arms up twilight

I co-taught a workshop on disturbed sleep recently.  Since then I continue to run into people everywhere – at the studio, at charity events, on social media – everywhere I go, I find people who can’t sleep.

Whether you can’t fall alseep or can’t stay asleep or both.  Whether you stay awake, wide eyed and staring at the tv or computer screen or whether you lie in bed and watch the time pass slooooowly throughout the night … there are things to do.  Lots of things to try.

Insomnia is so frustrating to deal with in large part because you can do the exact same thing three nights in a row and get three different results. Try everything, attempt to keep your frustrations at bay and keep note of what works. You do need to be patient and  you may have to change your night-time rituals.  I’ve provided quite a few options because I don’t know you or what resonates with you, so pick and choose what sounds good and experiment.

Here’s the thing – we aren’t striving for perfection when we are striving for sleep.  With the breathing and meditation don’t sweat the instructions too much. If something you’re trying to do to sleep becomes a frustration its not going to help.  You can also reach out to me with questions about this blog.

Some things are obvious, but I repeat them because its amazing what people (including myself) forget when they need it most:

  • Cut out caffeine after noon and sugar after 7. Avoid or cut out alcohol.
  • You may need to adjust when you are taking prescription medications, OTC medications and/or supplements.  Meds and supplements that make you sleepy might be moved towards evening, for instance.
  • Regular exercise but no elevated heart level prior to trying to sleep.  I suggest some form of cardio during the day – walking the dog at a decent pace is fine.  You just need to elevate the heart rate.  In the evening, try a couple of gentle/restorative yoga poses or stretching along with breathing.
  • Put down your electronics. In part, the blue light of your electronics is disruptive to sleep, melatonin production and your circadian rhythm.  The engagements of the news and social media can keep us agitated.  We need to disengage before bed, preferably at least an hour away from our pads, computers, etc.
  • When you can’t fall asleep, get up and move around. Do something relaxing – breathe, meditate, read a (real) book.  If you can, have pillows ready for a restorative yoga pose if you need it in the night.
  • Try essential oils and acupuncture; warm baths or swimming if they are appealing; relaxing music or nature sounds either before or as you fall asleep; legs up the wall for 5-20 minutes with deep breathing (instructions below).

So how do we try to get to a place where we can fall asleep and stay asleep long enough to feel rested in the morning?  Here’s some ideas:

Breathing & meditation:  I cannot recommend meditation and deep breathing enough for disturbed sleep. Deep breathing helps engage your parasympathetic nervous system and meditation is just everything for relaxing and calming the mind and body. I specifically recommend “yoga nidra” (yogic sleep) and progressive relaxation. If you don’t know what these are or how to do them, that’s ok.  There are many different options to get these meditations:  CDs, downloads, YouTube, apps, teachers.  Find a voice and a length of meditation that suits you and go for it.  There is a lot of information out there and if you’d like some specific recommendations, please let me know.

As to regular meditation, again – apps will help. I know the most about Insight Timer because I use it.  There are meditations that are as short as 2 minutes. If you have a difficult time sitting still and focusing but you’re interested, start small and do several meditations a day, including in the evening.  You may find that your ability to sit increases.  The more you learn to relax the mind and body the more you can invoke it when you need it.

Deep Breathing: I suggested these two breathing exercises. Both are meant to keep the mind focused while you invoke the parasympathetic nervous system. Keep in mind “deep breathing” doesn’t mean “breathe so hard that you get dizzy & feel high”. If that happens, back off – you’re working too hard.

Breath #1 – fake alternate nostril breath. This sounds more complicated than it is, eventually you’ll recognize its a pattern that keeps the mind engaged. To begin, inhale & exhale. Bring your focus to the spot between your eyebrows, relaxing the eyebrows away from one another. With your next inhale, pretend you are only inhaling up the right nostril to the eyebrow spot. Exhale and imagine you are only exhaling through the left nostril. Inhale, imagining its only the left nostril, exhale from between the eyebrows down the right nostril. Keep going as long as it serves you, it will eventually balance you and calm you.

Breath #2 – Counting the breath. Inhale through your nostrils breathing into the belly (belly rises on inhale & falls on exhale). Inhale to the count of 2-4 – retain the breath for 1 count – exhale double the inhale, so 4-8. Keep following the breath. Inhale and count to 2 to 4 without too much effort or strain – hold at the top of the inhale for a count of 1 to 2 – exhale doubling the inhale.

Restorative Yoga: If you can do a really easy, gentle type of yoga that involves pillows & no effort this helps so much. Judith Lasater created Restorative Yoga to help us slow down and relax. The idea is to stay in a pose long enough for your tissues to really relax. I’m going to give you two poses to try & if they work – yay! If not, there are many restorative poses that you can look up (or ask me).

