Maybe there’s time to rest.

I just finished offering a two-night workshop series this week with a CHEO (Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario) program that provides peer support to parents of children with complex medical needs.

The topic – sleep.

How did the facilitator, one of the Moms, introduce the topic on the first night?

“Beautiful, delicious, sweet, wonderful, elusive, lovely, sometimes a jerk – sleep.”

Anyone who is a parent will know the trials and tribulations encountered when your child is sick. Yet, imagine how you might find sleep when your child depends on feeding tubes or respirators as they can’t breathe on their own at night.

I didn’t have the opportunity to learn as much as I might like about them. That they showed up for an hour on two separate late evenings to do so inspires me. Suggests there is a need.

It is always challenging in planning and preparation to balance experiential practices with information. Experience is helpful for people but my role as I see it, is to also teach people mechanisms as to why these practices might help.

To provide tools that might be able to influence the elusiveness of sleep, when life is often so full of uncertainty. To gain a sense of agency over their own personal experience.

Perhaps,

  • How they might give themselves permission to… rest. Seems so simple yet in our culture, not so much.
  • How they might take two minutes in the day, to notice what and how they feel and respond in some way with some helpful practices. With compassion.

As I’ve learned from mentors such as Shelly Prosko, Physiotherapist and Yoga Therapist (via research by Kristen Neff on self-compassion) a simple mantra or affirmation of kindness to oneself,

“It’s okay”, as you breathe in.

As you breathe out “This is enough.”

Can this be enough, just as it is?

I can at times feel anxious before doing this work. Is it enough? This week seemed more so, with all that’s going on and feeling not quite myself, rather fatigued.

In the end, I hope the sessions served to support them in some way.

As feedback from the facilitator, “The fact that these moms actually took an hour out of their time to join us is so wonderful. They do not take that time for themselves often enough. A lot of times they do not even have an hour to do anything other than care for their children. So, thank you for giving them that chance to restore and relax.”

I am most grateful for the opportunity. So much credit to these parents and really to anyone, all of us, caring for one another.

Might there also be time to care for ourselves, as well.

Permission to rest…

Strike a Match

Each night as we gather together for dinner there are always lit candles on the table. If there doesn’t happen to be a table, there are still candles lit somewhere nearby.

Nearly always we spend time to ‘set’ the table. It’s a thing in our family. When I was growing up, this was mostly reserved for Sunday dinner. However, while living overseas with our own young family it was like this every evening. Partly as the kitchen was all tiled (yes ALL the walls as well the floors) and so we chose to eat in the dining room. Our table was also one that needed placemats so as not to damage it, so every night there would be placemats, candles, napkins, the works. Everything placed… just so.

I have always appreciated ritual. It seems to bring something a little special to the table, so to speak.

What’s the difference between a habit or a ritual? And are they always helpful?

The word ritual comes from Latin ritualis, from ritus (see rite). Rite, often used in rite of passage, or “social custom, practice, or conventional act”. Both, often used in religious terms. I think of them more in terms of transitioning. How might we move from one thing to another, with some sense of it all.

Times of transition are when we often get stuck. Have difficulty. How do we move from one thing to another? It might be a life transition. Perhaps it’s transitioning from our work day to home life (blurred lines at the moment). Seems we are in a time of huge transitions. Or maybe it’s from wakefulness to sleep. Or from sleep to wakefulness. Acknowledging there IS a transition taking place can be helpful.

I like to have a cup of coffee first thing in the morning. This habit makes it tricky for other things to occur afterwards. The coffee leads to breakfast and suddenly I don’t feel like doing yoga asana or movement. My early morning window of opportunity is gone. I’ve worked to change this at times, but it’s ever so easy to slip back into familiar patterns. This habit, not all that supportive.

What if we turned habits into rituals? Rather than these automatic patterns we have accumulated over the years that served us well (or not) we create specific rituals to support transitions with a little more ease.

Waking up and then what? Is there available space or time for … maybe something other than coffee? What can you do that sets you up for your day? A nourishing breakfast. Solitude. Prayer or meditation. Fresh air or exercise. Or it is straight in to the demands of the day?

