When people come to see me for help with acute and chronic pain they often tell me they practice yoga. Telling me they "do" yoga doesn't actually tell me a whole lot.
WHAT type of practice do you do? Is it a self practice? Is it a private class? Is it a group class? What style of yoga is it? Is it a fast and furious class? Hot and sweaty? Slow and restorative? Focused on extreme end ranges of movement? A combination of different styles?
HOW do you practice? Is it with mindful attention or is it the way you do everything else in your life with Type A perfectionistic tendencies? Pushing your body to end ranges of movement? Are you more focused on the end result i.e. the peak yoga posture or can you enjoy the process? Do you have an awareness of your body blind spots and how to work with them?
Physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health doesn't depend on whether you do a yoga practice or not but depends very much on the what, the how and the why of your practice!
If you have a physical injury say a shoulder injury and you are doing endless vinyasas (plank, chaturanga, up dog, down dog) throughout a class, even with the best form in the world it's not going to be beneficial in creating the most optimal environment for the injury to heal.
If you have hypermobility and lax ligaments moving in a warm environment with a focus on extreme end ranges of motion may not be what your body needs and a focus on strengthening and stability may be what it needs instead.
If you're a woman and especially a woman with hip, SI joint and low back pain maybe doing all those "hip openers" isn't such a great idea. Perhaps some strengthening work at your end ranges of movement can help to stabilise and support.
If you have anxiety and you are rushing through a fast flowing vinyasa class without a chance for a slow, focused breath it's generally not going to provide the down regulating effect that's needed to calm the nervous system, it's possibly creating or enhancing the same patterns that's contributed to the anxiety in the first place.
If you have a tendency towards sluggishness or depression maybe just doing meditation and restorative yoga isn't optimal. Maybe inviting in some movement can help to shift your mood and energy levels.
If you have spent decades not loading any weight at a gym or in any other activity that you do in your day to day life onto your wrists or your head perhaps it's not okay to load your whole body weight straight away onto those areas.
The same questions could possibly be replaced for the gym or any other physical activity.
WHAT are you doing at the gym? Is it suitable for your age, fitness level, any acute or chronic injuries you may have, perhaps going from being inactive for decades to doing cookie cutter high intensity workouts may not be such a good idea.
HOW are you doing it? Have you got someone watching your form as you begin to lift heavier and heavier weights or adding in more complex movement skills? Is the focus on the total number of reps as opposed to good form? Can you break down the movement skills needed for your new skill so that you can gradually expose yourself to the new load that you are presenting to your body? Are you balancing all of the different areas of your body as opposed to doing the things you're good at? And lastly WHY are you doing it?
There's no good or bad movement but I think it's important to not reinforce our habits, patterns and tendencies when we get on our mat or exercise. Asking what, how and why allows us to examine our movement practices so that we can illuminate any imbalances that may be there. Sometimes the simplest of shifts leads to the most profound changes.
I think it's also important to seek out specialists, people that can personally train you whether it's yoga, fitness or movement, that can highlight your body blind spots, that can regress and progress movement skills that you are working towards, that can personalise your practice as opposed to giving a group one size fits all practice. Seek out someone that knows about the human body, about human movement and understands diversity.
Constructive rest is a tonic without the negative affects of the gin and something you can most definitely be daily dosing yourself with, and unlike a daily dose of gin and tonic the results keep getting better and better.
The benefits of constructive rest are far reaching and could apply to all areas of our lives; sleep, relationships, performance, recovery, stress management, chronic pain and the list goes on.
Many times people go to bed exhausted, they've taken in a huge amount of information and sensory input, had to be ON all day long and haven't switched on their off switch for even a few minutes. People often mistakenly think they have wound down and switched off but there is a physiological difference between using gin and tonic and using something like meditation, constructive rest or conscious relaxation.
The effects of constructive rest when you make it a nonnegotiable self care habit add up and unfortunately the flip side of not doing any form of down regulating add up too! I often like to think of it as a cleansing ritual to clear the remnants of the day away, who wants all that gunk to add up over a lifetime? The great thing about a regular practice is the more you practice the more your brain has a positive association with it and it's then quicker and easier to access relaxation.
