How to let go so you can sleep

woman looking at the clock with sleep problems

If you are human, chances are you have, at some point in your life, had trouble sleeping. But, if you regularly have trouble sleeping, you may want to look into what’s causing it and chances are you can do something about it. Without getting too much into the physical, medical causes of insomnia, there are some things you can do to improve your quality of sleep.

According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 30% of adults suffer from some form of insomnia (difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, waking up too early, and in some cases, non-restorative or poor quality of sleep.)

Here are some common causes for insomnia:

  1. Stress
  2. Anxiety
  3. Depression
  4. Certain medications
  5. Caffeine, nicotine, alcohol
  6. Medical conditions
  7. Change in your environment or schedule
  8. Poor pre-sleep habits
  9. ‘Learned’ insomnia i.e. worry about not being able to sleep
  10. Eating too late

Barring any physical or medical causes for insomnia, there are a few controllable factors that may contribute to your inability to fall or stay asleep, and there are some ways you can give give your brain the night off.

Here are some things to do to help improve your ability to sleep:

  1. Recognize your need for sleep.  If you need to cut corners at night, give up that last activity rather than short yourself on sleep.
  2. Cut out chocolate, and caffeine they overstimulate the adrenal glands which causes an overproduction of hormones which leads to adrenal fatigue or exhaustion
  3. Maintain a regular sleep schedule and stay in sync with your circadian rhythm
  4. Exercise.  An overabundance of energy can lead to anxiety and sleeplessness, which leaves you feeling sleepy and depleted. While it might seem like you’re too tired to exercise, give it a try.
  5. Have a healthy pre-sleep routine comprised of hygiene and winding down
  6. Write down your worries. If you capture your list of worries (early in the day), your mind will consider it accounted for and can help you to let go.
  7. Only use your bed for sleeping (and intimacy). You’ve heard this before, but it’s true.  Don’t use your bed for television watching or gaming as they stimulate your brain and make associations with the bed for NOT relaxing.
  8. Make your bedroom a sleep haven. Keep it cool, and dark.  Any amount of light or fluctuation in temperature can interrupt your sleep.
  9. Pre-sleep yoga.  Poses like forward folds and child’s pose relax the nervous system.
  10. Meditate. If you find your mind wandering during meditation, try a guided meditation that’s timed to go off automatically so you can drift off into sleep.
  11. Breathing. Often, we breathe only in the chest in ‘fight or flight’ mode making it impossible to relax. Exercises like alternate nostril breathing or taking slow deep belly breaths with controlled exhale can help calm the mind.
  12. Give your mind something else to do.  When all else fails, and your mind is still racing when you hit the pillow, focus your brain on something else like a good memory or thinking of fruits with a certain letter.

If none of these things work, you may want to consult a sleep specialist to find out if there’s more going on.  Here are a couple of videos that you might find helpful in your quest for sound slumber.

Yoga for Bed Time with Tara Stiles

Guided meditation to sleep


Give your brain permission to stop working so you can get some sleep.

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

(Photo: My Healthy News Daily)

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Take your mind off the gas pedal

namaste license plate

As is often the case, today’s blog post was inspired by a conversation with a friend.  Ironically, we were discussing the topic of yesterday’s post, Refilling your patience carafe.’  We were talking about keeping our cool when despite our best efforts to maintain a peaceful attitude, life still comes at you.

He told me about a recent incident he had when he was in the car with his kids, and found himself to be the object of someone’s road rage.  At first he was able to rise above, but the other driver had long gone ’round the bend’ (pun intended), and soon he found himself feeling taken over by the same frustration. He was able to stay out of the chaos, because he was concerned most with his children’s safety, but was still seething long after he’d gotten of the road.

How often do we relinquish control of our happiness or unhappiness to someone else?  When we allow someone else to control us, we’re really just giving ourselves over to ego, to the monkey mind.  “How dare he do that to me?”  “Who does she think she is?”  “I’m never going to pass that test.” “Where am I going to find the money for that?”

When we replay conversations or situations that didn’t sit right with us over and over, it’s like we’re stepping on a thought accelerator.  And once you find yourself in this obsessive ’round about’ it’s hard to see the exit. How often are we really just mind racing ourselves?

I found myself in a sort of ‘thought loop’ the other day, and decided to take an online class with Marc Holzman targeted at grounding yourself after a hectic day.

The poses were delicious, of course, but it was a quote he kept repeating that really helped me to let go.  The saying had been passed to his teacher from the Maharashi, and then passed down to him

“Oh my mind, be kind to me.”

Sometimes something as simple as an inspiring quote can unlock a new door.  I love this quote, and will definitely incorporate it often into my practice and my teaching.

How else can we find our way out of the roundabout?  Be aware of your physical and emotional reaction without trying to change it.  Awareness is distance from attachment. And give your mind something to do like focus on your breath.

The breath tells us a lot about the mind.  If your breath is wobbly, labored or short, so goes your mental state. You can begin to let your mind off of the gas pedal and cruise by witnessing your own breath.

May your mind be kind to you, and your breath help you shift into neutral.

