Assuming you know the basics, such as having a fairly regular schedule, not watching/reading stimulating stuff close to bed-time, having a dark, cool room, limiting protein at dinner and liquids in the evening, here are some additional suggestions
1. Breathing Lessons: I’ve found 3 techniques helpful.
- The first is simple, diaphragmatic breath. Put one hand on your chest and one on your tummy. To breathe from your diaphragm you want the tummy hand to rise and fall and the chest hand to barely move. Imagine you’re inflating and deflating a balloon in your abdomen if that helps. Then simply breathe in this way – it is quite relaxing on it’s own or you can use a count such as breathe in to a count of 4 and out to a count of 5.
- The second method is from yoga wisdom (and recently resurrected by Dr. Andrew Weil). It’s the 4-7-8 count. Breathe in through your nose to a count of 4, hold for a count of 7, then breathe out slowly through your mouth to a count of 8. Inhale again and repeat the cycle three times.
- The 3rd method is 8-16-32. Start by laying on your left side and count to 8. roll to your back and count to 16, roll to your right side and count to 32 (if you’re still awake).
2. Speaking of left and right sides, in Yoga wisdom there are channels in the body called Nadis. In brief, one side of the body is more “energetic” and the other more “relaxed.” You can control these energies with your breathing. First, see whether your left or right nostril is more open/less obstructed/stronger right now. Likely it’s your right since you are up and reading. To relax and sleep, you want your left to be stronger…..so, lie on you Right side to activate the LEFT nostril. It should switch in a minute or two.
3. This next one is my own amazing discovery (as far as I know). When you are awake, you are thinking. At night, if your thoughts are clear, you’ll be wide awake. When you start to fall asleep though, they naturally get murky and sometimes a bit strange, right? So, you can make them murky on purpose! What I do is talk gibberish in my mind……just sounds and jumbled up words like, “laoobadoochachamoo” or some other nonsense. Keep it going and see what happens.
When I tell a new client or student that the best tactic for overcoming fear and anxiety is to turn toward them rather than away, they often look at me in utter disbelief. Nonetheless, it is true.
Fear is a universal human experience. We are all hard-wired for the fight, flight or freeze response which serves us well in times of actual danger. But in these stress-filled times, fear and anxiety seem to have become a part of our everyday lives, even when there is seemingly no immediate danger. This kind of fear causes us great physical, emotional, and spiritual distress. So what is the alternative to fighting it, fleeing from it, or letting it freeze us in place?
The first, and most important step is to stop and ask yourself, What is this I’m experiencing? Open to it. To begin to transform it, we need to learn to look into it with curiosity; letting ourselves be present with the direct experience of how it feels in our own bodies, even when we’d rather avoid it. When we open to this experience, we can begin to soften around it so that it begins to loosen its grip. Once it lightens up, we can add a number of ways to calm our over-loaded nervous system or overly-busy minds. I usually suggest tools from Yoga, Relaxation, breath awareness and Meditation. These practices help us stay present and give us a context through which we can experience fear and allow it to move through us. We know through research and experience that:
- Meditation helps us understand how we create fear-based stories in our minds and how to stay present with challenging emotions.
- Contemplative, relaxation-based practices such as restorative, Gentle Yoga or t’ai chi reduce anxiety by helping us breathe deeply, slow down and regain our balance.
Once you’ve tried these tools and determined which resonate most with you, engage with them often when you’re not fearful. Begin to build “peaceful strength.” With repeated practice, you create new, healthy patterns for dealing with the hard times when they do come along.
It’s important to know that no matter how dysfunctional our relationship with fear may be, we have the built-in capacity to transform it inside our own bodies by getting to know it for what it is – bodily sensations and thoughts, all of which are workable.
I have 2s CD for sale in my shop, “Deepening Into Peace and Quiet, Mindful Relaxation” and “Deep Peace Yoga Nidra” – you might add one or both to your tool-box and let them help you learn to let go of tension and be more fully in the moment.
