Sleep is a complex biological process that is vital to our overall wellbeing. There are now 85 different recognized sleep disorders that affect almost 70 million Americans, and the long-term consequences of sleep loss are associated with a long list of chronic and sometimes very serious health conditions. In addition to being linked to increased risk of heart attack and stroke, poor quality sleep is also related to chronic musculoskeletal pain, specifically osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and low-back pain.

Massage, Yoga, and Mindfulness are all drug-free ways to improve quality of sleep.

Massage: People who receive massage experience deeper, more restorative, less disturbed sleep. It doesn’t matter which modality of massage or what time of day; studies consistently report that massage contributes to a more organized sleep pattern, where the various stages of sleep happen in consistent order and duration. The positive effects of massage on sleep also contributes to a reduction in pain-sensitizing neurotransmitters, which lowers pain levels. (Source: Ruth Werner, Massage Bodywork)

Yoga: There have been several studies recently that show yoga can improve disrupted sleep. A Harvard Medical School study showed that yoga can help chronic insomnia, making it easier to fall asleep, stay asleep, feel well-rested, and wake up after sleeping. A study of cancer survivors linked yoga to better sleep quality, less fatigue, and improved sense of quality of life. In general, yoga seems to increase sleep efficiency, enhance quality of life, and decrease insomnia. (Source: Michael J Breus, PhD, Psychology Today)

Mindfulness: Like Yoga and Massage, Mindfulness is a way to invoke the Relaxation Response, which is a deep physiological shift in the body that is the opposite of the stress response. For many people, sleep disorders are a reaction to stress. Spending 20 min a day in a mindfulness practice helps create a reflex to bring forth a feeling of relaxation. Then it is easier to access that feeling of relaxation at night to assist in falling asleep and maintaining better quality of sleep. A study on a mindfulness awareness program showed results including less insomnia, fatigue, and depression. (Source: Julie Corliss, Harvard Health)

Sleep is crucial to our health, and Massage, Yoga, and Mindfulness are all effective tools for improving the overall quality of our sleep without using pharmacological drugs. They help with insomnia, fatigue, pain levels, sleep pattern organization, and sleep efficiency. Getting enough high quality sleep is a cornerstone of a healthy life, and there are many ways to improve your sleep and your sense of wellbeing.

by Elmo Shade

  1. CONTACT- Breath, Body, Sounds, 5 Senses

The formal training of mindfulness takes place on the meditation cushion by re-directing the wandering attention. Breath and body awareness is the best place to start. By re-directing attention from the thinking mind to the breath or the felt sense of the body, we begin to condition our attention to be in the present moment.

ex: smelling the sweet aroma of chocolate in an ice cream shop

 

  1. FEELING TONES- Pleasant, Unpleasant, Neutral

Every single experience or event has a feeling tone to it, i.e. a categorization of “I like it” (pleasant); “I don’t like it” (unpleasant); “I am undecided or neutral about it” (neutral). By paying attention to the experience and its feeling tone, we can begin to examine our inner relationship to it, e.g. clinging to what is pleasant or pushing away and resisting what is unpleasant.

ex: I love the smell of chocolate 

 

  1. PERCEPTION- Mental Filters, Assumptions, Stories

Between stimulus and response, there is an approximate gap of .25 seconds. It is in this gap that we filter an event based upon past experiences. Our MAPS or “My Assumptions, Perceptions and Stories” become our reality and our reality is most often not in concert with what is factual or true. Perception then is NOT reality; it is only the ego misrepresenting the past in the present moment.

ex: chocolate reminds me of wonderful family experiences 

 

  1. CONSCIOUSNESS- Intention to act, e.g. reacting v responding

If we are not paying attention, our inclination will be to “do something”, i.e. to react with attachment (cling to it) or aversion (get rid of it) which lead to unhealthy and unproductive mental states like anger, blame, judgment/becoming. Paying attention to the truth of the present-time experience allows us to respond with curiosity and compassion instead of being stuck in a reactive pattern, e.g. indulging.

ex: I can’t believe I ate the whole thing. I feel sick and emotionally drained

from Elmo Shade

The most common reasons people come to a Mindfulness Practice are

  1. Physical pain or chronic pain
  2. Emotional pain due to loss, death, or serious or potentially fatal diagnosis
  3. Inability to manage the day to day stressors of life

The benefits of mindfulness are known and well-documented. It reduces levels of stress, meaning the autonomic nervous system is not in fight, flight, or freeze mode. This then reduces both anxiety and depression, reduces fatigue and burnout, and reduces periods of restlessness. This leads to an increased ability to pay attention and concentrate and higher cognitive performance, particularly while learning. It enhances hormonal balance for women, and enhances the immune system of men and women.