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

(Photo: Recycledartco / Etsy)

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A letter to yogis with chronic illness

meditation for chronic illness

Since I started this blog, and started telling my story, specifically, “When Breathing isn’t Easy – A Cystic Fibrosis Adult’s Journey to Teaching Yoga,” I began to get emails from people with Cystic Fibrosis (CF) or parents of children with CF from all over the world. I’ve done my best to give advice based on what I’ve learned and on my own personal experience. I often hear from yogis with CF about their struggles with practicing yoga without being self-conscious, which I don’t think is unique to people with CF.

So, here’s a letter to the yogis who have expressed doubt about pursuing yoga because they are afraid some aspect of their illness will be bothersome to other people in a yoga class.  While this one is targeted at someone with CF, the message is applicable to all of the yogis out there battling chronic illness.

“Dear Awesome Yogi,

I certainly understand what you’re going through, and your concern about starting a regular practice in class out of fear that your cough will distract or irritate other students.  As people with CF (or any chronic illness for that matter), we don’t ever want to be a bother to anyone or be pitied, etc., right?
 
The thing is, our cough is really a bigger deal to us than to anyone else.  I used to struggle through savasana because it was hard to breathe lying flat on my back, and I didn’t want to disturb anyone.  So, I started taking savasana on my side or sitting against the wall.
 
For the yoga teachers whom I saw regularly, I let them know about my challenges, and the modifications I chose to make.  None of them ever have a problem with it.  In fact, all of them had additional, helpful suggestions on how I can modify my poses so I can get the most out of my practice without adding mind struggle to the mix.
 
I also had the same reservations about teacher training.  I thought, “what if I start coughing during meditation?”  “what if I have to miss a week because I’m sick?”  “what if I get made fun of because I’m too thin?”  Turns out,  it was the most loving, welcoming and accepting experience I’ve ever had.  It literally changed my life, and my preconceived view that people judge me because of my illness.
 
In training, we had several check-ins during the day in which we went around in a circle and discussed what we were feeling, anything that was on our minds, etc.  Right away, when it was my turn, I shared with my fellow students.  I told them about my disease, my struggles, my  triumph, my concerns, and no one responded with pity or disgust.  I felt a weight lift off of my shoulders as I unburdened myself from this “secret” I was harboring in an effort to protect myself.   My fellow teacher colleagues were understanding, and it actually led more people to open up about their own issues.
 
The coughing was rarely an issue.  In fact,during meditation, if I had to cough, I realized that they were all probably deeply into their meditation or just understanding because no one acted ‘disturbed.’
 
Yoga is about cultivating acceptance of exactly where you are right now.  It’s also about silencing the mind despite what’s going on around you.  So, maybe our cough serves as outside noise to someone who’s working on their personal meditation practice and needs to learn how to focus inward despite what’s going on outside of their space.
What you have to recognize is that EVERYONE has some hangup about themselves.  Something they’re self-conscious about that they either flat out with didn’t exist, or something they’re working through.  So, you’re not as alone as you think.  If you have to cough, cough.  If it causes you so much anxiety that you can’t focus on your practice, step outside.  Have your coughing fit, and come back to class.

Yoga, pranayama and meditation will help your lung capacity as well as your self-acceptance, and help with anxiety.  Use your anxiety about your illness as an opportunity to grow, spiritually.  when you feel a wave of emotion or fear begin to rise up, simply let it go.  Or better yet, ride it all the way to shore and know that you’re not alone.  
 
Keep in touch, and let me know if you need anything else.
 
Sincerely,
Lisa”

Again, while I know this is slanted for someone with a respiratory disorder, the message is the same. Don’t be ashamed of who you are, no matter what. If you have an illness that you’re battling and someone in your yoga class is ‘disturbed’ by it. That’s their problem to work through. Allow you to be yourself, and all that comes with it. Accept yourself with the same unconditional love you would show a child who needs you.

Love starts with you.

(Photo: The Conversation)

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

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The breath inside the breath

Are you looking for me?
I am in the next seat.
My shoulder is against yours.
you will not find me in the stupas,
not in Indian shrine rooms,
nor in synagogues,
nor in cathedrals:
not in masses,
nor kirtans,
not in legs winding around your own neck,
nor in eating nothing but vegetables.
When you really look for me,
you will see me instantly —
you will find me in the tiniest house of time.
Kabir says: Student, tell me, what is God?
He is the breath inside the breath.”
― Kabir

Namste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

Photo credit: Pinterest

If you’re happy and you know it, just sit there

woman happy yoga

“You are already happy. The reason you don’t experience it is that it’s covered up by layers of suppressed emotions and negative thoughts. Shift your attention and your inherent happiness flashes forth.” – Steve Ross The other day, I had … Continue reading

Yoga in India – it’s not what you think

Shruti Pandey

Shruti Pandey

I recently spoke to a friend who teaches yoga in India. She said when people call to inquire about her classes, it all follows a surprisingly similar pattern:

“Hi. I read you teach yoga. Can you tell me what exactly you teach?”

“Sure – I teach asanas, followed by a relaxation at the end.”

