Sleep and Restore

Sleep is getting a lot of attention lately. I love sleep and I am not ashamed to admit it! I believe in the power and restoration of sleep for the body and mind.

As a society there has been a belief that ‘successful’ people can flourish on 4 hours sleep a night. In my opinion, these people may be functioning but I would be surprised if they are flourishing. I want you to flourish. What else is life for?

The research into sleep is limited but what the research does tell us is that sleep helps the body, and more importantly the brain, ‘reset’ from the activities of the day. Sleep helps us to absorb new memories, make memoires and retain information. This cannot be done on 4 hours sleep a night.  

There has also been this figure batted around that people should aim to get 8 hours sleep a night. This is an average. Some people need a little more than 8 hours and some people will need a little less. You will know what works for you. No one is the same.

When a child is cranky, we know that they haven’t got enough sleep. The same is true for adults. Who remembers being a child and having a night time routine? 7pm would be bath time, then getting into pjs, our caregiver tucking us into bed to read a story and finally dimming the lights ready for sleep.

Do we do this as an adult?

I think we all know the answer to this, probably a no.

We sit up for hours, watching TV while scrolling through Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter. After this we jump straight into bed and expect to just fall asleep. Hold on, what happened to winding down? What happened to a bit of ‘me time’?

If you’re in a bad mood, ask yourself if you have been getting enough sleep recently.

Some of my clients report waking frequently during the night and either thinking about the day ahead or even the past, fixating on thoughts that they cannot do anything about. Then, during the day they may report having difficultly being able to concentrate, processing information and being irritable. It becomes a vicious cycle.

Sleep is an integral part of being able to function.

What I have seen in my clinical practice is that helping clients to have a more restful night can boost mood during the day. I try to help the to identify strategies for a good night’s sleep. My clients who have learned to rest well are more awake, alert and feel a little perkier.

Here are my top 5 tips for a restful night:

  • Establish a wind down routine (1 hour before getting into bed). Hint… No screen time.
  • Prepare your room for sleep. Make sure that your bedroom is associated with sleep and sex. Nothing else. Remove the office work and anything else that isn’t associated with sleep and rest.
  • Make sure that your bedroom is cool. A hot room can lead to waking up in the night.
  • If you wake up in the night and you are awake for more than 10 minutes, get out of bed. Go downstairs and do something boring for 5 minutes and then go back to bed.
  • Limit teas, coffees, energy drinks and even malt drinks before bed. Maybe have a herbal tea.

Tip number 1 is my favourite, give it a go!

Remember, to keep on trying these tips. Trying something once isn’t really trying. Give it at least 2 weeks.

If you stick with these tips, I’m sure the majority of you will be able to sleep a little sounder.

I will be running a Sleep and Restore workshop on the 12th of September 7-9pm in London. Details on my Facebook page @balancedselfyogaandcbt.

The workshop merges CBT skill with yoga! You will leave feeling more like you have the tools to help yourself fall off to sleep for a more balanced you!

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Meditation

Meditation. Where do I start?

There’s transcendental meditation, Mindfulness, movement meditation, standing meditation, seated mediations, silent mediations, group meditations, meditations for 1 minute, 5 minutes, 30 minutes or 1 hour.

Do I do it inside or outside? With my cat in the room? Do I eat before or after? How do I breathe? How do I breathe normally, am I breathing now? Oh gosh, maybe I’m dead. No, I’m alive, I’m breathing.

Do I sit crossed legged, on a bolster on a cushion, do I lie down? Is that cheating? Do I need to wear my yoga clothes and Instagram all my mediations? Is it even happening if it’s not on Instagram?

These are all questions and thoughts that went through my mind when I first chose to explore meditation. There are probably hundreds more that I can’t remember.

You’re probably all thinking, “she needs to meditate.” I did.

Then of course the self-doubt creeps in. What if I can’t clear my mind? What if I can’t meditate? What if I am not good at this? What is the point of mediation anyway? The Dali Lama doesn’t seem that happy. Who needs mediation? Not me! Yes, I know, bananas.