Legs up the wall – can be tricky to get into but this pose helps everything from sleeplessness to menstrual cramps to migraines.  Bring your right hip up close to the wall, feet to floor. Bring hands behind you and rotate your legs up the wall. Scooch your hips as close to the wall as is possible and let your legs relax against the wall. Bring your arms into a comfortable position along side the body, palms up or down, or into a cactus position.  You can use blankets or small pillows to rest your arms upon as well as a blanket folded up under your neck to support your head.  Find that sweet spot and focus on your breath.  Practice whichever breath resonates with you.  Hold this pose anywhere from 3 minutes to 20 minutes.

Supported Child’s Pose – Come to hands and knees, then bring enough bolsters, blankets and pillows under you to support the body. Inhale with hands to floor, arms beside your prepared props and exhale, drag hips back to heels and let the torso drape over the props. Let your head and neck be completely supported by the props as you rest and breathe deeply.  Get 100% comfortable.  If the hips don’t come to the heels, or if you want the comfort, place a pillow or rolled up blanket across the heels where the hips will rest.  Practice whichever breath resonates with you.  Hold pose for 3-5 minutes.

Essential Oils:  If you can use essential oils they can help a great deal.  Don’t go crazy using alot, just a few drops will do the trick.  I am not an expert in oils and am recommending oils that have worked for me, including a couple of new ones for my tool-box.  There is a lot of information out there about oils and insomnia that you can research as well.

I diffuse oils and will use them topically in a carrier.  For a very long time, I used ylang-ylang, lavender and cypress – sometimes separately, sometimes together.  Sometimes I would diffuse lavender and massage my feet with ylang-ylang and cypress.

Recently I’ve found that they had lost their effectiveness so I tried wild orange and geranium.  Both have been amazing.  Both are pungent – be careful about how much you use.  What I did was diffuse the wild orange throughout the evening and massaged the geranium (in coconut oil or topical CBD) into my feet and lower legs.

This leads me to something I do a lot when I’m in a cycle of insomnia.  I massage my feet with oils.  There are people who know why this works, all I can tell you is that is works more often than not.  Even if you don’t use essential oils, use some sort of lotion or oil.  Start with fingers between toes and gently wiggle some space in there.  Get into your arches, the ball of the foot, the heels, up toward the shins.  Massage the toes separately and linger at the toenails, apply pressure to each individual toenail.  Don’t necessarily vigorously pull at or crack your toes, do apply pressure and actually massage your feet.  Put on a pair of socks when you’re done.  If you can, lay so your feet are elevated for some time afterwards.

After a hectic day it can be difficult to suddenly turn off your mind and go to sleep. Now we have the additional layer of electronics engaging our minds, affecting our eyes and giving us “electronic insomnia”.  Some of us are not natural night sleepers or we take a medication that affects our sleep.

For women, peri-menopause brings or intensifies insomnia. According to many sources, women are at least twice as likely to have insomnia as men.

Unfortunately there is no one-size-fits-all, easy solution to insomnia. Fewer people than you would think have success with sleeping pills or a “cure” only lasts for a short time  without breaking the cycle. Over the counter sleeping aids are often antihistamines which can trigger other issues.  Once insomnia becomes a frequent companion, develop an evolved sleep ritual.

Dealing with insomnia is a long-term problem and the solutions may change from night-to-night.  Good luck and good night’s rest to you!

WHY MEDITATE? MEDITATION TIPS & INFORMATION

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Beginning a meditation practice can be daunting, which is a commentary on our society … that slowing down and being in the present moment is something that we crave yet it makes us nervous to try!

The basic principles of meditation are relaxation and breathing. If you can find a few minutes each morning and evening to practice, you will begin to feel the benefits of meditation very quickly; a few minutes a day can make a difference. Personally, it took me 15ish years of practicing yoga to achieve a consistent meditation practice. Meditation has lowered my reactiveness, helps me deal with chronic pain, even can help me dissolve a headache or stomachache. When I meditate I find that I am healthier, calmer and happier.

Benefits of Meditation: The benefits of meditation are well documented. Some of the earliest records of meditation date back 1500 years BCE and many religions, including Buddhism and Judaism, have records of meditation practice going back nearly as far. For instance – and I’m oversimplifying – in the Torah, Isaac (the patriarch) is described as going “lasuach” in the field. “Lasuach” is a term understood as a meditative practice (Book of Genesis 24:63). Ancient texts teach us that there has always been a central meditative tradition in Judaism.

