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Compassionate Body Listening

How can CBL fit in with other treatments for CFS and other chronic illnesses?

There are a variety of possible interventions available for people who suffer from CFS and other related chronic illnesses such as micro-chemical sensitivities, fibromyalgia, chronic lyme disease and long covid. These interventions can include for example, treatments from the clinic of infectious diseases at Stanford addressing the immune system, treating sleep disorders with medication, treating orthostatic intolerance with medication, digestive system interventions (for example an anti-inflammatory diet and/or supplementation of nutrients which are low). One of the systems in CFS and other chronic illnesses that is disrupted, upon which we can have an important impact- is the autonomic nervous system.

Neuro- biological and physiological markers have been discovered in studies on post-exertional malaise that show that among people suffering from CFS, the physiological changes that happen in response to exertion and stress are downgraded compared to healthy controls.

By using Compassionate Body Listening tools, we can start to shift our autonomic nervous system responses, with time and consistent practice. This kind of intervention with consistent practice can have a powerful cumulative effect to eliminate crashes. Eliminating crashes and providing physiological calm can be a great compliment to the other interventions mentioned above and can help relieve overall fatigue and post-exertional malaise and allow the body to truly get the restorative rest it needs. It can also help with the emotional suffering caused by CFS and other chronic illnesses.

If other biological disruptions are present, such as digestive issues or viral/bacterial infections are present in the body, it’s important to continue with treatment and to keep working with your doctors. However, bringing calm to your nervous system can play a significant and important role in your healing.

When is it useful to practice compassionate
body listening?
  • When we have a crash

  • When we are unsure about how to pace ourselves

  • When we are unhappy or confused about what is happening in our bodies

  • If we feel ‘frazzled’ or ‘overstimulated’

  • When we experience symptoms or brain fog

  • When we experience post-exertional malaise

  • When we feel resistance or frustration towards our body or symptoms (totally understandable!)

The Practice

  • Lie down or sit down, with feet on the floor or bed. Having feet touching a surface is important for feedback and a sense of being grounded

  • Start by feeling into the sensations of the feet from the heel to the ball of the foot

  • Next move your awareness up from your feet, up through your legs and into your hips. Notice what these body parts feel like

  • Next move your awareness up your back, chest, neck and head. Notice the sensations of these body parts

  • Now try to be aware of the body from feet to head all at the same time

  • Now bring awareness to your breath, noticing how the breath moves your chest and abdominal cavity and where there is expansion and release

Sink into the breath. Notice the gap between the out breath and the in breath

Now bring awareness to any tension or difficulty in your body. Ask the following question to that body part: what do you need?

The answers will be short and direct. For example:

  • I need food

  • Pay attention to me!

  • I need to stretch

Try to act on your body's needs as soon as you can. Move into an activity afterwards  (which can a very restful activity) that is enjoyable and absorbing. Even if you are very unwell, there are simple beautiful things that your body can enjoy. For example, a mindfulness practice looking out the window, drinking a mindful cup of tea for example, or having a hot bath with epsom salts and calming classical music. You can make a list of different easeful and calming activities to refer to that your body has pre-approved and make a choice based on what may feel good to your body.

How can we listen to our bodies’ needs throughout the day, while we are busy, or when we have commitments and life pressures that are unavoidable?
  • Body Mindfulness moments. We can check in with our bodies’ sensations and be present lovingly with our bodies. This is also very effective for creating greater physiological calm and a sense of internal saftey. Feel into your feet, then your Sitz bones if sitting and the sensations of your skin, against your clothes and exposed to the air, bring awareness to where your breath moves in your chest

  • Do this frequently during activity

  • If possible take 5 min breaks throughout the day to sense into your body’s sensations as the above, then enquire as to what your body needs and determine which needs can be met within the bounds of your situation, be in within the workplace or home life

  • Start to notice when you feel overstimulated or detached from your body, and intentionally bring your mind into the sensations of your body. Try to be willing to be present with yourself as often as you can.

  • Start to affirm your love and appreciation for yourself and your body, no matter what your symptoms are. Say sweet and kind things to yourself. For example, stop with your hand on your heart and say 'my dear one, I love you so much and I'm so proud of you. I welcome all the parts of you, I welcome any discomfort. I welcome you. Come as you are. You are safe with me.' 

  • Listen to your symptoms, communicate with them lovingly. Ask them what their message is, ask them what they need from you. Let them know you are there for them without condition. Meet the intensity of pain with a similar intensity of presence and love.

  • Try to cultivate an unconditionally loving regard and a feeling of compassion within your body frequently. It may feel unfamiliar at first to conjure up feelings of love given your experience of pain or suffering within your body, but it is vital to shifting your physiology to start to bring these feelings of compassion into your experience. You can bring your awareness to each body part and say, 'I love you, you're beautiful. I love you just as you are'. You can create an internal environment within which feels safe, in spite of the symptoms and pain you may be experiencing. This then has the effect of changing your body's experience and reduces your symptoms, because the physiological event is literally different every time your bring love to yourself. 

  • Start to value and notice the safety you can provide for yourself. Reframe the meaning of your symptoms within the knowledge that overall, you know you can always come back to presence with yourself. You can always find physiological calm with yourself again. You can always return to love. At first it may feel scary to trust, because the nervous system reactions will still be very strong and your capacity to hold yourself in compassion will not be yet familiar or developed. As it becomes more familiar, it will create more experiences of safety, which results in nervous system regulation and a reduction in symptoms, thereby building your confidence in your capacity to heal and your innate capacity to feel safety with yourself.

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