Chronic pain, many of our physical ailments, and even diseases that we are experiencing are not actually illnesses or diseases. They are a result of the body system storing stress and pain that has never actually been released in a healthy manner. Mindfulness helps to reduce the discomfort of pain, both emotional and physical, and increases our capacity for compassion for ourselves and others.

Because Mindfulness Practice is about paying attention to physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual energies, it often leads to increased levels of energy. It can decrease fatigue and increase stamina. This higher energy level then brings increased movement. The American Psychiatric Association shows we spend 6-12 hours a day not moving, and this does not count the time we spend sleeping. Having the energy to move is a tremendous benefit.

Mindfulness Practice is evidence-based and proven to benefit quality of life through the reduction of physical pain, emotional pain, and chronic stress. Our collective stress levels are higher than they have ever been, especially for women, and that takes a toll on our health. We can bring ourselves back into balance through mindfulness.

Zen stones

 

How would you answer this question, “What is the most important question you have ever been asked?” (and your answer CANNOT be “Will you marry me?”). Over 8 years ago, as I sat as a student in a class called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), I was asked such a question.  The Instructor (now Mentor) asked, “Is your mind a good friend or does it take you into bad neighborhoods?”  Needless to say, my mind was screaming, “NO I AM NOT YOUR FRIEND AND NEVER WILL BE”.  Now, 8 years later, I can say with certainty that my mind was only giving me bad advice. Below are ten (10) insights that have emerged since making mindfulness a daily practice.  Read them and ask yourself, “Is your mind a good friend?”:

 

  1. Know Yourself

This is more than just self-awareness or knowing you like dark chocolate more than you like milk chocolate. It is about knowing your DNA, i.e. knowing your purpose, what you value, and what is never compromised.

 

  1. Choose wisely

Someone once said the most important choice we ever make in this life for personal happiness is who or if to marry. And it is less about finding the right person than it is about being the right person.

 

  1. Let go of resentment & regret

Resentment is like eating rat poison and expecting the rat to die. Regret is holding on to a hope of having a better past. Letting go is not shooting a second arrow after you have been stung with the first one.

 

  1. We see what we seek

If we are looking for faults, we will see faults. If we are looking for the good in someone, we will see only the good. What we seek, we will surely find.

 

  1. Spend time alone

Yes, even all of you extroverts. You don’t have to be like Thoreau at Walden Pond to take periodic refuge without the presence of others. When you lose touch with your inner stillness, you lose touch with yourself.

 

  1. Show up, tell the truth, & respond with compassion

Showing up means being present with others, i.e. being HERE NOW not somewhere else in your head.

 

  1. Slow down

I was once told that when you get in a hurry, you run off and leave more than you ever catch up to. I never quite understood what that meant, but I have run off and left many precious gifts that were only waiting for my patience to arrive.

 

  1. Be open to everything and attached to nothing

Nothing also meaning “no one”. Clinging, craving and attachment are the core elements of 99% of all human suffering. The heart and mind function like a parachute…they only work when open.

 

  1. The pain now is part of the happiness then…that’s the deal

Rilke said it best when writing, “Let everything happen to you, the beauty and the terror. Just keep going. No thought or feeling is final.”  This is the Law of Impermanence.

 

  1. Smile more, complain less, never give up

Smile more, complain less, & never give up.

 

-by Elmo Shade

Elmo offers meditation and qigong classes, mindfulness workshops for adults and teens, and individualized mindfulness coaching. 

Babies are better at breathing than almost all of us. They instinctually breathe with their whole bodies, flooding every cell with oxygen.

As adults, most of us have forgotten what a full breath feels like. But breathing is crucial not only our respiratory system, but our cardiac, neurological, gastrointestinal, muscular and psychological systems, too.

How we breathe affects our sleep, energy level, memory and concentration. Because breathing is automatic and not an intellectual activity, we at times take it for granted. Cultivating or “practicing” a better way to breathe seems strange.

Yet mindful breathing is one of the best things we can do for our health. This 8-minute audio podcast, also part of the Self-Help for Health Care series, offers guided breathing exercises to help energize our bodies and our minds.