We all experience the occasional bout of restlessness when trying to sleep. Chronic lack of sleep can have serious health issues such as increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, depression and obesity. Our ability to perform and sustain our energy for our responsibilities is hindered and this can also affect our mood making us grouchy, impatient and susceptible to overwhelm.
A few of my participants have shared that they are experiencing trouble getting and staying asleep in recent times. During the course, I refer to one of the obstacles to our mindfulness practice as ‘sleepitation’ which means we set out to practice mindfulness and become so relaxed we fall asleep. While some participants could relate to this, some could not and I noticed a trend began to emerge and I wondered about correlations of their experiences I did some research.
Research published in the Journal of Science indicate that our brains are more active in sleep than wakefulness. In this article on the Huffington Post the Duke University professor Dr. Murali Doraiswamy suggests the brain works harder as it organises, tidies up, purges and flushes out toxins along the way. These metaphorical brain teams can be understood as a janitors that take out the garbage, librarians that organise the books returned to make order out of chaos and lastly, it boosts our immunity and is essential foundation for all of our health.
According to the National Health Service (2013) there are many factors that contribute to difficulty in falling and staying asleep include such as stress, anxiety and pain. With one in three people having difficulty from time to time and one in ten people regularly, how can mindfulness and compassion practices help?
During a pilot study at Stanford Medical Centre (Ong, 2008-2009) improved sleep of 30 insomniacs using Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy course that lasted six weeks. Approximately 60% of participants no longer experienced chronic symptoms of sleep difficulties and this disqualified them as insomniacs. Benefits were sustainable according to the follow up to this study where participants reported they were falling asleep twice as quickly as they did prior to the course.
While there is no one size fits all solution to our sleep problems, there is some advice that you can consider when addressing your individual needs:
Lifestyle. Diet and exercise matters. If we are eating nutritionally empty foods and consuming stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, sugar and similar additives in abundance, we will be affected. Just like our vehicles need the right type of fuel to keep them running smoothly so does our bodies. Exercise is essential part of our daily routine and can help with the body releasing stress held in the body.
Conditions. We need to create the conditions for restful sleep. This means turning down stimulation and settling into a bedtime routine that supports restfulness. At least an hour before bed, turn down the volume on sensory stimulating devices – TVs, smartphones and choose instead restful activities such as reading, bedtime yoga or breathing exercises. Any activity that intention is to cultivate rest and relaxation can support you to wind down naturally.
A technique I teach clients is a modified body scan practice that can be done when you are having trouble falling or staying asleep:
Lay on you back in bed. Hands and legs uncrossed. Set intention to witness your awareness and be restful. Consider your motivation for doing so such as health and wellness. For example, “My intention is to be present and aware of my attention and my motivation is to be healthy and well.” You may want to consider the impact of this benefit and the wider result of being well rested on those around you.
Follow the breath moving in and out of your body wherever this is most obvious to you. You may want to slightly deepen the breath to regulate the in and out breath for the same length and duration. Some people find it helpful to count the breath in to 3-4 seconds and releasing the breath the same. You may want to experiment with just labeling the in breath ‘in’ and the out breath ‘out’ as well so breathing in you are aware you are breathing in and breathing out you are aware you are breathing out.
Once you feel settled on the rhythm of your breathing, you can begin by moving your awareness around the body. You may wish to do this is a systematic way, although I prefer random approach. For example, bring your attention to the following areas randomly, “left eye, tip of nose, back of head, right knee, chin, right foot, left elbow…”
Once you feel like the mind is actively engaged in this practice, bring your attention to settle on your core – the lower part of your torso, near the belly button and hold your attention here for a count of 10 breaths. If the mind wanders, that’s okay, as soon as you notice, just gently and kindly return to random moving your awareness around different body parts and returning to the core every so often.
Keep repeating for as long as you need to.
This practice meets an active mind with an intentional active practice that is interesting enough to engage it and tame it. It’s important that when the mind wanders this is not a problem, it’s the nature of the mind to have thoughts and this happens on it’s own – thoughts are self arising, self displaying and will go on their own if we don’t engage with them and turn thoughts into thinking. Using the attention to cultivate awareness of the body and hold our attention with a gentle and kind attitude can be soothing.
UCLA has a recording of a form of the body scan for sleep here (albeit I don’t really like the music you may!)