May you be happy, healthy at and peace.
How to begin a Mindfulness Meditation Practice
I am often asked about how to start a mindfulness meditation practice. I always begin my answer by dispelling a couple of common misconceptions that people often have. First, I explain that meditation is not supposed to still your mind or stop you from thinking – though it may slow it down a bit. What it does do is help you begin to change your relationship to your thoughts and feelings. I also point out that, in the beginning, it is not always a completely pleasant experience. We are often surprised to notice how busy our “monkey-minds” are, or we’re aware of how uncomfortable it can be to sit still and use muscles we’re not accustomed to engaging. With practice though, we learn how to work with the mind and body in ways that allow a kind of “loosening up” which leads to a more peaceful experience.
To begin a meditation practice, the best way to develop mindfulness is to focus on the breath. The breath is always there so it the perfect anchor to help us stay in the present moment.
You’ll want to sit in a way that is relaxed, comfortable and upright. You may sit on a cushion on the floor or it is perfectly fine to sit in a chair. Your back lengthens gently, as if there’s a puppet string pulling you up; then, relax your shoulders. As you are taking your seat, bring your awareness to what you are doing in the moment, settling in to your body.
Once settled, close your eyes and sense your body more deeply. Feel where you touch the chair or the cushion or the earth. Sit with as much ease as possible, relaxing your chest, your abdomen, your face, jaws and shoulders. Breathe naturally and focus your attention at the tip of your nostrils. Notice the cool air as you breathe in and the warmed air as you breathe out. Perhaps you can feel where the air touches inside your nose. Simply be present with the breath without trying to change it. Notice if the breath is long or short, deep or shallow. See if you can follow one in-breath, notice the pause, and then one out-breath. Then do that again. It’s fine to count your breath as you get underway as a way to help steady your mind. Or simply say silently, “in” when you breathe in and, “out” when you breathe out. After a minute or two, come to silence and just join with the breath.
As you are doing this, you’ll notice that your mind wants to think about something else. This is what minds do! Don’t make it a problem. Simply notice when you’ve been thinking or caught up in some memory of the past or worry about the future and gently invite your mind to come home to this body, this present moment, the next breath. Usually you will have to do this over and over again. No worries. No judgment. You’re doing just fine. The practice becomes one of returning over and over again to the here and now, to the next breath, and beginning again. Remember that this is called a “practice” for a good reason. Be patient. Be kind. Start with 10 minutes and add to your time as you feel comfortable doing so.
May you be happy, healthy, and at peace.
Therapeutic relaxation invites us to practice certain skills that create a specific physical response. The common denominator of all inducers of the relaxation response is an internal focus which signals your body that it is safe and that it’s okay to relax.
When you simply shut your eyes and turn your attention inward, muscles begin to relax, nerves are calmed, anxiety is decreased, and healing is enhanced.
Try this: Just shut your eyes for one minute and notice how you feel.
Try this: Take a minute to simply notice your breath. Not changing it in any way – just paying attention. Is it deep or shallow? Rapid or slow? Chances are that if your breath is shallow, your mind is racing, your muscles are tight and you feel hurried or anxious. If, however, your breath is calm, your mind, body, and emotions are as well.
Try this Simple Breathing Lesson:
Begin by finding a safe, quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Sit comfortably or lay down on your back, close your eyes, and once again bring your attention to your breath. Now place your hands lightly just below your waistline on your tummy and imagine that you can inflate a balloon under your hands. As you breathe in, your hands should rise slightly. Then let the balloon out, noticing that your hands fall. This is our “natural” breath and is very soothing.
For deeper relaxation, try this:
1. Inhale naturally through your nose.
2. Exhale naturally through your nose.
3. Pause while saying to yourself, “Letting go, Letting go.”
4. Repeat Steps 1, 2, 3 and continue breathing in this way for a few minutes.
Come back to your “normal” breath and notice how you feel.
May you be happy, healthy and at peace.