ME/CFS and Relaxed Effortlessness


If I had to specify one thing that got me over this illness the first time, I would say it was learning how to approach life with relaxed effortlessness. For me, there is an awful lot of meaning contained in those two words so I’ll break it down a bit.
Not forcing or exerting.
First of all, relaxed effortless means never forcing anything or exerting myself. When I’m forcing or exerting it usually means one of two things. Either
  1. I’m at the limits of my energy, its running out so I have to exert to find enough energy to do what I’m doing, or
  2. I’m using energy wastefully. Like when you’re struggling to open a jar. You put all that energy into opening it and nothing happens. But if you can release the vacuum with one of those handy devices or by hitting it hard on its bottom, it suddenly becomes easy to open using a lot less energy.
Not forcing or exerting is an important part of pacing. Being vigilant to when things are becoming an effort helps me to recognise when I am nearing my limits of energy. Avoiding force and effort means I am using energy efficiently.  I’ll have more left for the other things I want to do, my body will have more for healing itself.
Minimizing harmful stress hormones
Staying relaxed at all times involves applying relaxation and breathing techniques when things are getting stressful. With this illness, the hormones released by the stress response have a very damaging effect on our health. By aiming to stay relaxed at all times I prevent my body from tripping the stress response switch. The more I can carry an attitude of relaxed effortlessness, there will be less hormonal disruption to the healing process.
Being true to your intrinsic nature
Relaxed effortlessness is more easily achieved when you can be true to your inner nature. We all have different skills and talents. What’s difficult for one person is easy for another. Time can seem to drag on for an eternity when we are doing something we don’t enjoy or it can fly past if it’s something we do enjoy. The more we can choose activities that suite our natural abilities the easier it will be to apply an attitude of relaxed effortlessness to all that we do.
This illness often means that the life we were living screeches to a halt. This can involve a horribly painful process of loss and grieving, but it also offers us the opportunity to reassess our path. Were we doing things that were a natural and effortless expression of our true nature or were we struggling down a path that society or those around us seemed to demand? What activities do we enjoy so much that we lose all track of time? What talents do we have that we could put to use in society in a way that will make us happy. How can we express these talents with the energy levels we have now and how might we express them in the future as our energy improves? This illness often forces us to break free of the expectations of others. We are no longer able to do what we might be expected to do. In order to get better we have to start listening to what our body needs. As we start to heal and start to be able to do things, the things that are in line with our intrinsic nature will use less energy. Choosing a path that is right for us will promote a faster smoother healing process.
Being true to your body’s natural rhythms
Our energy and abilities change throughout the day. We have daily and monthly rhythms dictated by our hormones as well as changing ability in response to infection, toxins, nutrition, hydration and other things that constantly affect our energy levels. At different times of the day we may be more alert for mental activity, or more energetic and ready for exercise. Some of us are always grumpy first thing in the morning, others have a tendency to get grumpy when we’re hungry or less communicative later in the day. We need to match our activity with our natural fluctuating states. I write first thing in the morning because that’s when my concentration is best, I find exercise easier late afternoon.  The other day I wanted to do my yoga. At three o clock it felt like a chore, I felt a resistance to doing it, even with the knowledge that I’d feel better afterwards. I ‘gave in’ and decided not to do it, only to find that at 5 o’clock I felt the desire to move myself. The idea of doing yoga then, produced no resistance and I happily got on with it and felt better for it. Relaxed effortless is about not straining yourself to do something when the timing isn’t right. It’s about trusting that you’ll feel like doing it when the time is right! It’s about accepting the peaks and troughs of your mood or different types of energy, knowing that things are always changing.
Going with the flow
Relaxed effortlessness is achieved when you accept the changes in your external environment and go with the flow. It’s about recognising  that’s what happened up until now you can no longer change. If there is something you’re not happy about that is within your ability to change, take action. If not accept and go with the flow, don’t waste energy resisting when it’s futile.   The best solutions to problems usually involve little effort. Relaxed effortless involves recognising that if tackling a problem involves a struggle, then there is probably a better solution. When you stand back and take the time to fully understand the nature of a problem the solution often presents itself.
For me learning how to take an attitude of relaxed effortlessness has involved a spiritual awakening. ‘Wu wei’ is a key Taoist principle meaning ‘non-action’ describes a way of being at one with nature and the universe, characterised by effortlessness. Deepak Chopra also talks about the ‘Law of Least Effort’ to describe the principle that nature functions with ease and harmony. He describes 3 aspects to achieving this relaxed effortlessness: acceptance, responsibility and defencelessness. When we can accept the way things are in the here and now, take responsibility for changing what we feel needs to be changed and release ourselves from the need to defend our position, we become free to fully experience the present moment and dedicate our energy to health and fulfilment.

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