Many people wrongly assume they can get all the rest and recovery they need when they go to sleep but if you are a teeth grinder, sleep walker, have sleep apnea or wake up feeling groggy and having to press snooze one too many times they are all proof that any unresolved stress or tension is still present as you sleep and you may not be getting good quality sleep.
Regular practice of constructive rest can go a long way in releasing some of the stuck stress that can get caught up in our soft tissues, naturally sedating and tranquilising our nervous systems into a deep state of rest and therefore having a beneficial affect on every single system in your body.
All you have to do is set at least 3-5 minutes aside, 10-15 minutes is better, 20 minutes is ideal especially if you're recovering from sickness, feeling run down or have a lot of physical, mental or emotional distress in your life. If you don't have longer periods of time please don't avoid doing it, frequency is more important than duration in my opinion and starting off with shorter amounts of time makes it more realistic and if it's more realistic you can make space for it in your life.
Lay down onto your back, knees bent, feet flat on the ground, if you're staying for a longer duration a pillow or support under the knees is beneficial, a small towel under the head to lengthen the back of the neck and either place your hands on to your abdomen or by your sides with your palms facing up. Close your eyes, begin to sense inward and focus your attention on to your breath. Allow your breath to be natural, easy and free and welcome a sense of lengthening and slowing down of the breath. Allow the exhalations to become slightly longer or twice as long as your inhales for a truly sedating quality in your body/mind. Welcome a sense of allowance and know that this is constructive, by coming into stillness in your physical body you are enhancing the function of all of the other systems in your body. Stay for as long as you can and when emerging roll on to your side and pause and savour before coming up to seated.
Have you ever woken up with a crick in your neck? Or put your back out by simply reaching to pick something up off the floor? Do you feel tight and achy upon waking? Feel like you can't get through your day without a pick me up at 3pm? If you want to know why this is happening and what you can do about it, continue reading.
Each and every day each one of us is subjected to stress, whether you recognise it or not modern life is stressful. We wake to the sound of an alarm clock alerting us that our day is starting despite the quality or quantity of sleep we had that night which more often than not is not very adequate in quantity or quality. We then may have to wake and prepare children for the day, which can provide enough stress to last a year. We then have to rush a breakfast down us with a chaser of coffee to kick start our body into green light mode, which can cause internal stress, we burn our toast whilst responding to emails, get stuck in traffic and all before 9am each morning. Not to mention the pressure of work, relationships, finances, the external stress of the economy and world politics and the internal stress put on our body with poor quality food.
Stress is a mechanism to help us deal with life threatening danger, a tiger is chasing us down the road we run or we prepare to fight. In both of these circumstances our muscles get ready to literally run for our lives or fight for our lives, they tense in response to the external stimulus and by running or fighting the charge is released, and our muscles can then return to pre stressful event. Our stress response hasn't evolved to know that our boss at work isn't the tiger chasing us, that the stress we are feeling isn't life threatening, it is how ever having a very real effect on our physiology and the problems arise when that stuck stress isn't released. If your muscles are getting ready to fight or run from danger even just once a day and you are just sat at your desk at work or driving your car you are not allowing the body to discharge that stuck stress from your body's tissues.
Over time that stuck stress accumulates. We have day to day stress, external and internal, we have big stressors such as moving house, bereavement and divorce and one day an seemingly unrelated event will happen where you just pull your back out, or you wake up with a crick in your neck.
Chances are you had some messages from your body previous to the event alerting you to the fact that something wasn't quite right. Perhaps you had some slight aches, pains and niggles, stiffness upon waking, feeling more tired than usual, needing coffee in the morning to get you going, wine in the evening to calm you down, all of these are signs that your body has cellular dehydration, but you chose to ignore these messages and guess what? What started as a whisper from your body gently telling you to pay attention, becomes a mighty roar that you can't ignore anymore.
Like all good fairy tales this blog post is going to end with a happy ending, pain does not have to become chronic and chronic pain does not have to be a life sentence. Cellular dehydration can be reversed with a combination of good quality bodywork addressing the fascial system, good quality variable movement, learning tools and techniques to down regulate the nervous system so it's not fired up all the time and finding ways to self soothe without the use of caffeine and alcohol.
