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.
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.
I remember the first restorative yoga I attended. Taught by the lovely Olivia Kulla, back in my Doha days. I thought I would feel all so sleepy, y’know? After the supportive poses, soft music, candle light. Basically having so much support, someone to “tuck me in” so to say. Allow me to fully rest.
What I didn’t realize is that afterwards I didn’t feel sleepy at all. During, yes. But after I felt energized. Rested. Ready to move forward with whatever I needed to do. It was a fascinating experience.
It was a good lesson in doing less. How less might be more.
Though I no longer practice strength or power styles of yoga like Ashtanga or even a flow-style of yoga I do like to get my sweat on. Take me on a good hike. Some downhill skiing and I’ll be right with you. I’m not against high-powered, cardio building stuff.
Yet, there is something about resting.
Not sleeping. Not watching TV. Not scrolling on the phone. But shutting out what can be overwhelming sensory information that bombards us from every angle these days.
Why not slip into some rest, mid-day? All the suggestions below take only minutes. Like 5 minutes or less. (Though of course if you have more time, you could do them for longer.)
Stand up and sway from side to side, gazing out the window. Maybe you bounce a little, shake out the arms, legs, fingers, feet.
Close your eyes. Massage around your eyes, temples. Maybe into your neck and jaw. The back of your neck.
Nadi shodhana or equal nostril breathing. I’ve had clients say how energized they feel after this. However, it might also be used to help fall asleep, so notice how it shifts your energy.
My favorite is laying down on the floor. Perhaps a blanket folded, to support the head. Maybe a pillow under my knees which often feels good for the low back. And just rest. I always suggest laying on the floor, rather than a bed, or sofa. If you can notice it, find the support of your body’s structure (bones) on a hard surface. This might allow for the muscles to release any ‘holding’ or tension… and to relax.
Why not do one of these for 5 minutes a day, either before or after lunch (one might feel better for you) and notice what you notice. What feels right and do-able for you?
Restorative yoga. It seems these days it’s often combined with yin, or slow or gentle yoga, or perhaps confused with these. Yet in the trainings I’ve done in the style it’s not about stretching. It’s not about holding. Rather, all about support.
As you can see from the suggestions, it doesn’t have to be restorative yoga but perhaps making some time and space to do something else, take a break, might be useful. What does providing some mid-day support or rest feel like, to you? Let me know how it goes.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. There’s no commitment from you required, I’m only gauging if there is interest at this point.
The opportunity to be seen, heard, acknowledged. Understood.
Having some agency, a sense of control over what is happening in your life.
The ability to move around in the world. To get up and down, tend to daily tasks at hand.
Do what brings you joy, pleasure.
To experience community.
I can imagine that many of these bring up some kind of sensation in your body as you read through the list. So many we take for granted.
I have a sense you may be missing a few, maybe a lot of these. Feeling loss or grief.
I know I am.
It’s not gone unnoticed by me that many of these are already experienced by the people I see, those I help to support through my work. It is not uncommon for people who have lived with chronic pain, often for years, to feel this sense of isolation, the loss of freedoms, work, connection with others. Well, there is a lot.
This came up up front and center when the hardest hit in our communities were those living in senior or extended care centers. They were already living in such a manner. Already in it.
Many others living with health concerns, disability, low socioeconomic status, new immigrants to our country have this as a part of their ‘normal life’. Not COVID life.
I don’t have the answers but my hope is that we bring some awareness to these issues, some path forward for the long term. Not just now.
Everyone waiting for things to get back to normal. Talk today of vaccines and yes, one can hardly wait. There is so much on hold at the moment. Much fear, uncertainty. I can feel that. Sense that.
But might we also learn from and change in some way, what is often normal for many.
Think back to when this first began and the heightened state of everyone around you. I can surely remember what it felt like walking through the grocery store as everyone was scrambling for Lysol wipes and toilet tissuse. Nervous systems all on high alert, seeking some sense of security and groundedness.
