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.

Preparing for Slumber

Depending on where you are in the world and your environment, you may notice some changes taking place. A change of season. It is quite obvious where I live as the foliage, the trees and the grasses are all preparing for winter. Transitioning to a new phase. Not only the beauty you can see here but the seasons also provide a steady rhythm to life. Continuity.

When menopause struck and I was suddenly experiencing disrupted sleeps, yet another transition. A new season. I couldn’t help but recall another stage of life gone by, the early days of parenthood. Those feelings of being absolutely depleted, exhausted. I can only surmise my dreary eyes gazing upon those loving baby faces helped get me through it.

I distinctly remember every time we got in the car to go somewhere, babies safely tucked into their car seats, I immediately fell asleep. Why was that?

I was exhausted.

I knew our babies were safe. I had some time and space when I no longer had to be vigilant, listening and watching over them.

The subtle swaying motion along with the soft hum of the car as my husband drove provided some cues, a stimulus that helped me drift off to slumber.

What were some of the things you did to help get your babies to sleep? I can recall softly stroking their head, their face, “tickling” as we called it. Soothing, rhythmic music playing in the background. There were at times suggestions made to put them on top of the dryer or something similar (maybe for the same hum, swaying that the car provided me). Wrapping them tightly in my arms. Bouncing, swaying, rocking.

We used another strategy when our twins were babies. During the day, we kept them downstairs in the living room, using one of those portable beds so they could get used to sleeping amidst the goings on of our daily life. But at night we took them up to their cribs, to a quiet, darkened room. A different signal that it was now night-time, different than their brief naps during the day.

We can use strategies, we can develop habits and routines to help create conditions for sleep. These are some of the things often discussed in terms of general sleep hygiene. Learning more about our circadian system or rhythm can also be helpful.

What what else might be useful if we’re having trouble with sleep?

Well, there is evidence to show how stress can affect our physiology and our sleep. And, I can imagine many are feeling the effects of stress these days. This hyperarousal, or perhaps it is more like hypo-arousal these days.

How does stress show up in the body? What happens? What are the changes that take place? Can we change or influence our nervous system’s response to stress?

Navigating transitional moments of life is a challenge. Often, there is a letting go required and a stepping into the unknown. Uncertainty. There may be feelings of loss, grief, sadness. Maybe there is anger or resentment or … well there are likely to be many feelings. Including love, beauty and joy. Maybe freedom. All showing up, moving, shifting like a roller coaster ride. Felt and experienced in the body.

Perhaps exploring this a little, what we notice, the sensations that rise and fall throughout the day (and night) might be useful. Making sense of it. Accepting these moments with some kindness and compassion, moving through them with awareness, finding some ground when we need it most. A way to settle into slumber when night falls.

Curious?

I’m planning to offer an online program where we can explore this both through some gentle movement practices, journaling or other written work, information, breath and awareness practices. If this is of interest to you please let me know, send me a message, comment below, sign up to the site or email me at info@yogatoolsforlife.com. There’s no commitment from you required, I’m only gauging if there is interest at this point.

Take care.