Posted by Billy Cross - March 3, 2017
We are designed to renew our energy throughout the day, build pauses into our day, stop, rest and then go again. We are meant to build oscillation (in the middle) into our day. When we don’t, we accumulate fatigue and the sleep process itself becomes disrupted as it tries to overcorrect the imbalance that has been created during the day.
Simply, rest can be defined as passive or active. The most important aspect of your rest break is that you do something unrelated to stimulation and information and that you give your brain the chance to go offline.
Your nervous system undergoes many changes while you sleep. Briefly, there is a large branch to your nervous system called the Automatic Nervous system (ANS) – you will find out more about this when you get to the Toolkit and learn about some of the breathing techniques that will really improve your sleep. The ANS has two “legs” to it – the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). It is the latter part of your nervous system, the PNS, that is absolutely key to you getting a deep and peaceful sleep; when you activate the PNS it is thought to switch on those parts of the brain involved in initiating and maintaining your sleep.
The link between the brain and the PNS is via a nerve called the vagus nerve. The activation of this nerve is crucial to you being able to sleep. It is activated, quite simply, when you breath from your diaphragm and when your breathing is deep and relaxed. In other words, when you are relaxed and your breathing is relaxed, you can sleep. It sounds so simple and it is simple but many of my clients are stressed and anxious and they can’t relax or breathe deeply.
For many years I have been using my own mini-model to access my client’s readiness to change. I call this the ARC of change in which we first become Aware of our role in creating whatever situation we are in, we then take Responsibility for changing our situation by making different Choices. By making different Choices, we create a different outcome.
Don’t be tempted to give up if you do get the results you want. Keep using the tools until they become “hardwired” into your behaviour. Until they become second nature. On average it takes about 21 days to create a habit. Try to practice each technique for at least 21 days.
Preparing to sleep is all about “state preparation”. Just as an athlete warms their muscles up, stretches, focuses their mind, we need to prepare are minds and bodies in order to be able to sleep. The period before you go to bed – maybe the hour or two before – is what I call the “transition zone” as it creates a transition between the business of the day and the peace and stillness of night. A transition is a conscious pause. It is time to take stock of yourself and your day before moving into the next phase of rest.
The rituals and routines that we go through before bed send an essential message to the brain “its time to let go of the day” and more importantly “its safe to sleep”.
Watching TV in bed to put you to sleep. The frequency of TV waves is such that it is more likely to set your sleep pattern into a restless, shallow “thinking” type mode of sleep. Watching the “wrong” type of TV before you go to bed that are violent or over stimulating. Remember, the aim is to create a feeling of “safety” before you go to bed. Same principles with books.
Prepare your work clothes and pack your bag for the next day. Write a to-do list for the next day. Read something that is light, philosophical, spiritual and life-affirming. Listen to music that is soothing and relaxing. Light a candle. Lavender oils.
Try to take more breaks during the day – build more rest into your day to allow your brain important consolidation time but also, practice good time management. In it’s simplest form this means keeping an organised list-writing system that you update at the end of the day.
When we don’t eat this sends a simple message to the brain that there is no food available. That is. we are living in famine conditions.
Notice your breathing
For the next twenty to thirty seconds I simply want you to set comfortably and just observe your breathing. Don’t try to control or change anything about your breathing. Just allow it to follow it own natural rhythm. You might find it easier to concentrate if you close your eyes and bring your focus inwards.
Where is your breathing coming from? Is your belly moving? Your chest and shoulders? Are they both moving? If your breathing shallow or deep? Is it rapid or slow? Remember, don’t try and control or change your breathing in anyway at all. Simply pay attention and notice.
Open up your posture
I now want you to repeat the above exercise but first I want you to make a few small changes to your posture.
Sit comfortably and place both feet on the floor about hip width apart (I call this grounding). Straighten up your back, “unkink” your spine, imagine you have a string attached to the top of your head, pulling you up and elongating your spine (I call this centering). Relax your hands into your lap and drop your shoulders. Raise or lower your chin so that it is exactly level with the floor. Finally press your tongue against the roof of your mouth with your mouth closed.
Now that you have made these postural changes, close your eyes again and notice your breathing for 20 seconds. does anything feel different now that you have made some changes to your posture and placed your tongue on the roof of your mouth?
You should notice that by opening up your posture in this way can help shift your breathing down to your belly.
Deepen your breath
Remain seated, feet firmly planted on the floor, grounded and centered. Close your eyes and focus inwards, but this time focus specifically on your out-breath or exhalation. As before, don’t try to change or control your breathing. Simply follow your breath and when you are ready exhale as completely as you can – breath out just a little bit more, and then just a little bit more until it feels as if you have completely emptied your lungs. Now notice the “tug” of your diaphragm as you breath in more fully and more deeply. You may also have noticed that your belly “domed” outwards as you breathed in more deeply.
You should notice how the key to deepening your breathing is to actually focus on exhaling. In response you will breath in more deeply. Your abdominal muscles are your respiratory muscles – they dome out as you breath in and pull in towards your spine as you breath out.
Slow down your breath
You may have noticed right at the beginning of this exercise that your breathing was slow and rapid. We are now going to work on slowing it down by building pauses in between your in and out breaths.
As before, remain seated, feet firmly planted on the floor, grounded and centred. Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Close your eyes and focus inwards. Observe your breathing. Begin to deepen your breath by prolonging your exhalation by a few seconds; notice the deepening of your inhalation.
After you next exhale, pause briefly for a few seconds if you can, just remain there and be still. Now breath in and, again, pause for a few seconds.
Prolong your exhalation – pause briefly – deepen your inhalation – pause briefly – exhale – pause – inhale – pause
Have you got the hang of this?? You don’t need to prolong every exhalation and deepen every inhalation. the trick is to do this for the first few breaths to “re-route” your breathing and then just let your breathing take over. Hopefully you noticed that by building pauses in between your in and out breaths, your breathing began to slow down.
In case you were wondering why I asked you to place your tongue on the roof of your mouth, there is apparently an “acupressure point” on the roof of your mouth that when stimulated, helps to switch on the vagus nerve. This little trick is used by martial artists to help create a grounded and relaxed state of focus.
The principle is that you start to train your body and mind to accept the state of rest. You hardwire this into your system during the day so that your mind and body is receptive to this state when you are preparing to sleep at night. Consider this as the “warm up” for the big event – i.e. gliding into brilliant sleep at night.
Count yourself to sleep
When you exhale, mentally and silently say the word “ONE”. Mentally say the word as softly and gently as you can. Imagine you are putting a baby to sleep.
Now inhale – pause if you need to – and then silently whisper the word “TWO” as you exhale. Repeat until you get to “TEN” then start back from “ONE” again if required.