From work day to evening. Time alone, or with your partner, or family. Maybe allowance for what each person needs to transition from one to the other.

For me, one ritual is to set the table. Place the candles. Strike the match. … the ritual, the transition. This making way from one setting to another. We set aside what came before and meet together in this new space.

Rather than your usual habits what might be some rituals that support your transition from evening to sleep?

Curious to explore this further? Click the link below where we’ll explore this transitioning during the day and into our sleep. We begin tomorrow!

As I write this, feeling deep gratitude for my teacher Anne. Who reignited the significance, relevance of this ritual for me personally. Not just lighting the candles, but striking a match and doing so with purposeful intention.

What rituals are most meaningful in your life? How did you learn them? Why do you choose to carry them forward? I’d love to hear from you.

Bright Lights, Dim Prospects & Daunting News

One of the basics of sleep hygiene is to sleep in a darkened room. Kind of a no-brainer.

However, what is a common reason people wake up in the night? If you’re like me, it’s often to go to the bathroom. Where are the brightest lights in your whole house? Likely the bathroom. Imagine the signal these bright lights are sending to your sleep systems?

Maybe you wake up for some other reason and next thing you know, you’re scrolling on your phone. Many are aware there’s a way to switch it from Light to Dark mode so perhaps the light won’t interfere with you getting back to sleep – too much.

Yet, what is the content you’re reading? Is it news? Social media? Is it something that might alert or arouse your nervous system or thoughts… late at night? Both, seem to have a way to wind things up for many.

These are a few of the things we will be exploring in Rest & Restore: Strategies for Sleep that begins Feb 16th. Each Tuesday night we’ll dig into some of the research around sleep. Then, explore some practices to help calm your sleep systems or change some unsupportive sleep patterns. Add in some quiet time and finally an opportunity to ask questions, connect with others should that be of interest you.

Though the sessions will be on Zoom, if you’re not a Zoom user or are experiencing Zoom fatigue, everything will be available for you to view on your own schedule, at your own convenience on the Teach:able platform.

The chicken or the egg?

This question about what comes first. The onset of chronic pain (and/or other conditions) from sleep disturbance or the relevance of sleep disturbance due to chronic pain?

Here’s some of what we know about sleep …

Sleep complaints are present in 67-88% of chronic pain disorders and at least 50% of individuals with insomnia – the most commonly diagnosed disorder of sleep impairment – suffer from chronic pain. Further, both chronic pain and sleep disturbances share an array of physical and mental health comorbidities, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and depression.” 1

One study found that “women who endorse frequent, “sleep problems,” defined as frequently difficult falling asleep or having a sleep disorder, were significantly more likely to develop fibromyalgia 10 years later.” 2

Also, in another how “sleep disturbance temporally preceded increases in pain, … in “temporomandibular disorder (TMD).” 3

Similar research is being conducted in terms of cancer pain, for depression, PTSD and ageing (including Alzheimer’s and dementia).

I knew poor sleep to be a contributing factor for people who live with chronic pain. What I didn’t know was how it affects not only physical health but mental health.

What’s piqued my interest is in new studies where a trend has emerged suggesting that sleep disturbance may be a stronger predictor for pain than pain of sleep disturbance.” 4

…several longitudinal studies convincingly demonstrate that insomnia symptoms significantly increase the risk of developing future chronic pain disorders in previously pain-free individuals, whereas existing pain is not a strong predictor of new incident cases of insomnia.” 5

Not just a stronger predictor for pain, but also in terms of mental health conditions.

This bidirectionality or said another way, “what came first, the chicken or the egg?”

Lots of studies to examine obviously, but here’s one on the positive side “Quality sleep has also been shown to predict chronic widespread pain symptom resolution over 15 months.” 6

Researchers will continue to find out more and doctors will refer out to specialists in many areas. Pretty much the gold standard for treating insomnia now is CBTi or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia.

Yet, there are things you can learn to do for yourself, that will help.

Curious about this? Exploring some practices, tools and gaining resources that can support you in getting a better night’s sleep. What stress and the nervous system have to do with sleep? Or how you might find rest during the day?

