Tag Archives: sleep

Meditation and yoga can’t be rushed!

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Over the holidays we have been decorating and installing a new bathroom, a job which was long overdue.  We’re not quite finished yet,  but I can’t wait for washing to become a more spa-like experience!

Decorating is not something which comes naturally to me. I’m more of an ‘ideas girl’. I love to come up with the colours and dream about what the completed room will look like, but the actual painting isn’t one of my natural skills. I started in the airing cupboard, before the new pipework and cylinder went in – it was probably best I started there before getting to the walls people would actually see! It was very hot and confined in there, but in the end I did an ok job – not brilliant, but not terrible, either.

So now I’m on the bathroom.  I didn’t think it would take all that long. It’s a tiny room, and a lot of the wall is tiled, so really, I expected it to be done by now. Not by a long way! I had completely underestimated just how much preparation goes into making a nice smooth wall to paint, particularly when that wall used to be completely tiled. We have filled and sanded twice over, I’ve primed and prepared, but the perfectionist in me can see this still isn’t ready – more sanding is going to be required (hopefully just one more time!) I am itching to see it finished, but I know it’s going to be a busy weekend, and maybe, just maybe, I might get to put the first coat of actual coloured paint on the walls!

But, all this painting is a good opportunity to practise some mindfulness. I need to be completely focussed on the task in hand (I don’t want to mess up my beautifully white ceiling that I have finished!) I don’t want to have to clear up sploshes of paint from the floor, the tiling or the window (which has already been beautifully painted, thank you very much!) Cutting in requires full attention! And, over the past couple of weeks, I’ve found a much greater enjoyment in decorating than I had ever believed possible – and I’ve learnt to be patient with the time it’s taking to get to the end result.

In short, I’ve learned to enjoy the process, one step at a time, rather than being endlessly focussed on the end result. And this, if you’ve been wondering how the title fits this post, is where meditation and yoga come in. My morning yoga and meditation practice, each day, is a chance for me to listen to my body, listen to my mind, and  select the practices which seem right for that very moment in time. I don’t have a goal, and some days the whole thing is more satisfying than others. When we start out in yoga, we may very well have a goal that gets us started – mine was recovering from a lengthy illness, as I wrote about here.

That goal may be less aches and pains, feeling fitter, being able to relax, better sleep, relieving stress, anxiety or depression – the list goes on. To start with, you’ll feel full of optimism and enthusiasm. But as you go on, you’ll realise, you need to relax and enjoy the process. You will keep moving closer to your goal, but the process itself can’t be pushed. For instance, if you want to be able to touch your toes when you haven’t reached past your knees in years, don’t expect to reach that goal on day 1! Don’t expect too much, or you’ll just get frustrated and feel that yoga isn’t working for you.  If you want to meditate, accept that, initially, you may be continually having to bring your mind back from whatever train of thought it keeps heading off on, and wriggling around to try and find a more comfortable position. This is just a part of the process, like sanding my wall – yuk!  – which we have to embrace in order to get to the other side (beautiful bathroom / peaceful mind and comfortable body!) If we try to rush things, and expect too much, too soon, we run the risk of giving up before we get anywhere.

So, by all means, have a goal.  Just don’t rush things, take your time and enjoy the whole experience 🙂

Alison x

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The importance of sleep

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We all feel so much better for a good night’s sleep.  But how many of us make it a priority in our busy lives?  There are so many things that can get in the way of us having enough time to sleep well and for enough hours.  I work with new mums, and remember well the effects of disturbed nights when my own son was small – nobody understands why sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture so well as a mum who is up all through the night! In Sarah Moss’s book, Night Waking, the protagonist Anna muses during yet another night up with her son as to how many years of her life she would gladly exchange for a full 8 hours:

It depends on how long my life will  be.  Of a hundred years, I would give ten. I think about how much reading I might be able to do between being ninety and a hundred. I would be at liberty to live in what my mother used to call All This Mess and upon KitKats and salt and vinegar Hula Hoops.  I’ve always fancied sheltered accommodation. I used to cycle past some flats…and I’d peer in and see old ladies with flowery wing armchairs…reading or watching television in the middle of the morning. When they were in those kitchens I bet they were baking cakes for themselves….No, I’m not giving up a decade of sugar-fuelled self-indulgence, even for sleep….OK, five years of a hundred. As long as the sleep is in solitude and somewhere soundproof and I know that Giles is on call for the children.

Moving to a global scale, what would I pawn for sleep? Would I, given the chance, have peace for Palestine or twelve hours in bed?….It’s a good thing Satan doesn’t come and chat to the mothers of sleepless toddlers in the middle of the night.

It is not, of course, only mothers who suffer from lack of  sleep.  Insomnia, meaning the inability to get to sleep in the first place or waking during the night, several times or for lengthy periods of time, is thought to affect up to one in three people on a regular basis, according to the NHS website.

People who suffer with insomnia may frequently feel so tired that it is difficult to get through the day, lacking the focus, concentration, and the energy to accomplish what they wanted to, either at work or home. They may experience physical fatigue, in the muscles of the body, headaches and  low mood.  Insomnia may also be caused by low mood, stress and anxiety, creating a vicious circle which can be hard to break. Even if it is theoretically possible to take a nap during the day, some people will find that very hard to actually achieve.