I set a date with myself, despite myself. I think it was on a Saturday and I decided I would give meditation a go.

But before, I did a Google. Thank goodness I wasn’t born in the sixties and had to go to the Library. I would have frightened the librarian, I’m sure. Wide-eyed, breathing quickly, slightly sweaty and frantically turning pages as my mind went at a million miles a second.

Thankfully, Google answered some of my questions.

I didn’t have to clear my mind. What? Yes, apparently that is not the point of meditation. I was shocked. I had to only focus on my breathing, to come back to my breathing when my mind wondered off. I learned that my mind will wander off but my only job is it bring it back without judgement and attachment.

I learned that I did not have to be good at mediation. It is merely about showing up, again and again and practising, over and over. No one is going to give you a gold star for sitting there for 45 minutes. No matter how much you want that gold star. To be honest, I’m still hoping someone will give me one!

I also learnt that many schools have different ideas about the length that you can mediate for. Some say 20 minutes and some say 1 hour. So I choose to start off slowly, with a 20 minute meditation. I also learnt that you can sit whichever way you please. So, I sat on a couple of pillows under my bum with my knees on the floor.

Saturday came and I meditated for the first time. Nothing really happened. I wasn’t suddenly enlightened and no one was congratulating me on how amazing I was. I had actually managed to bring myself back from my thoughts once or twice. I was, if anything a bit disappointed. But I decided to keep going. And this is the important bit. I decided to practise. I decided to let the practice teach me and to allow myself to be taught. You can do this too.

What I did not realise then, which became clearer the more I practiced, was that the worries I had about starting the practise did not matter.

My main fear of not being good enough did not matter. This is something that through the practice I have come to realise more and more. Showing up every day on my mat and meditating for 30- 45 mins and practising regularly is good enough. Coming back to my breath is good enough, realising I have gone off into my thoughts and coming back to my breath is good enough. There is no need for judgement or attachment. This is all good enough, I am very grateful for coming to understand that, even though some days it can be difficult to remember. The practice is always there.

Meditation has also taught me to be disciplined and to choose my thoughts wisely. I have the power to run away with a thought process. I also have the power to stop it. No one else is forcing me to do it.

What I have found through meditation is not unique or special. It is normal, available to anyone, and it is beautiful in its small way because of that.

I have found space from the me and the mine. I have realised slowly that my thoughts are not reality and this has been quite freeing.

I hope this has convinced you to take the leap if you are toying with the idea of a meditation practice.

Try.

What do you have to lose?

Thoughts Are Not Facts

Just think positively. How many times have you heard someone say this? Surly everyone can do it, can’t they? It sounds so simple and easy.

You know it is not that simple and I don’t not believe it is altogether easy or even possible. If it were possible to just think more positively, my job and my profession would not exist. And if I had found the secret to just thinking positively, I would be a millionaire by now.

I find that most of my clients believe that by thinking more positively, they will stop being depressed, anxious or any other unwanted emotional state. All they have to do is think positively. Of course, when they find they are unable to just think positively, they become even more distressed.

Our culture and society has drilled it in to us, made us believe that the power of positive thinking can overcome any distress, anxiety, depression that we are feeling. We are told that no matter how distressing a situation is, putting a smile on our faces and thinking positively will overcome it. Of course, it won’t. We have been lied to.

The whole idea of ‘just think positive’ sounds bananas to me.

No one is really able to think positively about every situation they are in. Especially when a situation makes a person feel anxious, scared, frightened or sad.

Instead of perpetuating the positivity cycle. I propose something different to my clients. What I teach my clients to do is to think in a more balanced way. We do not ignore the shades of grey. Those shades are vital.

I help my clients find the ‘unhelpful thought’ that is causing emotional distress. Like detectives, together we start to look for the facts to support the unhelpful thought and the facts that go against the unhelpful thought. Then using those thoughts, we come up with a balanced alternative thought.

I will help you to truly inspect and understand the original unhelpful thought, rather than shifting from negative to positive, which will only ignore that thought.

It is with a balanced self that you will overcome these unhelpful thoughts.