A couple of weekends ago I had the pleasure of attending a postgraduate massage training in advanced clinical massage techniques for TMJ, face and jaw pain. It's a course I've been yearning to do for the past few years and it far exceeded my expectations.
The course was developed by a dental nurse who noticed the usual orthodox treatments for TMJ syndrome were ineffective at best, or painful and potentially damaging at worst and therefore created a massage treatment protocol for TMJ patients. Many clients reported a reduction of symptoms from their first treatment and every one of them were either completely resolved or drastically improved within 4-6 treatments.
TMJ syndrome is an umbrella term for pain and dysfunction of the muscles of mastication (the muscles that move the jaw) and the temporomandibular joints (the joints that connect the mandible to the skull).
The common symptoms of TMJ syndrome are wide and varied and include:
Headaches- if you've ever experienced tension headaches when you're stressed it may come as no surprise that tension in the jaw (predominantly the masseter and temporalis muscle) can lead to headaches. We often instinctively massage our temples to help to relieve the pain but the masseter which is our primary chewing muscle often gets neglected.
Bruxism- or teeth grinding. You may only be aware that you grind your teeth if you wake your partner in the night or your dentist may have told you that your teeth are being worn down and has recommended a mouth guard to wear at night. Mouth guards are only a temporary measure however as it doesn't address the cause or the trigger points and tightness that lead to the teeth grinding in the first place.
Earaches and toothaches- trigger points from the masseter and temporalis muscle can amazingly refer pain into teeth and ears, which the pioneers of trigger point therapy Travell and Simons say "can lead to disastrous results for an innocent tooth". Trigger points in the sternocleidomastoid muscle (the thick ropey looking muscle on the side of your neck) can also refer pain into the ear.
Tinnitus- or ringing in the ears. This may be multi factorial but there have been links to TMJ syndrome causing or contributing to tinnitus in some people.
Dizziness- again dizziness may be multi factorial, but in some people dizziness may be due to restrictions in the soft tissue.
Trismus- or difficulty opening mouth normally.
Difficulty swallowing or speaking and sensitivity to light or noise.
The masseter muscle is the strongest muscle in the body and can exert a huge amount of force, this muscle is our primary chewing muscle and rarely receives a break due to eating and talking, add that to grinding and clenching through the day and night and you can clearly see this is a muscle worthy of some TLC. Discomfort in the soft tissue of the neck and shoulders may also be alleviated by treating the muscles of mastication as they often develop secondary trigger points in TMJ syndrome.
If you experience any of the above symptoms then search for someone qualified in manual therapy for TMJ syndrome, jaw and face pain in your area. If you're located near Killarney Massage Therapy Centre then arrange your appointment today on 087-2922851.
Five movement inspired gifts for your loved ones this year.
The gift of movement is the gift that keeps on giving. These are my five favourite gift ideas that will help your loved ones to live well in their body, I can't think of a better gift than that.
1) Squatty potty. I know, I know, you didn't expect the first gift to be the gift of being able to poop and pee more effectively and efficiently but check this out https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=YbYWhdLO43Q for everything you needed to know about having rainbow poop. The benefits of squatting for health is well known and until the advent of modern toilets we would have been squatting down to poop and pee (for us ladies) several times a day. If you suffer with frequent constipation, haemorrhoids, pelvic floor disorders or you're a human being wanting to maintain a healthy colon and pelvic floor then this is a must in every bathroom.
2) Foot alignment socks. If you've ever been to one of my yoga classes you've no doubt at some point done some corrective exercises for the feet. The mobility of your feet or lack of mobility will have repercussions further up the chain of your body. I know working out the feet isn't particularly sexy but it will go a long way in keeping your body feeling well. Modern shoes generally have a small toe box so wearing these foot alignment socks helps to counteract the squishing of our poor toes. These foot alignment socks helps you to do corrective exercises on your feet whilst binge watching your favourite TV series, just pop them on your feet and watch.
3) Yoga Tune Up ® therapy balls. It's no secret I'm a big fan of these grippy, pliable and portable self Myofascial release therapy balls. They create a shear in the tissue like no other tool and believe me when I say I have tried pretty much everything on the market. No other tools compare and are like rubber pain killers for all your aches, pains and niggles. I order these in from the states and they come in four different sizes.