Perhaps we can begin to imagine what that feels like for so many when these big life events or ‘transitions’ happen. Injury, illness, aging, loss, grief. Can we learn ways to help with that, to sit with that, bring some care and ease to the person in need.
We’re all going to be there at some point.
Something will happen. If not before, we will grow old. We will struggle. Lose independence. Freedom. Ability to do things.
Might we provide for, care for, those who are already ‘in it’.
I can recall in an instant what it felt like when I was in a car accident just about this time two years ago. As I think about it my breath becomes short, my heart rate increases a little, I get emotional, my body tenses up almost like I’m experiencing the impact all over again. In fact just seeing a ‘deer crossing’ sign still brings about this response in my body.
I can also imagine another experience. At the same time two summers ago, I was with a group of friends… enjoying days in the sunshine, swimming in the river after a most nourishing lunch. What I notice in my body when I think about this experience is the opposite to what’s described above. Ease of breath, smiling, relaxed, heart slow and feeling all warm and fuzzy.
This happens even as I IMAGINE these two contrasting events. Interesting how my body responds and my actual physiology changes. My breath, heart rate, blood pressure, emotions, etc.
Consider how your physiology might change through the day due to various experiences, thoughts, emotions, conversations, demands that make up your daily routine.
Our body, brain, nervous system is so wise. It helps us to navigate the world around us, keeps us safe and alive, regulates all the systems within our selves. Takes in information external to us through our senses, responds to all the internal information received in our body at the same time. A rather smart organism. I am most grateful that it does all of this automatically that I don’t even have to think about it. Nope. I don’t have to remember to breathe, or make my heart pump somehow, or organize the digestion of my food.
But this not thinking about it, not noticing, or paying attention might not always be helpful.
For instance, if I ignore the fact that I’m really thirsty on these hot summer days we’ve been having where I live, I might become dehydrated. Or if I don’t pay attention to the sensations that tell me it’s time to rest, I may become over tired and become careless, not able to learn, deplete my body’s innate need to rest and replenish all these wondrous systems.
I may not notice a stress response I seem to be ‘in’ all the time. I might not easily move into a different one (parasympathetic response) one where I can rest, sleep, where my heart rate and blood pressure lower, digest my food. I might have elevated stress hormones constantly floating around in my system, thinking it needs to help ‘fight and protect’ me from something. Inflammation might occur. And on, it goes.
Life is hard. Life is stressful. No doubt about it.
What might help is to learn to recognize the signals this wise body is giving us and responding some way. How we might move into action when needed, like if I am in a car accident or if I need to change my business model due to this pandemic we’re experiencing. Or how we might move into deep rest when needed. So we can sleep. Digest our food. Help influence or decrease inflammation. Navigate with some fluidity, between the two responses.
And how might a stress response, impact our experience of pain? Can we respond in some way when noticing this? Our response might be to change something. It may be to just notice. It might be to extend ourselves some compassion, knowing these are challenging times. The first step though, is the awareness that it’s happening at all. The listening in, paying attention.
Curious to explore this a little more? Might it be helpful to learn how you might have some influence over these systems?
Creating New Pathways: change your pain, change your life begins tomorrow. I would love to have you to join us.
These are uncertain times and so many are feeling vulnerable, whether it’s about health, financial security or so many other concerns.
And yes, there are times when it’s helpful to quiet the mind, tame the thoughts, seek some silence, stillness and perhaps peace in all the chaos.
However, that isn’t always helpful. Doesn’t always work.
I know myself when I am stressed what helps me most is to move. Yes, I start cleaning my house when wound up, upset, feeling anxious, or stressed. There is something about burning off energy that might help to bring some space for quiet, relaxation, peace when you’re done. It might help you sleep. Maybe calm your nervous system. After all, when we are in crisis or feel threatened the nervous system is all about getting your attention, mobilization, preparing for action that might be required.