I’m offering a 4-week workshop starting Feb. 16th at 7:30pm ET.

You’ll have some time and space to explore, experience what might be helpful for you all in the comfort of your own home. Online. Change into some comfy clothes, grab a warm cup of herbal tea and join in. Anyone can follow along. We’ll be rolling on the floor a little, expending energy maybe by rocking and swaying, taking some breaths together. And learning “all the things your parents/doctors/friends/colleagues never told you… about sleep.” There’s a lot more to it than just laying your head down on a pillow, each night.

References:

  1. Finan PH, Goodin BR, Smith MT. The association of sleep and pain: an update and a path forward. J Pain. 2013;14(12):1539-1552. doi:10.1016/j.jpain.2013.08.007
  2. Mork PJ, Nilsen TI. Sleep problems and risk of fibromyalgia: longitudinal data on an adult female population in Norway. Arthritis Rheum. 2012 Jan;64(1):281-4. doi: 10.1002/art.33346. PMID: 22081440.
  3. Quartana PJ, Wickwire EM, Klick B, Grace E, Smith MT. Naturalistic changes in insomnia symptoms and pain in temporomandibular joint disorder: a cross-lagged panel analysis. Pain. 2010 May;149(2):325-331. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2010.02.029. Epub 2010 Mar 31. PMID: 20359824.
  4. Finan PH, Goodin BR, Smith MT. The association of sleep and pain: an update and a path forward. J Pain. 2013;14(12):1539-1552. doi:10.1016/j.jpain.2013.08.007
  5. Finan PH, Goodin BR, Smith MT. The association of sleep and pain: an update and a path forward. J Pain. 2013;14(12):1539-1552. doi:10.1016/j.jpain.2013.08.007
  6. K. A. Davies, G. J. Macfarlane, B. I. Nicholl, C. Dickens, R. Morriss, D. Ray, J. McBeth Restorative sleep predicts the resolution of chronic widespread pain: results from the EPIFUND study. Rheumatology (Oxford) 2008 Dec; 47(12): 1809–1813. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/ken389

You’re not sleeping either?

woman in red long sleeve shirt sitting on chair while leaning on laptop
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Did you know “chronic insomnia is highly prevalent and affects approximately 30% of the general population?” 1

Or, that “approximately 40% of adults with insomnia also have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder – most notably depression?” 2

That “sleep complaints are present in 67-88% of chronic pain disorders?” 3

I was aware of the third statistic, that sleep can be a contributing factor for people living with chronic pain. But why my interest in sleep, generally? I had (mostly) been a good sleeper yet started to experience disruptions to my sleep patterns over the past few years. Along came menopause and similar to many others I found myself in a cycle of wakefulness around 2, 3, 4 in the morning and went looking for solutions.

Last fall, however, something else happened. On a Facebook page I belong to, the subject of sleep was brought up. Well, the lack thereof.

I was curious if it was only menopausal women who were struggling with sleep, so I created a random poll. Within an hour or so, there were hundreds of responses.

  • 404 responses
  • 74 comments about issues with sleep.
  • 224 neither menopausal or perimenopausal
  • 95 perimenopausal
  • 51 menopausal
  • 34 ‘other reasons’

Clearly a problem for many but I was surprised to learn that it wasn’t only my age group challenged by this issue. The poll wasn’t scientific and could just reflect the ages of people in the Facebook group. Yet, wow!

Of course people will at times need specific diagnosis, treatment and care from healthcare professionals. Yet, digging into some of the research and after some of the behavioral or environmental factors are addressed with general sleep hygiene information, a lot of what affects sleep has to do with stress and the nervous system (and other systems… circadian, homeostasis, etc.). Which you can learn to influence and modulate.

Would you be interested in exploring this thing called sleep? Safely, gently, with compassion and care you’ll get to experience and learn what might be helpful for you. In your own home, cozy in your pajamas … having some time and space to do so.

A 4-week workshop Rest & Restore: Strategies for Sleep starts Feb 16th!

