Sleep, or lack of it, affects us in many ways.
Our health, immune system, mental acuity, emotional state, relationships, physical growth, performance, and even our waistline is affected by our quality of sleep. For many of us, this good quality sleep is getting harder to come by. Here are some answers on how to get the best sleep possible.
Eight ways to live a meaningful and purposeful life
Many philosophies have similar agendas, but have different names
A simple life boils down to a few simple ideas
Life really is quite simple: Focus on the moments; learn from our past, and do things today that will benefit our future.
So, I ask you: What are you doing this very moment to honor these three things? Do you feel like you can focus on each moment, being present and mindful? Have you allowed yourself to heal and grow from your past (even from just a minute ago)? And, are you actively preparing yourself to have a better tomorrow?
Life really is that simple.
If life is so simple, why do we tend to make it so complicated? … As I was contemplating this, I was reminded of some basic philosophies and behaviors that can bring us back to simplicity (if we choose it).
In my training to become a yoga instructor, we spent an entire weekend discussing Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga, which describes eight ways that we can live a meaningful and purposeful life (1) – including mindfulness, meditation, nonviolent thought/behavior, surrender to God, and others.
Similar teachings were brought to the forefront of my mind as I was re-reading a book on stress relief (2). I was reminded of Levels of Responding, including acceptance and gratitude (2, pg. 52); meditation; and exercise. It became more apparent that the ways to have a simple (and enjoyable/meaningful) life are being taught within many different names.
I have ready a decent number of books, and I used to get so confused as I would read one type of philosophy and then another – thinking they were all saying something completely different.
However, I am beginning to understand that many of the same things just have different names. Love is love even if you call it acceptance, nonviolence, allowance, or forgiveness. I was making it more complicated than it actually is.
As we strive to find meaning, purpose, and peace in this life remember, it all boils down to these simple ideas: living in the moment (mindfulness, gratitude, meditation), letting go of the past (nonviolence, surrender), and doing things now that will benefit our future (exercise, yoga, spirituality).
It really is that simple. Let’s try to keep it that way.
Simple meditation practice improves pain tolerance
Meditation produces deeper brain wave activity
It can help you fall asleep faster, reduce anxiety, and reverse the stress response
In a study from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, people who meditated for just 20 minutes a day saw their pain tolerance rise in 4 days.
Volunteers learned an ultra-easy technique called mindfulness meditation that teaches you to focus on your breath and stay in the present moment, not worry about what’s ahead.
A Higher Pain Tolerance
Researchers tested the volunteers’ pain thresholds with mild electric shocks and found that shocks considered “high pain” before meditating felt mild afterward. Volunteers who didn’t learn the meditation had unchanged responses to the shocks. (No, we can’t imagine why anyone volunteered for this, though we’re grateful that they did.)1
This is great news because about 30%-80% of the adult U.S. population suffer from an occasional tension, or stress headache. Approximately 3% of those suffer from chronic daily tension headaches. Women are twice as likely to suffer from tension-type headaches as men. 2
Many of these poor sufferers don’t realize that medications don’t cure headaches and that, over time, pain-relievers and other medications may lose their effectiveness. In addition, all medications have side effects. The truth is that pain medications are not a substitute for recognizing and dealing with the stressors that may be causing your headaches.
Why Meditation Works
This is where the power of the mind comes in. Meditation works by slowing brain wave activity from beta brainwave activity, (when we are awake and alert and stressed), to the deeper levels of theta and delta brainwaves that are experienced when we are in our deepest sleep.3
Researchers have found that people who regularly meditate are able to reach these deeper levels of brainwave activity and enjoy deeper levels of rest after only 5 minutes of meditation compared to one to two hours for people falling asleep! That is powerful because it is when your body is resting deeply, it repairs itself, restores itself, and the immune system works most efficiently.3
Mindfulness meditation doesn’t work because your pain is “all in your head.” It works because when the pain won’t quit, stress and worry kick in, boosting levels of stress hormones. This tricks your brain into thinking the pain is actually worse than it is.1 In other words, many people make their pain worse by stressing about it. Meditation helps to reverse the stress response.
Meditation also seems to be one heck of a great anxiety remedy. England’s University of Manchester found that meditation also eased pain by helping the brain stop anticipating it – another stress trigger. Less stress and less pain can also mean better sleep, more motivation to exercise, and even less depression, all of which help us to relax more and hurt less.1
Mindfulness meditation and other relaxation therapies like progressive relaxation and guided imagery are easy to learn. You don’t have to sit on the floor with your legs crossed, or go on any expensive retreats. Many people find it extremely easy to play a meditation download and de-stress for a few minutes, letting their mind relax and their body heal itself. The results may lead to fewer and a far less painful stress headache. For more information on learning this pain reducing, body healing technique check out the some of the sources listed below.