Other forms of meditation evolved as non-religious variations of yoga traditions, such as the system of Transcendental Meditation, which became popular in the 1960’s. Instead of focusing on spiritual growth, secular meditation emphasizes stress reduction, relaxation and self-improvement.

The effects of breathing your way into meditation are grounding. Learning to use your breath to naturally calm yourself centers you for meditation and relieves many symptoms of stress.

Stress reduction, better focus, better sleep, anxiety relief, enhanced self-awareness, assistance with age-related memory loss, promoting feelings of kindness, assistance with addiction recovery, pain control, blood pressure regulation are just some of the benefits of meditation.

Let’s briefly talk about some of the benefits and why meditation helps:

Stress reduction: Mental and physical stress can cause increased levels of cortisol, which is a stress hormone. Cortisol will cause many of the harmful effects of stress, including the release the inflammation-promoting chemicals called cytokines, causing disruption of sleep, depression and anxiety, raising blood pressure and causing your thinking to become slow and sludgy. Meditation may also improve symptoms of stress-related conditions such as irritable bowel and fibromyalgia.

Anxiety Reduction: Less stress often means less anxiety. A regular meditation practice will help maintain lower anxiety over the long term. Meditation can also positively affect job-related anxiety. Since social anxiety, phobias and OCD can be symptoms of stress and general anxiety, meditation may help relieve those symptoms too.

Increased Focus and Memory: Meditation is training for your attention span, increasing the strength and endurance of your attention, much as physical exercise does for your body. Meditation may help you stay focused longer and remember details better. It is even suggested that meditation may reverse patterns in the brain that contribute to monkey-mind, worrying and poor attention. Improvements in attention and clarity of thinking may help keep your mind young, as mantra meditation has been shown to improve memory, attention and mental fitness in older meditators.

Improves Sleep: Will it surprise you to know that nearly half of American adults struggle with insomnia at some time? Meditation helps you control or redirect monkey-mind that can lead to trouble falling asleep. Additionally, meditation can relax the body, release tension and place you in a peaceful state where you are more apt to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Pain Control: A consistent meditation practice is found to decrease complaints of chronic or intermittent pain. Your perception of pain is effected by your state of mind. The quieter your mind the more likely you are to be able to “control” your pain.

There are many reasons to try meditation. Slowing down and being present brings many benefits. Here are tips when starting or freshening up a meditation practice:

  • Keep track of your practice: when you meditate, how long, guided or on your own, whatever details are helpful. You can use an app or keep a journal.
  • Meditation Apps: My personal favorite is Insight Timer, and there are many others. The apps have timers and keep track of your practice, they have guided meditations of many varieties and lengths with different teachers. Some of the apps also have talks and classes.
  • Try to meditate at about the same time every day. You can meditate pretty much anywhere you can sit still, so try different places from time to time.
  • Try to do breathing exercises before meditation
  • Be comfortable, but not so comfortable you get sleepy. You can lie down, sit or be in a restorative pose.

There is so much information available about meditation. It’s very easy to become overwhelmed or confused. If you’ve decided to start or restart your meditation practice, remember, one foot in front of the other and keep your practice simple. Maybe a few minutes early in the day and a few minutes later on. Work your way into whatever feels comfortable and necessary. There are also meditation classes available at yoga studios and other places. Seek assistance where needed.

Remember, the quieter you become, the more you will hear.

#MeToo

I have been harassed and touched inappropriately in the workplace.  Several jobs, actually.   Last year, after Trump made his “lockerroom” (a-hem) remarks, I participated in a Palm Beach Post article about harassment and it was so stunningly sad to see how many women go through this.  Just as the #MeToo movement has destroyed a part of me.  I’m 55, so many things have changed.  Not. This.

There’s so much to be said about this topic.  I want to relate two specific points of my own experience.

What Mayim Bialik said struck me deeply.  As I said, I was harassed at more than one job.  Why?  What was it about me that was causing my bosses, or men I worked with, to think it was ok to touch me, talk about me inappropriately, talk to me inappropriately.  If I walked by a cluster of attorneys, did they think I was deaf and didn’t hear what they said when I walked past them?  Was I dressing in a way to invite it? I’m an open, often happy person – was that coming off as flirty or inviting? At the time it never occurred to me that they were in the wrong, it clearly had to be something about me that invited unwanted attention.

I have been a single mother for over 30 years.  At the time period I’m describing, I had to work and every dollar counted.  No child support, no family nearby, no real savings.  So I learned to tolerate a certain amount of abuse and harassment because that was how you kept your job.  You put up with being demeaned to leave the job, go home to your family and try not to bring the detritus home.