What are the many factors or contributors that affect sleep? What does the research tell us? What can you do during the day, that will affect your sleep at night? What can you do when waking up from sleep? How might you find some rest in the day, if your sleep wasn’t that great?

If you’d like to join in, registration is now open.

I’ve tried to make it affordable at just $20 each week. If finances are really tight, reach out to me at info@yogatoolsforlife.com. If finances are plentiful, please reach out as well and look to sponsor someone else.

I’d love for you to join in. Experience and learn what might can be helpful, for you.

References:

1. Roth T. Insomnia: definition, prevalence, etiology, and consequences. J Clin Sleep Med. 2007;3(5 Suppl):S7-S10.

2. Roth T. Insomnia: definition, prevalence, etiology, and consequences. J Clin Sleep Med. 2007;3(5 Suppl):S7-S10.

3. Finan PH, Goodin BR, Smith MT. The association of sleep and pain: an update and a path forward. J Pain. 2013;14(12):1539-1552. doi:10.1016/j.jpain.2013.08.007

Just, Calm Down

It was probably my first year as a yoga teacher, 10 years ago now, when I had a student in my class I so clearly recall would get up and leave as soon as it was time for Savasana. I’ve been trying to remember what I offered her in terms of advice but it escapes me now. Likely, I didn’t have much to offer. Yet I did empathize and understand why she left, unable to stay in this ‘corpse pose’ as it’s often called.

Ask the same of people when they are told to “just” sit still and meditate. Particularly if they’re experiencing anxiety, or high levels of stress and notice what happens.

Or telling a young child having a full-blown meltdown to “just” calm down.

The last thing anyone can do in these moments is calm down. There are likely to be many reasons for the state in which people find themselves and can’t calm themselves, but the ‘state’ is the important piece.

If someone is in a state of arousal, a natural nervous system response, telling them to do the opposite may not be helpful. It might add to the stress or leave them feeling ashamed about not being able to control their emotions or behavior. All this movement, powerful breathwork (sobbing), yelling, screaming, stomping of feet, tossing and turning the body in an attempt to express feelings and emotions going on inside (insert here: toddler meltdown).

There are some ways, practices or movements that enable calming down or a relaxation response. But it might be something just the opposite that’s needed to even begin this shift. Maybe what was needed, in this particular situation, is a mobilized response. We need both… to survive and engage in the wide variety of experience life is going to throw our way.

Recognizing the state is the first piece. Having some tools and options to choose from that might be helpful to you in the moment, could be a good thing to practice.

Today, I would have a few suggestions should this person turn up in my yoga class and find it a struggle being in corpse pose.

I’m kicking off a workshop in February all about SLEEP. Deep rest. How one might get to a place of settling in… for the night. Or for Savasana. Or if you’re having a hard time with routine, uncertainty, stress in these days you might find it helpful as well. I’d love for you to join in so stay tuned here, or you can sign up at yogatoolsforlife.com.

Showing Up

I’ve been rather absent for the past three weeks, at least in this space. COVID-19 showed up for a close family member so it has been all-hands-on deck for a few weeks now.

Yet, here we are. A new year, another moment in these particular days that we may not be liking so much.

What I don’t like so much now and maybe in the past as well, is there seems to be this one way to be. A particular way to show up in the world, in any given moment. Whether in times of crisis or just the regular days of work, being part of a family, in relationships, or on my yoga mat.

“This, … is the way it’s to be done. This, … is the way to show up.”

Fortunately, or unfortunately for me, I was never much good with the status quo. At times I can tune in to this quickly. On other occasions it takes a long while before I get the sense that what might be well and good for one, doesn’t feel quite right for me. I’m hoping that as I head into my 60th year on this planet the gap between the two is shortening.

There is always a message, a signal trying to capture my attention and act as a guide. The harder part is listening. Even harder is acting on it.

Why is that?

Well, there does seem to be a cultural or societal expectation to go along with the crowd. We look for cues outside ourself. What is the other person doing, saying? How are they responding? From a young age we’re often taught to fit in. Be nice. Say yes. Maybe don’t say anything at all. Grin and bear it. Smile through the pain or discomfort. Do what others do. Again, “this… is the way to show up”.