Watch this space as I am going to record my own version. You may wish to sign up to the mailing (bottom right corner of page to sign up) to get notified when it’s available.
Here’s a great video about how Smartphones affect our brain by Dan Siegel:
National Health Service (UK). (2013).
Ong, J. C., Shapiro, S. L., & Manber, R. (2008). Combining Mindfulness Meditation with Cognitive-Behavior Therapy for Insomnia: A Treatment Development Study. Behavior Therapy, 39, 2. 171-182.
Ong, J. C., Shapiro, S. L., & Manber, R. (2009). Mindfulness Meditation and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia: A Naturalistic 12-Month Follow-up. EXPLORE: The Journal of Science and Healing, 5, 1. 30-36.
These are structured group courses that teach the concepts, principles and practices of mindfulness in a secular learning experience for personal development.
Space is strictly limited and advance booking is required. Each class is two hours and includes all materials including handbook and guided meditation audio mp3s for home practice + Day of Mindfulness (optional)
Cost: £200.00 – concessionary places available for those on low income and benefits (contact to discuss).
This time of year is stressful for most people with the holiday season weighing down on them, and an endless list of to-dos and social invitations. The weather outside is getting colder, and our motivation is waning with the adjustment to shorter and darker days. With so much to do and seemingly much less time to do it, we can become easily overwhelmed. Even the predominant message of the season, to be Happy and Joyful, can bring about a layer of pressure when we are feeling anything but that!
Being able to hold it all together is a delicate balancing act of handling our responsibilities, along with taking care of ourselves. When we are edging toward overwhelm, our emotions can be raw with frustration, and outbursts of anger are common. Unfortunately, it’s not until we’ve hit a breaking point that we realize that we need to take time for self-care. By that time it’s harder to recover and bounce back into the game with a sense of optimism and goodwill.
The other day I was waiting in line at the petrol station to fill up my car. There were two cars in front of me, and the car at the very front pulled off and exited. The car behind me jumped ahead toward the first pump. Instead of waiting his turn, he cut me off by squeezing past my car and the car in front of us. This made it impossible for the car in front of me to exit, so both of us had to wait even longer in order for him to finish. Both the driver in front of me and myself were miffed about his inconsiderate action. I didn’t say anything in order to avoid a confrontation, but the other driver engaged this rude behavior by the other driver, and was met with a few inappropriate words and gestures that I don’t care to repeat. Things escalated from there and it turned into a yelling match between the two. As I sat in my car, feeling thankful I wasn’t directly involved, I wondered how to handle this situation in a balanced way.
So what do we do when find ourselves at a crisis point, or at the receiving end of someone’s inconsideration and rudeness? How can we tune into our own sanctuary of calm contentment in the maddening rush of our responsibilities? How can we be more compassionate and gentle with ourselves and others during this high-stress season?
First, be prepared for the madness. Yes, you must expect drama from others. Remember we are all trying to get things done, and we are all taking very little time to care for ourselves in the mad rush. When we expect that drama is likely to happen, we are less likely to be taken aback with shock or horror in the face of it. We can more readily accept this as part of the (albeit not as joyful) holiday season.
Once we have accepted the inevitability of drama we can begin to implement some self-care into our routine. Let’s look at that petrol station drama. Instead of provoking and amplifying the drama, you could use this as a moment to recall times when you’ve also been hasty, impatient, inconsiderate and rude (yes you!). We all have been guilty of this. You could remind yourself that, “Just like me, everyone is trying to get things done. Just like me, everyone gets stressed. Just like me, everyone can be inconsiderate.”
By reminding yourself of our own shortcomings, you can create a more compassionate approach toward those who are caught up in a moment of drama. We are then much less affected by the negativity, as we are less reactive and more responsive with compassion towards ourselves and others.
Secondly, whatever you are left with after a high-stress incident; let it be. The Beatle’s were right when they said, “Whisper words of wisdom; let it be.” Perhaps this is a good time to whisper or hum this to yourself in your head to tap into the sentiment. We often carry the drama with us long after the moment has passed. Remember to let it go, and let it be. This is a good practice. Rumination is the killer of joy, and learning some practical ways to deal with it will go miles toward your health and wellbeing. Here are three doors you can choose to enter to interrupt a ruminating habit that you can try:
Check-in with your body. You can check-in by dropping down from your head to your body, and by paying close attention to all of your bodily sensations and sensory perceptions. A simple way to do this is to enquire: “What do I see, hear, taste, touch, smell, and feel right now?” This is a ‘below the neck’ felt sense of the moment which can help you ground your attention by using the body’s awareness, which lowers stress levels.