“Oh – I assumed it would be meditation and pranayama. Do you teach that?”

“Well, not really. I teach mostly the postures and deep relaxation.”

“Sorry, that doesn’t really sound like the right thing for me.”

You have to digest that: People calling up for yoga classes in India simply assume that it’s meditation and pranayama that will be taught. They don’t care that much about the asanas. To them, yoga means something else. Yoga, that’s a way of living. Not a way of stretching yourself, sweating until you’re able to mold your body into pretzel postures, and then for days relishing that feeling of success. I guess many of them would just shake their head (no, not the head wiggle that means YES) when being told what became of yoga in the Western World. Continue reading

On Yoga, Really (3 of 3): Breathe and Be

meditateIn the first two posts of this series, I talked about the yamas or “laws of life” and the niyamas or “rules for living,” so now we come to pranayama and meditation, both of which flow through and are essential for the previous two limbs.  When I was going through teacher training and we learned about each yama and niyama, I started to feel anxious thinking about all of the work I had to do to change myself.  I had this mental checklist running through my head.  As I began to examine the deeper meanings behind the yamas, such as violence which can be as subtle as thinking a harsh thought towards someone who is making your life difficult at work, I really started to panic.

When you really dissect all of the subtle ways we can be “in violation” of these universal moralities and personal observances, it can quickly become a challenge to stay present and not judge yourself.  So, I read more and listened more and started to see that simply ‘noticing’ when I’m in a situation in which I have an opportunity to practice non-violence or moderation, my actions naturally began to shift. Add pranayama and meditation to the mix, and these qualities of living a yogic life begin to arise unconsciously; they become part of your DNA.

Continue reading

When Breathing isn’t Easy – A Cystic Fibrosis Adult’s Journey to Teaching Yoga

breathe-rockI recently had the opportunity to tell the story of my journey as a kid with a grim diagnosis of Cystic Fibrosis to becoming an (almost 40) adult who teaches yoga — who teaches about the breath.

When I was five years old, my parent’s received a devastating blow.  They learned that me, their only child, had Cystic Fibrosis, a genetic lung disease that would gradually progress making it difficult for me to breathe and take part in activities like other children. It would also shorten my lifespan.

Read the whole post, When Breathing isn’t Easy – A Cystic Fibrosis Adult’s Journey to Teaching Yoga

Namaste.

-Your Charmed Yogi

Just Breathe – even when it isn’t easy

breath-artworkPranayama is a Sanskrit word meaning “extension of the prana or breath” or more accurately, “extension of the life force”.  Put simply, it’s the art of breath control.  For some people taking just one full conscious breath is not part of their day.  We live in a world full of anxiety & fear; moving too quickly from one moment to the next. Short, shallow breaths have become normal and almost nobody realizes that they’re doing it.   As an adult with a chronic respiratory illness,  breath had been a struggle at times throughout my life.  But then I discovered yoga.   In addition to the asanas or poses, I learned how to breathe for the first time in my life.  I didn’t realize that,  for much of my life, I wasn’t taking  full breaths, and when I finally experienced what it was like to take a full, conscious breath, it was like the first real breath I’d ever taken.   I realized that my illness played a part, but that I’d fostered bad breathing habits for years as a result of anxiety, fearfulness, and simply a  lack of awareness.

As children, we just let that belly hang out and breathe — true diaphragmatic breathing.  As we get older, stress manifests itself in breath holding, or a tightened belly, restricting breathing to just the upper lungs.   The body actually interprets this kind of breathing as a fight or flight response set off by the sympathetic nervous system.  Every time you neglect to take a full breath, it’s the same response as if your body is under attack.   No wonder so many people suffer from sleep disorders or are just plain tired or anxious much of the time. So, let the belly hang and relax — no one’s looking.

Try this.  Find a comfortable seated position without anything restricting your belly or chest.  Give yourself breathing room (pun intended).  On an inhale, expand the diaphragm, then breathe up into the lungs, and hold if for just a moment. Then let it out slowly for a truly complete breath.   This full, diaphragmatic breathing, activates the calming response of the parasympathetic nervous system.  Notice that you feel calmer, lighter, and more present.  If you practice 3-5 of these full, conscious breaths often throughout each day, it will once again become your natural respiratory state and not such a concerted effort.  In addition to oxygenating the blood, and removing carbon dioxide gas, this three-part breath also known as “yogic complete breath” brings you back to the present and calms the mind.  I find this type of breathing the most beneficial in increasing lung capacity and relaxing my “chest armor.”

breathe-tagxedo

In my yoga classes, I’m a virtual pest about reminding my students to breathe and to let the breath guide the pace of their Vinyasa.  If they try to “catch up” to the pose with their breath, they’re back into a shallow, stressed breathing pattern and they’re out of their practice.  Let the breath guide you on and off the mat.  If you’re in the midst of a crisis, or you’re in a difficult pose and find yourself panting or holding, breathe in feel the word, “let,”  and when you breathe out feel the word, “go.”  Breathe in.  Breathe out.  And, let go.

For Danni & Ruby with Love, breathe deeply and often.

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi