  • Breathe in through the right nostril.
  • Then, closing the right with your thumb again and releasing your fingers from the left, exhale through the left nostril. This counts as 1 cycle.
  • Count the length of your inhalation and try to match this with your exhalation to further bring balance. For example if you breathe in to the count of 4, breathe out for the count of 4.  (There are many types of rhythm that can be used with alternative nostril breathing but this simple rhythm is perfect for settling you down before meditation)
  • Pay attention to following your breath as is enters and leaves your body, as you count. The goal is to keep your focus totally on your breathing to avoid getting carried off on a distracting train of thought. We all do get distracted though, so don’t be disheartened when it happens, let go of the thought that distracted you and return your focus to following your breathing. Simply take up where you left of.
  • Repeat until you have completed 7 cycles of  2 breaths each (in left, out right, in right, out left)
(If you are left handed you might be more comfortable doing this exercise the opposite way around. Start by closing your left nostril with your left thumb, then use the little finger and ring finger to close the right nostril etc.)

Once I have prepared myself with alternative nostril breathing I focus on the so hum meditation practise. The idea of this practise is to allow yourself to peacefully ‘be’; to release yourself from the tyranny of being caught up in your thoughts.

  • Now breathe normally without counting but continue to observe your breath entering and leaving your body.
  • Imagine yourself saying Sooooooooooooooooo for the entire length of your in-breath and Huuuuummmmm for the entire length of your out-breath. Observe yourself, listening to this silent, internal, so… hum…, while experiencing your breath enter and leave your body.
  • Your breath isn’t under your voluntary control any more, you are allowing your body to do what it needs and observing the process following your in-breath with a silent so and your out-breath with a hum.
  • 5-10 minutes a day is a great start for this practise. As it becomes easier to focus it can be increased to up to half an hour at a time.
Again it’s very likely that whilst doing this some thought will invade your mind distracting you from being totally focused on the so/hum breathing. When this happens, acknowledge the thought and let it go returning your attention to so/hum. Try not to get frustrated with this, it is very natural, just accept that it happens, trying to notice as soon as it does, and allow the thought to just flow away from you. (If it’s important you’ll think it again later). Then redirect your attention back to your breathing and listening to your silent so/hum. Try not to force your focus, if you try too hard you could find yourself tense and scrunched up. It’s all about being relaxed, if it doesn’t work out perfectly it doesn’t matter, you just try again in a relaxed manner. It’s likely to take months of practise before you can actually keep you mind undistracted for any reasonable length of time, but the practise of trying will be beneficial in itself.
At a spiritual level this meditation can be seen as a means to experience you own unique individual spirit and its connectedness to the greater universal oneness. So Hum can be translated from Sanskrit to mean ‘I am that’.  I interpret ‘that’ in this sense to mean both my unique individual essence and the universal energy system that this essence is a part of and connected to.
If you find yourself turned off by this spiritual significance, you could take ‘I am that’ to be a statement of acceptance for the way you are at this moment in the here and now. Alternatively you could choose another mantra for this meditation that has meaning for you… a simple in / out to follow your breath or even the words empty / mind. Be creative and find something that works for you. You could even continue with the so hum mantra, ignoring its meaning and using it as a nonsense sound just to help you to focus.
Meditation doesn’t have to be about spiritual connection, its benefits to a ME/CFS sufferer are great just in terms of its calming effect on the mind and the central nervous system. One you learn how to ‘still your mind’ you can put the skill into practise when you’re struggling to sleep, when you’re mentally exhausted or when you just need to calm yourself down.


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