Follow the breath. The breath is always happening in the present moment’s experience whether you are aware of it or not. Most likely you aren’t aware, as you’re living above the neck in your thoughts. When we follow our breath by paying attention to how it feels to breathe, we engage our parasympathetic nervous system, which has a calming effect. This effectively lowers stress levels.
Be kind to yourself. Being kind to yourself can entail a soothing touch such as placing your hand over your heart or touching your own hand in a gentle way. It’s treating yourself the way you would treat a dear friend who was suffering. Speak to yourself with a nurturing tone such as, “This is hard. Let me be kind.” Research shows that people who are compassionate within themselves are more caring and compassionate toward others, and can handle life’s challenges with more ease.
If you’re already a frazzled mess, then take skilful action after trying steps 1 and 2, and then change the scenery. Take yourself outside for a long walk, breathe deeply as you do this, and come back to your senses as you do. Research shows that walking is beneficial and helps to lower stress levels.
Finally, send a wish for all those stress-heads out there trying to survive the storm of their overwhelming situation through the understanding of peace and harmony. You may be surprised how far this goes to soften your own demeanor when you’re in the fray of a hustle and bustle situation. This practice of imagining that you are paving your future moments with good intention will result in you feeling healthy, happy and well. Even if our good intentions do not manifest, we can still appreciate the fact that gladness in our heart promotes goodness in our lives. All these practices can help you to bring balance to a high stress moment, and remind you that it’s only a brief moment of madness. We’re all yearning to be happy, healthy and well. May you be kind to yourself and others and have a joyful holiday season.
Course activities include meditation, short talks, experiential exercises, group discussion, and home practices. The intention is for participants to directly experience self-compassion and learn practices that evoke self-compassion in daily life. Optional Day of Mindfulness is included in the course fee.
Book online below.
The day provides participants with opportunity to experience mindfulness in a supportive setting under the guidance of a experienced mindfulness teacher(s).
The day consists of a mix of formal and informal mindfulness practices such as guided meditations, group inquiry, reflection practices, walking meditations, movement meditations, mindful eating plus periods of silence.
The day is open to all and is a great introduction to the practice. If you are curious about mindfulness but unsure about a commitment to a full course then this day is a great opportunity for that. Some people find it difficult to maintain a regular mindfulness practice and this day of coming together – to practice and share with others – provides a supportive and encouraging setting for participants to continue with their own practice.
What to bring: Yoga mat, blanket (please note that there may be a wooden floor); sitting cushion (optional); and layered clothing in case the room is warm or cold. We will provide water, coffee and teas but please feel free to bring your own.
Lunchtime: Please bring a packed lunch so that we can eat together mindfully as a group.
Locations: Centrally accessible location in Stratford upon Avon, Warwickshire. Day of mindfulness is discounted for current and former participants.
10:00 Sitting Meditation
10:30am Welcome & Topic Talk
11:30 Walking Meditation
12:30 Lunch Together
14:00 Sitting Meditation
15:00 Topic Talk & Group Discussions & Activities
16:00 Day ends
2016 Dates (subject to change and outside activities dependent on weather)
Saturday, 27th February 2016
Saturday, 21st May 2016
Saturday, 20th August 2016
Saturday, 26th November 2016
Early booking is advisable to avoid disappointment.
8-week MBCT Course at The Wishing Well, Bromsgrove
Each Wednesday from 10am to 12pm
Sep 30; Oct 7, 14, 21; Nov 4, 11, 18, 25
Come along and discover what mindfulness is and how you can use it to live more fully in the present moment which can help with managing stress, depression, anxiety and enhance your wellbeing. For more information on the course please visit here: About MBCT
The Wishing Well
Holistic Centre & Cafe
16 St John Street
Bromsgrove B61 8QY
The Wishing Well is conveniently located directly opposite a Pay and Display car park. Free parking is available in the nearby Sanders Park during daylight hours – this car park closes at dusk.
8-week MBCT – Bromsgrove
8-Week MBCT Course – Bromsgrove
Each Wednesday from 10am to 12pm
Sep 30; Oct 7, 14, 21; Nov 4, 11, 18, 25 Available Qty: 7