Relaxation Techniques for Anxiety – Learning to Meditate
The World is NOT a Stressful Place
1. Use Your Brain to Relieve Pain http://www.realage.com/blogs/doctor-oz-roizen/use-your-brain-to-relieve-pain?eid=7210&memberid=8626931
2. Tension Headache http://www.medicinenet.com/tension_headache/page3.htm#tocf
3. The World is not a Stressful Place, Olpin, p. 138-141
All Stress Begins with a Single Thought
Evaluate your thinking to change feeling
RELEASE – Our comprehensive training course that helps reduce stress in less than 10 minutes a day
All stress begins with a thought. It isn’t what’s happening “out there” that initiates the stress response.
It’s how we interpret what’s happening “out there” that causes us to become stressed or not.
We call this a perception of a threat. If we think this situation will lead to some kind of pain (emotional, mental, spiritual, or physical), we turn on the stress response automatically to prepare for the potential pain. The potential pain is what we call a “threat.” Prevention of stress, then, is best done by focusing on our thoughts, by changing how we think about those things we think are threatening.
- Relaxed breathing involves deep, slow breaths
- I walk you through a simple guided breathing exercise
- Restful breathing can help you fall asleep quicker and decrease the stress response in a short amount of time
Have you ever asked yourself, “How’s my breathing?”
It seems like an odd question, but breathing is the foundational component of most relaxation exercises.
Take a minute to sit in a chair with your back straight.
Now put one hand on your chest, and the other one on your stomach.
Which hand moves in and out when you breathe?
Ideally, you would want the hand on your stomach to be the one moving the most when you breathe.
Fight or flight, or stressful breathing, tends to be quicker and shallower and involves muscles in the chest and shoulders that aren’t primarily designed for breathing. Normal, relaxed breathing uses the diaphragm almost exclusively and the air you breathe travels to the deepest parts of your lungs.
When we focus on deep, slow breathing, the result is that we interrupt the stress response and return to a more natural, healthier state of being.
If you watch a very young baby sleeping, you will notice that she breathes so that her stomach moves in and out. The chest doesn’t move at all. Animals breathe this natural way when they are at rest as well. On the other hand, people with chronic stress tend to breathe either exclusively with their chest or with their stomach and chest simultaneously.
Try This Simple Exercise
Begin by closing your eyes and focusing on your breathing. Don’t try to change anything yet, just tune into your rhythmic breathing pattern. Keep your attention on your breath. If you notice yourself thinking of other things, gently bring our thoughts back to your breathing. You may want to place your hands on your stomach.
After a few minutes of attentive breathing, begin to change your breathing pattern by allowing your breath to go down as deep as possible into the lowest reaches of your lungs. When you do this your stomach will naturally move outward.
Don’t concern yourself with how quickly or slowly you inhale and exhale. Just focus on the depth of your inhalations and the ease of your exhalations. Notice your hands, if they are resting on your stomach, moving out as you inhale and moving back in as you exhale.
To help you maintain your focus on this deep, slow breathing, use this counting method: Start counting backward from twenty (or whatever number you choose). When you inhale, say the number “twenty.” When you exhale, say the word “relax.” Inhale again and say the number “nineteen.” On the next exhalation, say, “relax.” Continue down this way until you reach zero.
If you notice your mind start to wander (it very likely will), gently bring your thoughts back to the relaxing rhythm of your breathing and your counting. Your breathing will naturally become slower and deeper as you do this.
You may increase the effect by holding the breath between the inhalation and exhalation. When you inhale, say the word “twenty.” Hold the breath for three or four seconds. Then begin to exhale slowly. Once all of the air is expelled, pause briefly before your next inhalation.
Benefits of Restful Breathing
People who have trouble falling asleep find this technique very useful in helping them nod off more quickly and remain asleep through the night. Others find that with regular practice, their overall breathing rates go down as their bodies return to their natural relaxed states.
Many of my students have found decreases in their own breathing rate from up to thirty breaths per minute down to five or six per minute as they practice this type of breathing during the semester.
To interrupt the stress response, where your body is tense and tight, and move to a more relaxed and healthier state. This is the purpose of my online course – RELEASE. It is full of breathing exercises, guided relaxations and other techniques to help reduce your stress.
Many people prefer a relaxation download because it has music that drowns out distractions and helps your brain move from the beta brainwave activity to the alpha and other lower levels of brainwaves where optimal relaxation and restorative rest can occur in a short period of time.
It also has directions to help you focus on your breathing which keeps your mind in the here and now, rather than wandering off thinking about future events.
Again, check it out here in my online course RELEASE.