What might be helpful for you? Below are a few ideas, you might like to try:
Put on some loud, upbeat music and move in some way.
Clean. Get at those windows and at the same time get some fresh air when you’re opening them or stepping outside.
Practice yoga, tai chi, whatever floats your boat.
Lift some weights.
Get on that ‘dust collector’ piece of exercise equipment sitting in your house and expend some of that nervous energy.
If you’ve got a few extra pantry items that you seemingly stocked up with, bake.
Let me know how it goes. I know after working at my desk today, I am feeling the need to get up and move it!
Take good care of yourself (and others).
**If you’re feeling distressed, please be sure to reach out to a local resource. For those in Ottawa, call the Ottawa Distress Line
Life is not easy. For any of us. There is more than enough to do, day in and day out. Stressors at work, at home or elsewhere.
So cut yourself some slack. Give yourself permission to rest.
Start with just 5 minutes. Do this at least once a day. Do it twice if you like. But do it consistently.
You might want to set a particular time for this. Perhaps at mid-day, or early evening. It’s not often you need to rest first thing in the day and this 5 minutes isn’t meant for sleeping, so not too close to bedtime either.
Either lie down or sit in a comfortable position (*see below for specifics). It’s preferable to lay on the floor but if you’re unable to do so, a bed or sofa is fine.
Set a timer for 5 minutes.
Close your eyes or soften your gaze.
Begin to breathe in and out through your nose (close your mouth).
Be here for 5 minutes, just breathing naturally. Don’t try to change anything about your breath.
Notice where you feel your breath. It might be most noticeable in your nostrils, maybe in your chest or perhaps your abdomen.
Notice how your breath is moving. If there’s any particular quality to it such as smooth, interrupted, easy, strained.
Then just breathe. And just notice.
If your mind wanders, as it’s likely to do, just bring your attention back to your breath. Feel where it’s moving through your body, where you notice it. Try not to judge the wandering of your mind as anything either good or bad.
And just breathe. And just notice.
When the timer goes off, slowly open your eyes. Roll over and stand up.
Notice what you feel. Mentally or physically make a note of what you experienced or noticed.
Keep practising for a week.
Check in with me next Tuesday and we’ll expand on this practise.
If… you can’t find 5 minutes in your day? You might want to look at that.
If you have any questions or comments, post them below.
* Positioning if seated
Sit forward on a chair so your back is not touching the back upright portion of the chair.
See if you can feel your ‘sitting’ bones (ischial tuberosities) and let your weight be supported there.
Have your feet planted on the floor, hip-width apart.
Hands comfortably on your lap.
* Positioning if lying down
Lie on the ground, perhaps on a carpet or mat if available. If you have back pain, you may want to use a rolled up towel, yoga mat, etc. to slip under your bent knees for support.
Hands can be by your side or placed on your belly.
Notice the parts of your body supported by the hard surface of the floor (heels, hips, shoulder area, head).
I’ve also learned it seems we may have been ‘wrong about stretching‘ insofar as we’re not really stretching or lengthening muscles. At least not as much as we once believed. Rather, we’re changing our response to a stimulus via the nervous system.
Our brain is naturally going to respond in a protective manner to anything it perceives as dangerous. If we are trying to re-train flexibility or just movement in the body and do so with strong, forceful pressure or stimulus … the brain/body will react by saying … stop! No! Don’t go there. It will send a (pain) signal to safeguard our movement.
However, if we move in small incremental ways within a safe and pain-free range of motion, the nervous system will react by saying … this feels okay. Safe. I’m happy to explore this.
This is a somewhat simplified way to explain all that’s going on, but it’s a starting point we can work from. We can even begin by just imagining movement and still create changes in the brain and our nervous system. So we can, really, start anywhere.
By learning to pay attention, moving in a way that allows your nervous system to adapt and create new patterns while it feels safe, you will make progress.