4) Barefoot/minimal shoes. One step better than having to correct and reverse the affects of wearing shoes all day is switching over to a more minimal or barefoot shoe. We are shaped by the things that we do the most often and we are also shaped by the shoes we wear. Every time I see images of the foot binding practices that used to be in practice in China I'm disgusted by how nonsensical it appears, yet we wear shoes that are shaped nothing like our feet for the purposes of "looking good". It's actually not that far removed from those crazy practices. My favourites are vibram 5 fingers and vivobarefoot but Nike and other more popular brands are also doing their own versions of minimal shoes, check for a wide toebox, no squished toes and a moveable sole. Check out this blog by Katy Bowman on the best winter minimal shoes http://nutritiousmovement.com/shoes-the-winter-list/ and also this book by Katy Bowman on transitioning to barefoot http://www.amazon.co.uk/Whole-Barefoot-Transitioning-Minimal-Footwear/dp/0989653986.
5) Hanging bar. This is a great stocking filler to decompress the spine and give your lats, shoulders and core some much needed attention. I've recently been educating myself on the benefits of hanging and have been attempting to just hang, that's right just hang, no fancy chin ups or pull ups just hanging. I need to ensure my body, that has had a lack of hanging or pulling motion for pretty much all my life is ready for these new loads I'm placing on it. Which means lots of shoulder mobility work and preparing my body for each stage that arises. A yoga practice uses our shoulder pushing muscles quite a lot with planks, downward dogs etc but there's nothing in the yoga sphere (the exception being body surfing in Yoga Tune Up®) where we pull our body weight, so this is a new skill that I'm learning, you may also see me hanging on branches in the national park and on the monkey bars in the children's playground. The world is our gym after all :)
That's it my five movement inspired gifts. Do you have any that you would add to the list?
DEEP TISSUE v's DEEP PRESSURE
Over the past 12 years of studying and receiving various forms of massage and bodywork I have learnt what works and what feels good for my body. Not only do I devote my time to practicing the art of bodywork I also spend a lot of time studying anatomy and physiology and theoretical principles of massage and bodywork. One of the biggest pet peeves I have with massage/bodywork is the seeming confusion over deep tissue and deep pressure. I love deep tissue massage, deep pressure not so much.....anyone can prod and stick a thumb or elbow into parts of the body and elicit a strong sensation does that mean it's deep tissue? Absolutely not! Deep tissue should aim to reduce and release restrictions and often that takes longer than an hours treatment (but that's for another post).
Deep tissue is generally not something that can be done throughout the whole body (not in an hour anyway) it's a slow and specific process of sinking down through the layers of tissue, feeling a response in the tissues and sinking a little more if the tissues allow. Deep pressure is where the therapist forces the tissue a particular way, as with most things push with enough force and you will meet resistance, which actually then defeats the overall purpose of receiving massage.
Any skilled therapist will tell you that they get much better results by allowing the tissues time to soften and release slowly over time, providing just the right amount of resistance for the release to be felt, which is unique to each client.
Deep tissue is a method of communication and is very much a two way conversation, deep pressure however I liken to a monologue.
As a clinical and sports massage therapist I attract a lot of active and sports people who often have a "no pain, no gain" mentality, which is an old school approach, perpetuated by therapists carrying on treating in a way that is not only NOT the most beneficial way of treating soft tissue but in my opinion ethically wrong, causing bruising, pain, feeling the need to hold the breath, curl the toes and grimacing are all signs that the pressure is too deep.
As many of my clients know I'm continuously updating my skills and looking for the most effective techniques to not only reduce pain and to improve range of motion but techniques that also feel good to the client. I've been on a lot of continuing education courses with world class teachers and not once have I been on a course and had a teacher recommend to go as hard as possible to cause pain, 20 years ago that may have been different however, but we learn and we move on with updated views and ways of working with the body.
That's not to say that when working with trigger points and restrictions and stickiness in fascia that there will be no discomfort felt but on a pain scale of 1-10, (1 being the lowest 10 highest) sensation should never be over a 6-7, often equated to that sweet spot and great results can be made even lower than that.
The next time you are receiving massage or some form of bodywork ask yourself is the therapist having a conversation with your body's tissues or is it a monologue with the therapist imposing unnecessary pressure.
