Below you can find a recording of the relaxation I sometimes finish my yoga classes with. My regular students find it very relaxing and have mentioned they would like to have a recording of it. For instance, the recorded relaxation could help you (or your loved ones) to get to sleep. And remember rest is almost as good as sleep. If you are waking up during the night, instead of worrying about being tired the next day, a big meeting or similar, you could listen to this relaxation instead. At least you will find some rest.
So here it is! If you have any comments or suggestions please let me know. You can reach me under my email address firstname.lastname@example.org
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Stress is attributed to most GP visits and can be associated with the biggest health problems we face these days. Starting with cardiac diseases but also mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
How do we get stressed?
In his book Why Zebra’s Don’t Get Ulcers Robert M. Sapolsky explains why we get frazzled by small things and animals seem to be able to brush off the anxieties of being hunted all day every day. Of course, zebras can get stressed, they are a prime target of crocodiles, hyenas, and leopards after all. Animals react with the fight, flight or freeze response when stressed and when the incident is over they move on and forget about it.
However, as humans, we can keep a stressful experience alive purely as a function of our minds. Our bodies can’t determine whether a threat is real or whether we are creating an incident in our minds. By repeating worrying stories to ourselves we can create a panic response, which creates a downward spiral and we can end up for instance with digestive issues, sleep problems, or depression.
How can you tackle stress?
Mindfulness and yoga can help with reducing stress and associated problems. For instance, slow and deep breathing tells your body that the stressful situation has passed and that it’s time to relax. How often do you actually relax during the day? There is usually something going on. Our work is stressful, family life can be frantic, and usually, we fill every minute of our days with something to do, like our phones or television. By merely being still and breathing deeply and slowly five times, we can change your bodies perception of your environment and calm you down.
I find breathing techniques one of the most important tools in yoga. In my classes, I teach the three-part yogic breath which takes advantage of the full capacity of the lungs. This involves breathing into your belly, chest, and ribs. Filling all parts of your lungs with air and breathing out from your ribs, chest, and belly. Doing this regularly can make breathing fully a habit.
I am starting a new 4-week course on Wednesday 21st November 2018 called Gentle Yoga for Stressful Lifes where we will learn how to breathe fully and gently release tension.
Have you ever told an angry person to calm down? How did that go? My guess is, the best it went was they looked at you in disbelieve and the worse was they became even angrier. That’s exactly how it works for muscles. An angry, aggravated muscle will not let you stretch and lengthen it.
You could visualise this by making a tight fist and then try to gently move your fingers away from the fist. Not that easy right? Especially if you don’t want to damage your fingers. Then make your hand into a relaxed fist and, magic, your fingers move away quite easily.
Muscles tense for a reason. Most of the time it’s a good thing otherwise you wouldn’t be able to move. And sometimes they try to protect themselves and their surrounding area. And when they get tight and can’t release anymore they will most likely to start hurting.
How to release tension?
To release tension you could come into a position where you don’t use those muscles anymore. Do you have lower back pain? You could lay on your back, feet wider then your hips, knees pointing up and relaxing towards each other. That position hurts you? Turn around into child’s pose. Hips towards your heels, head relaxes down. You see, it is very difficult to relax when you are in pain. Rambo may have been able to breathe through the pain, but that took him a long while to learn.
When you found your relaxed pose, start to breathe. Fill the belly with air, the chest, the ribs and then visualise the area where you can feel tension filling with air. That rhythmic movement will calm your muscles and your mind. When the body notices there is no harm coming from you breathing it might even relax more.
And when you have found a relaxed state of long, deep, slow breathing, you might want to start adding some movement. Slowly. If you are lying on your back you could start shifting your pelvis from left to right, tilt it forward and backward, lift the hips up for an inhale and lower them down for an exhale. Slowly and mindfully. In child’s pose you could take both hands over to one side for a side stretch or shift the hips from side to side. Whatever tickles your fancy. Notice how it feels.
Just remember, if you can’t take full deep breaths because you are feeling the tension, back off.
Some days you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall asleep again. Your mind goes round and round in circles. Finally, you might fall asleep again at 5 am with one more hour to go until you have to get up.
Why do you have problems going back to sleep?
There are two ways of reacting to waking up during the night. If a ‘normal’ sleeper sets her alarm for 6 am, but wakes up at 3 am she probably just turns over and goes back to sleep. She might even think “Excellent, 3 more hours of sleep left!”.
If an insomniac wakes up at 3 am instead of 6 am her thought process may go “Oh no, I won’t be able to go back to sleep!”. She will start worrying about how tired she will look and feel the next day, that she has an important meeting or exam coming up and she may even have read up on the detrimental health impact little sleep has. From here it spirals downwards.
Waking up during the night is normal
We sleep in cycles. These cycles last 90-120 minutes in total. There are deep resting phases and then there are more alert phases (REM sleep) which are linked with memory and learning. It is very difficult to wake somebody during the deep resting phase, however, it is easy during REM. One explanation for this may be, that back in the cave days you wouldn’t have survived the night if you would have slept for a solid 6-8 hours. That’s why we ‘wake up’ every two hours or so to check everything is still fine and nobody is trying to get us.
What lifestyle changes can you implement
These days our circadian rhythms (our sleep and wake cycles) are being messed around by spending our days inside with bright lights, computer monitors and televisions. Our body doesn’t know when the day is finished and the night starts. To help your brain get back into its natural sleep pattern go for a walk outside at lunch time, get some sun or at least natural light. Dim or reduce your lighting from 8 pm onwards, so your brain starts to register a change. No more screens after 9 pm and how about trying to go to bed for 10 pm?
Having a consistent evening routine can help your body start winding down. Every night I drink a cup of chamomile tea (yes I used to hate it and now I love it) and when lying in bed I do a couple of stretches. Sometimes I read my book while I am doing them and sometimes I focus on my breath. Stretching can be a great way of releasing tension you are storing in your body. Try to find an evening routine that suits you. You could write in your journal, meditate or read.
What are other factors that can have an impact
Other factors which can have an impact on your sleep may be medical issues, pain, alcohol, drugs etc. For instance, a glass of alcohol can make you feel drowsy before going to sleep. However when the alcohol wears off your body actually asks for more.
Similar with caffeine. Caffeine has a half-life of 5-6 hours. Which means after 5 or 6 hours half of the caffeine is still in our system. It is only eliminated from our bodies after 10-12 hours. Please remember, even the doses aren’t as high, non-herbal teas, like green or black tea, contain caffeine as well. (By the way chocolate also contains caffeine. Sorry!)
Age can have an impact too. We may have been able to drink 3 coffees a day in our twenties, but as our bodies get older they just aren’t as efficient in eliminating these substances. Also, we may suffer from pain more regularly or have to go to the toilet during the night. Just remember waking up is normal and don’t start to stress.
These are a few things you can experiment with and see how changing them impacts your sleep. Usually, it takes about 40 days to assimilate a change. If one doesn’t work for you try another one.