Yet more people have no difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep, but still feel tired in the morning because they didn’t get enough sleep to feel fully rested. They have gone to bed later than they meant to, or consistently don’t get to bed until 5 or 6 hours before they need to get up. They hit snooze on the alarm clock over and over in the morning, but those short 5 or 10 minute naps don’t cut it when what they really needed was a full night’s sleep.

So, how much sleep do we need? There is no set amount, as we all vary, and it will also depend on our level of exertion.  So some people might feel fully recharged after 7 hours or so, whilst others might need 9.  I personally fall somewhere in the middle, needing ideally about 8 hours to really feel I’ve had a good sleep. I get up early at 5am to do my morning yoga and meditation practice, so really would need to be asleep at 9 to achieve this – unfortunately, I don’t actually manage this all that often!  Especially when I teach one evening class which ends at 9.45! But I can get by on 7 hours reasonably comfortably – anything less, though, and I really start to feel the worse for wear!

I teach lots of techniques in my classes which can  help to energise us when we’re feeling a bit depleted.  They’re often particularly appreciated in my postnatal classes!  A good stretch to the back and leg muscles can help to boost energy levels, as in a standing forward bend, for example.  Dru yoga’s Energy Block Release 1 stretches the whole of the spine and the body in all directions, and is a particular favourite of mine on  low-energy days! But (and I know this is a real shame!), in the end there is no substitute for getting enough sleep, more often than not. We need to make sleep (and rest) more of a priority in our lives. We need to practice ‘sleep hygiene‘, cultivating habits which help us to switch off and get a good night’s sleep. Some of these habits include:

  • going to bed at a regular time
  • setting some time aside before going to bed to relax
  • having a warm bath
  • having a warm drink
  • not using screens and electronic gadgets before bedtime, and never in the bedroom
  • dim lighting
  • avoiding heavy meals in the late evening, try to eat earlier and not in the two hours before going to sleep
  • reading (for pleasure, not studying!)
  • gentle exercise like yoga,  rather than extreme exertion in the evening (but exercise daily!)
  • avoiding alcohol and caffeine
  • practising meditation or a deep relaxation before going to sleep
  • getting up and doing something else for a few minutes if sleep isn’t happening, rather than getting anxious about the time, and how long it’s taking you to get to sleep
  • dealing with any anxieties before going to bed, and if you wake up worrying over something, write it down in a notebook and promise yourself you will deal with it in the morning
  • wear earplugs and an eye mask if light and noise are stopping you from sleeping
  • drink plenty during the day but decrease during the evening

If you’re reading this and thinking that it’s all very well, but you just don’t have time to take it easy in the evening, and prepare for a good night’s sleep, it might be worth thinking about the consequences of not making sleep a priority. It is becoming well-known now that inadequate sleep can increase our risk of developing conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. What if you’re one of those people who is proud of how little sleep you need, and the amount of hours you put in at work? Well, I would suggest that, whilst you might get away with it for a while, in the end, lack of sleep will impact your wellbeing and the quality of both your life and your work.  I have recently been reading Arianna Huffington’s Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Happier Life, in which she talks about the ‘third metric’ of success – adding the idea of wellbeing, wisdom, wonder and giving to the traditional worldly way of judging success in terms of money and power. On the subject of sleep she quotes a 2013 study which showed that the brain has two fundamental states – one of being awake, totally aware, and one of sleep.  During the sleeping state, the brain ‘cleans up’, clearing out harmful protein wastes which build up in between its cells (Arianna Huffington ‘Thrive’ p76). These wastes may be associated with brain changes in ageing and dementia. So, if you want your brain to be fully awake during the day, you need to ensure it’s getting enough sleep at night.  And if that isn’t happening easily, try some (or all!) of the suggestions above to see what works for you. Catch-up naps in the day are also good if you have had a poor night’s sleep (without guilt!)

And, if none of this is working for you because you actually are a mum with a wakeful child – don’t despair!  Things will get better as your child gets older, but the age-old advice to sleep when your child sleeps is worth remembering – yes, even though the washing and ironing is waiting for you!  It can wait a little longer.

 

 

 

Autumn mornings

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I’m really enjoying the cool, dark mornings this week. Tiptoeing through the dark house, setting up my space for meditation, has taken on a new aspect and a new element of ritual, as I turn on the heater and light my candles and incense, before wrapping myself in my meditation shawl and settling into my practice.

I’ve been waking early, too, meaning that the house is in total quietness for much longer, and I’ve had longer for my meditation than I’ve managed in the week this whole term. Sleeping poorly at the beginning of the week has been a blessing in disguise, as I have rediscovered the bliss and peace of an hour (or more when I can!) of meditation. And it’s dark enough to practise Chandra namaskara (moon salutations) without feeling it’s the wrong time of day!

Adjusting my routine has proved a little more difficult than I hoped when my son and I started needing to leave home at 7.30am back in September. I was already waking at 5.20 before that, when we had extra time at home in the mornings, and pushing back to 5am to keep my meditation practice the same length of time just seemed too hard!  And I think I really needed to break that resistance, to learn that, for me, an hour of meditation is so worth a few minutes less sleep and a bit more rushing around! And considering I’d had so little sleep that night, my hour-plus to work deeply in meditation got me through the day with far more energy than I sometimes have with a full night’s sleep and a short meditation. So in a strange way I’m grateful for a night where sleep wasn’t happening…..it’s helped remind me of what I already knew and set me back on the right path.