Nature outside always affects nature inside. Just as we have an intricate web of connection flowing through our body in the form of fascia, connecting muscles, bones, vital organs and more, we have an intricate web flowing and connecting us with nature. We are nature and nature is us!
Transitions are tricky...whether we are flowing through a yoga practice or going through changes in our lives whether it's a break up or menopause, those transition points are the sticky parts. You know those parts, when you know things are changing but you want to hold on for just a bit longer, you don't feel ready to quite make the transition yet, but the transition happens anyway. Transitions are the parts more often than not that we want to get over and done with quickly, move through without really being mindful, thinking forward to what's coming up next instead of being present, moving towards something, rather than being there in the stickiness of the transition.
Transitioning from one phase of life to the next, going through changes that we wouldn't necessarily choose isn't easy, in fact I would go as far to say it's one of the most difficult things that we have to experience while we are in this embodied form. But rather than reaching for the television remote, the next drink, a big slice of cake or the hoover depending on what your chosen method of distraction is, I invite you to make a different chose. Step in to it, whether it be through meditation, contemplation, journaling or another valuable way of turning inside and getting comfortable with the discomfort. As Pema Chodron says so eloquently below;
“When things are shaky and nothing is working, we might realize that we are on the verge of something. We might realize that this is a very vulnerable and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way. We can shut down and feel resentful or we can touch in on that throbbing quality.” Pema Chodron
The change of seasons offers us another opportunity to experience transitions...as we move from the high energy of summer into the more contemplative season of Autumn that so eloquently teaches us the art of letting go, of drawing in, demonstrating the cyclical nature of life and ultimately showing us the impermanence of life, we have to first of all notice these transitions in and around us and make the necessary changes to assist and support us through those changes. I love this time of year as the leaves turn varying shades of browns. reds and oranges and is one of my favourite times of year for walking and reveling in nature.
Any time we are transitioning from one phase to another we have to take extra care of ourselves and transitioning from one season to another is no exception, we are currently going from the summer which naturally has more agni or fire to Autumn which has a more drier quality to it. According to Ayurveda like increases like so during summer when there is naturally more heat and fire we tend towards cooling foods like salads and foods that are light and refreshing to cool the fire. During Autumn we may notice more airiness and space in and around us, causing us to feel more anxious, irritable, our sleep may be disturbed, we may feel spacey amongst other things. So during this time of transition if you are feeling agitated or don't have as much energy as you feel you should, it's okay! It's just a sign from nature and your body to slow things down a notch. Here are my top 5 tips for making a smooth transition from Summer to Autumn;
1) Make routine a priority, erratic schedules are especially aggravating at this time of year.
2) Eat grounding cooked foods such as warm soups.
3) Massage or self massage; because of the tendency towards dryness, the skin can dry.
4) Restorative yoga postures; the stillness from the restorative yoga is really calming and grounding at any time of the year but is especially needed at this time of year.
5) Meditation with mantra; my favourite is a So Ham meditation which follows the natural sound of the breath and also because of the tendency of the mind to movement allows the mind to still. Simply mentally repeat so with each inhale and the sound hum as you exhale, repeat for 3-5 minutes or longer if you have the time.
What are your favourite ways to transition easily an
I love scars...I find them beautiful and intriguing and each one holds a unique story to be told, the majority of us don't escape life unscathed by scars in some shape or form whether that be from a simple childhood scar or a scar resulting from surgery. Over the past few weeks I have been working more and more with these interesting structures as they can and often play havoc, restricting movement and function anywhere in the body from an organ to a joint, due to the scar tissue causing a pull in the fascial matrix. Fascia is our connective tissue which wraps around all of our muscles and bones and even our nerves, organs and arteries. As the name implies it connects and wraps around our whole body much like an intricate spider web. If there is a kink or a pull or restriction in one area of the body it has a ripple effect throughout the rest of your body, so when you hear someone say we are all connected they're not wrong. The analogy of a sweater is used quite often to describe this fascial network if you imagine a sweater and it has an area of pull this would be the equivalent of a restriction and would not only affect the sweater in that area but would affect the sweater as a whole.
Most people (and I was once one of those people) brush off their scars like its no big deal, "it's only small", "it was only keyhole surgery", "its from years ago" yet more and more I'm seeing that once the scar tissue is worked on chronic pain conditions are becoming a distant memory despite trying everything else.
Scar tissue forms following some source of trauma and is caused by the body's natural inflammatory response, a scar can have huge implications throughout the body, causing movement compensations that you would never have suspected could come from such a seemingly small scar. Most scars look quite neat and uniform on the surface but underneath you have tissue that is laid down in irregular patterns which helps to add strength to the weak/vulnerable area but can also add fibrotic adhesions. As a result scar tissue is usually less flexible than the tissue surrounding it and is never as functional as the tissue it replaces. So what are the benefits of scar tissue release-
~ Improves flexibility,
~Can lessen the appearance of the scars,
~Improves circulation and oxygen and thereby delivers nutrients to the area,
~Helps to relieve stress on the body from fascial restrictions,
~Helps to prevent adhesions forming post surgery,
~Reduces the risk of muscle tears and strains.
Scar tissue release can be offered as part of your massage treatment or for best results you can schedule in shorter, more regular treatments.
I've been a lover of books ever since I can remember (I apparently taught myself to read before I started school), it doesn't matter what form they come in fiction or non-fiction I love them both equally.
The thing about fiction books is the ability of the author to paint a picture of the characters, to make them come alive through the pages of the book that makes you feel like you know them in an intimate way. My favourite fiction books are the ones where you see the "character development" as the characters change and adapt to their environment, challenges and situations they are faced with. Like characters in books we are not robotic, static characters unchanged by the people we surround ourselves with or the circumstances and opportunities that we are presented with.
When I was at school I remember my teacher asking the class to define who we are in so many words and I can remember really struggling with this in order to find an answer that was a true representation of who I was. I can remember writing down kind and generous amongst other words which were really non-specific and true in some instances and not true at all in other respects.
I still struggle with this aspect of defining who I am. Are we really our characters? Do we not play different characters to some degree or other in accordance to who we are with at the time? Are you the same person with your close friends as you are your work colleagues? Are you the same person with your family as you are with the people you just meet? Do we not have a different character when when we are more stressed in comparison to when life is treating us good or when we are in love?
I've recently finished reading The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell which is about how small things can make a big impact and one of the many stories that stuck out for me was one of an experiment performed on student seminaries, where they were asked to prepare a short talk on a biblical theme and present it at a nearby building. Before the experiment began they were given a questionnaire about why they had studied theology, was it as a means of personal or spiritual fulfillment? Or were they looking for a practical tool for finding meaning in everyday life? They were then given varied subjects on the theme they were asked to talk about, some were asked to talk about the relevance of the professional clergy to the religious vocation and others were given the parable of the Good Samaritan. Finally the instructions given were varied too in some cases as they sent the students on their way the experimenter would look at his watch and say "Oh you're late". On the way to the presentation each student ran into a man slumped in an alleyway head down, eyes closed, coughing and groaning. If you were to predict who would help, would it be the students who had been reminded of the Good Samaritan? Or the people who entered into the seminary as a way to help the needy? Neither factor made any difference the only thing that mattered was whether the student was in a rush.
What The Tipping Point highlighted for me was how each of us is influenced by our surroundings, people, environment e.t.c. without even being aware of how these things influence us. What the above experiment suggests is that irrelevant of our thoughts or the feelings in our heart is the immediate contexts of our behaviour. By thinking we don't have time could turn a character that is usually compassionate and caring into someone that doesn't stop or even acknowledge when someone is in need. So if our characters are so interchangeable and dependent on context I'm left to ponder who am I if I'm not my character?
We are in part the characters that we portray but we are also so much more than that. Viewing and thinking ourselves to being a set way is limiting. I want to be able to acknowledge and accept myself in all situations; situations where I feel like I'm flowing in alignment with who I feel is my true character or my true self and also the shadow parts of me where I feel like I'm moving from a place that I don't necessarily want to accept as being part of my character. The next question to ponder is how do we know whether we are flowing in alignment with our true character and can we really separate ourselves from external factors and outside influences? I think the answer lies in continually questioning and exploring, perhaps we will gain a glimpse into our true nature or what we initially think is truth will actually completely change.