Yet times are changing. A slow but forward motion allowing for difference. Celebrating it, even. This might be in terms of looks or gender but also a general movement to change other beliefs. That it might be okay to express who we are. What we feel. What we believe. How we see the world, that what we feel in our own uniqueness, matters.

As I think about another year’s passing what is becoming clearer to me is, there is only … right now. Now is the time to show up.

Which doesn’t therefore mean, my way, is the way. It doesn’t mean anyone or anything else is wrong. It’s only that what will be right and well for one, is not the same for another. Funny enough last year I created an online program exploring just that. It’s interesting to notice that often what I teach, is what I most needed to learn for myself.

Here’s what I’m learning these days.

It can be useful to have a place where I can simply show up with whatever I feel, wherever I’m at. Happy smiley faces not required. That in this New Year I don’t have to be better, more enlightened, 10lbs lighter, happy, smiling, fit or always be in a good mood. Trying to sustain all that these days might be quite a challenge.

That I have permission to do, be, what feels most right.

Maybe the same is true for you.

Pay attention, to what?

Let’s look at a couple more practices you might consider to use in the evening. And why.

If you’re ever in a class or a private session with me you will hear me speak about the brain and the nervous system. Which might be unusual, when thinking about pain. Normally people will talk about tissue, bones, structure. Research over the last 10-20 years tells us pain is much more complex than the state of these ‘pieces of your body’.

Your brain, which kinda runs the show in terms of keeping you alive, is all about your survival. Which is a good thing. The problem is, it tells us something is up but it doesn’t always provide specifics or what we might do about sensation or messages we receive.

Whether physical health or mental health, however, your brain is looking out for your best interests. Which is why when you can’t seem to take your attention away from your pain, suffering, concerning thoughts or stressors, it makes sense when you think about it. It is drawing your attention, purposely to these things. It wants you to act in some way. To do something.

Sometimes, you might know what to do and choose to take action. It’s obvious. If you pick up a hot pan without gloves, your brain is saying you should have put potholders on prior to doing so. If you have a broken ankle, it is telling you to seek treatment and take some time to allow for healing. If you need to have a difficult conversation with someone, your brain – and subsequently your physiology – will send some kind of signal. You might feel motivated, mobilized, prepared and confident. Or you might feel anxious, butterflies in the stomach, strain in your jaw, neck or shoulders. In each, you receive information about your state of being concerning what is about to happen or what has occurred.

The number one thing pain or any other sensation you might feel in your body is trying to do, is to get you to listen. To get you to pay attention.

Usually working in the background without any of your awareness at all, the brain is constantly monitoring your physiology and making adjustments accordingly as required. It’s releasing hormones, sending messages to move certain muscles, signals that tell you when to eat, or sleep. It adjusts your blood pressure, regulates your temperature. Creates enzymes to digest your food. Tells you when to poop. Well, it does right?

The thing about pain, however, is it’s sending a message but often you can’t figure out what’s up. What you’re supposed to do. It’s hard, it takes time to figure it out. To explore what’s needed or right for you.

But back to this paying attention. What can you do when you’re in the thick of it? Particularly when you’re trying to sleep at night (and let me just add that the correlation between sleep and pain is huge).

How might you distract your brain, how might you shift your focus onto something else? At least for the time being. Well, there is a longer explanation that involves the Homunculus Man (above picture) but I won’t delve into it too much here. Rather, offer a couple practices you might like to try.

This, using the sounds SaTaNaMa was taught to me a couple years ago and it combines the rhythmic movement of your breath with the rhythmic movements of your jaw and fingers and rhythmic sounds. You can check it out here. I’ve had clients tell me it can be quite helpful when they are really in the thick of a painful experience/episode, flare-up. Or if you wake up in the night and immediately feel pain.

You might practice something like nadi shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing, for 5-10 minutes before bed. You can practice it sitting up if preferred but you might also do so when laying in bed (or if you wake in the night), using your fingers to close the nostrils. This practice also engages the hands, breath, the face (nose).