Each day is a little life: every waking and rising a little birth, every fresh morning a little youth, every going to rest and sleep a little death.
Ahh there is nothing quite like getting a good nights sleep. You feel refreshed and ready for the day, during sleep we are enhancing our learning and memory and even helping us to look our best as all our cells are given the necessary time to regenerate. I wrote in the last blog post the importance of making sleep a priority and wanted to go into more detail in this blog how vital to all of our bodily systems sleep is and if you have trouble sleeping some tips to help get the best sleep you can. Stress causes poor sleep and poor sleep causes stress.
Depending on the number of hours sleep someone has had can determine how we react to stress both big and small, if we have had a good nights sleep prior to a stressful event we are more likely to be able to cope in a better way than if we have been sleep deprived.
Lack of sleep has been know to cause all sorts of health disorders from lowered immune systems, weight gain, fatigue, moodiness, increased risk of accidents, concentration and memory problems, depression and other mood disorders, diabetes mellitus and metabolic disorder, your risk of developing cancer rises and you are 45% more likely to have a heart attack if you have 5 hours or less sleep a night.
So how do we know if we are sleep deprived? If you have any of the following you may be sleep deprived:
Do any of those sound familiar to you? So what can we do to develop a healthy sleep routine?
1. Value sleep enough to go to bed. So often when we lead busy lives we put sleep at the bottom of our list of priorities, who can afford to spend so much time sleeping anyway? But creating enough time to sleep can positively affect not only our health but also our quality of life, who wants to spend our life's constantly cranky and tired?
2. Go to bed around the same time every night preferably about 10pm. It is thought that for every hour you are asleep before midnight it is equivalent to two hours sleep. As well as going to bed at the same time try to wake at the same time each day too, even the weekends!
3. Avoid stimulants in the evening. It is well known that caffeine, alcohol and nicotine all disrupt sleep, not only making it harder to get to sleep but also prevents deep sleep which will cause disrupted sleep.
4. Stop watching TV or using the computer after 8pm. Many programmes and movies are high action and very stimulating and without us even being aware of it can cause a release of adrenalin making it very hard to wind down and even if they are not obviously visually and mentally stimulating these activities stimulate the brain rather than helping the mind to calm down. The artificial blue lights from screens also disrupts and can inhibit the release of melatonin which is needed to regulate your circadian rhythms.
5. Create a bedtime routine. Transition into a relaxed state and create a ritual around bedtime. Around an hour before bedtime run a warm bath, while the bath is running you can perform abhyanga (oil massage) on yourself which according to Ayurveda is very grounding. Adding relaxing oils such as lavender, neroli or chamomile to the bath can enhance the relaxing benefits. You may find journaling before bed helpful for releasing any worries you may have so you don't take your stress into your sleep world. Listening to relaxing music or white noise may be helpful to soothe your mind. Any relaxation techniques, meditation, restorative yoga or breathing techniques that you know would all help to calm and soothe the mind and begin to tap you into your parasympathetic nervous system or what is also known as the rest and digest system.
6. Create the perfect sleep space. Keep anything non sleep related away from the bedroom, so no work or computers or TV's. Make it a relaxing space, a dark, quiet, cool environment is ideal.
7. Exercise. Exercise is a great stress buster whether its a brisk walk or an hour in the gym, just make sure not to do it too soon before bedtime, if possible try and exercise earlier on in the day.
8. Massage. Massage is highly relaxing and can be a great way to de-stress the body and mind from tension.
9. Yoga Nidra. Yoga Nidra or yogic sleep is a deeply relaxing guided relaxation that rotates your consciousness around your body allowing you to release deep seated tension. So many of us go to bed full of all the tensions and worries that we've accumulated throughout the day hoping that sleep will help us feel refreshed upon waking when in fact if we don't release those stresses before we sleep our sleep won't be as be restful as it can be and we will often wake feeling groggy and not as refreshed as we can be. 30 minutes of yoga nidra is equivalent of 3-4 hours sleep. (Look out for a Yoga Nidra YouTube clip coming from KMTC soon).
What are your favourite bedtime routines? Or what have you found helpful to promote a wonderful sleep?
Advanced clinical massage therapist and yoga teacher.