All these areas send a lot of sensory information to the brain. Your senses are used to take in information, that helps with your survival. Think about noxious toxins you might smell, seeing danger, touching something dangerous, your sense of taste in terms of toxins or allergens particular to you, hearing a predator in the distance. The brain pays particular attention to these areas so if you can engage the brain, have it pay attention to a ‘safe’ activity it might, just might, change your pain. Allow for some calming, easier breathing. Switch from a danger, or mobilized state in your nervous system to a more safe, restful place.

Or maybe you use one of the Apps available like Calm or Insight Timer that grabs your brain’s attention. Listen to some calming, soothing music. Or perhaps use the smell of an essential oil that for you, might trigger a response that it’s time to sleep and safe to do so.

Let me know if you give any of these a try and how it goes. I hope you find them useful in some way.

Habits of ours. Helpful or not?

What else might you do to prepare for sleep?

You might want to get a little curious about current habits. Perhaps life-long ones.

For example, I have never showered or bathed at night as I prefer it in the morning to get set for the day. It also helps me to wake up. But I am finding lately that a warm shower at night, the warmth feels awfully good. Perhaps it feels, or symbolizes in some way, that I’m washing away the day and stepping into sleep renewed. Refreshed.

Sipping on a warm beverage might be appealing. A herbal tea, water, lemon & honey, warm milk on its own or with turmeric. These might feel soothing and satisfying for you in some way. A ritual that becomes a way to mark the end of day, the coming into rest and restoration.

Maybe a foot massage might feel good. I have no formal training in massage, yet I’ve been doing this for a while now. It only takes a couple of minutes, but there is something about the massaging of the feet that makes me go “ahhhhhhhh……..”. I have to say in our travels that anywhere and everywhere we see foot massage on offer, people are lined up and waiting!

You can incorporate using oil with the massage, maybe even warming the oil beforehand. I tend to use almond oil, but you might like coconut or another of your choice.  I don’t choose to warm the oil, but rather just pour a little on my hands and then massage my feet in any old way, for about 3-5 minutes on each foot. (You’ll want to put some loose socks on afterwards, so as not to get oil on your bedsheets.) Then just notice… Try doing this 3 times a week and see what it feels like for you. I have noticed that while others may hold tension in their jaw, their shoulders, back or hips the tension I feel, what keeps me awake at night, is the inability to relax my feet.

Other soft, turning-inwards things you might try?

Sit by candlelight. Our natural circadian rhythms are disrupted by all the artificial light surrounding and available to us. Then there are all these screens. Do you know there are night settings you can change on your phone or laptop so you’re not having to stare at such a bright screen?

You might read, color, knit, or some other quiet, introspective activity. We tend to spend a LOT of time on screens these days, so anything other than, might be a place to explore.

Tomorrow we’ll lean into some practices you can do when nothing else works. When you are frustrated, can’t get to sleep, can’t get back to sleep. It’s all about distraction. How might we get our brain to turn off, or at least shift the focus of attention to something else.

Turning off, turning in

If you’re feeling stressed or wound up at the end of your day it might be helpful to notice, perhaps try to shift it, BEFORE trying to head off to sleep.

Let me preface this by saying you may not be ready for slow, restful or focusing-in practices. It may be that you feel the need to move in ways that burn off energy. Maybe rocking or swaying from side-to-side, bouncing a little, shaking things out. Perhaps some dancing in the dark… might be what’s needed in the moment.

However, if you’d like to try some ways to calm the nervous system you might practice one of these restful poses. Or maybe do them after the movement mentioned above. Something like legs up the wall, providing support and perhaps release for the back muscles, or tension elsewhere in the body. Or maybe the beginnings of turning inward, so a forward fold on a chair, or over a bolster.

This doesn’t have to take a long time. You may want to stay in one of these poses for 5 to 10 minutes. See what happens.

Notice the length and the quality of your breath. Notice if it shifts at all, while in the pose.

Notice your thoughts. Feelings.

Maybe it’s helpful for you to listen to calming music, be in a place with lowered, soft lighting.

Taking a few minutes may help to make the transition into sleep a little more easeful. Try it. I’d love to know if anything changes at all for you.