This one particular attorney (Attorney A) I only worked for briefly, less than six months.  Eventually I was able to drop him from my resume altogether.  I left with a job in hand despite the difficulty in explaining to interviewers why I needed to leave this job after such a short stint.  What I would have really liked to tell them was this:

  • He constantly commented on how he wanted me to dress – higher heels, silkier fabrics, more dresses.
  • I would sometimes return to my desk to find Attorney A straddling my chair backwards, demanding a shoulder massage.  I refused and made excuses (“you know we have this deadline”).  After the 3rd or 4th time I went to the office manager and told her what was happening.  A few days later one of the other partners called me into his office.  I was sweating bullets because I was sure I was going to be fired for “telling on” my boss.  The partner apologized for Attorney A’s  behavior and for any times that he may have made me uncomfortable.  At the time it felt like enough, but later I realized that while he apologized, he never said it would stop.  And surely it didn’t.
  • Randomly trying to touch my legs or walking down the hallway Attorney A might brush his hand against me “oh excuse me”.
  • Telling me I should use his trainer because he could work miracles with my body (which mostly made me laugh, at the time I was lucky if I had $20 after paying bills).
  • Saying goodbye to clients, Attorney A would sometimes put his arm around me – up to my sideboob.  Pretty sure some of the female clients knew, not only because I pulled away; I can’t help but wonder how many female clients he treated this way.
  • These are just some of the things he did. There are things I’ve buried and forgotten.  There’s attitudes and tones of voice and the like that are difficult to describe with words.  Here’s what finally made me start interviewing for other jobs:
  • I’m on a stepstool in the kitchen area, getting some supplies down.  Suddenly someone is gripping my butt firmly with his thumbs moving.  I screamed “What the fuck are you doing?” and Attorney A squeezed my butt one more time and said “I wanted to make sure you wouldn’t fall”.  That was that.  I printed out my resume and started interviewing.  Eventually, because it had been such a short period of employment, I was able to drop him from my resume altogether.

With this job change I moved into personal injury and eventually family law.  I moved outside of the circle of Attorney A.  I heard at one point that he had been suspended by the Bar and it had to do with real estate transactions/funds.  I’m not even sure the Florida Bar punishes attorneys for harassment.

Later I heard he’d had bad health problems and had retired.

Fast forward to about 3-4 years ago.  I was a certified paralegal as well as an E-RYT200 certified yoga teacher.  At the time I taught group classes at a studio and I took most of my classes there.  One Saturday I walk in to take class and go to sign in, I’m in a fine mood because hello, yoga!  I’m signing in and chatting with the studio owner/my boss and I freeze.  ATTORNEY A WAS SIGNED IN TO THAT CLASS. My stomach immediately hurt and I started sweating.  I went in anyway, determined not to let that man impact one more second of my life.

Attorney A had obviously had some terrible health problems.  He was a husk of himself.  He did not recognize me.  I set up as far away from him as I could without being able to see him.  I could feel him anyway.  I could feel his energy and I had a difficult time focusing on class.  I left the room quickly and was preparing to leave when I saw Attorney A talking to the owner, who was talking about a class I taught and how good it would be for him.

GULP

I called her later and explained.  I realized there was nothing I could do about him attending a public group class at a studio, but if she could steer him away from me, please do.  I also asked her to be careful if he asked for private training because even diminished, he terrified me.

Yes, he came to my class.  I had that same experience of nausea and sweating.  He still did not recognize me, and that helped.  I took a longer time than usual centering at the beginning of class, which was mostly for my own benefit.  As I started teaching and interacting with my regulars, I began to feel more comfortable.  I still could not go near Attorney A.  I still could feel his energy even when I couldn’t see him.  I got through the class and felt like I had gone waaaaay outside my comfort zone.

How did I feel?  I did not confront him for the things he’d done – given his health issues, I had no idea what he remembered.  It was hard not to feel some sympathy for him.  Attorney A had always been vain, well-groomed & dressed and worked out routinely.

Despite the fact that I was in a roomful of people with him both times I was still scared.  A whole lot of uncomfortable memories and moments surfaced.  I started to wonder …. was I scared of him, the memories he’d caused to surface, or my own shame and embarrassment. My guilt that I didn’t do anything other than tell the office manager what he was doing.

Aside from the fact that I am terribly saddened and depressed to see how many women younger than me, how many generations of women are still subjected to this treatment and worse, aside from all that I intend to spend time working on my own feelings.  #MeToo has made me realize that there are many things I still need to face from my past and that when a person abuses you, its really hard not to continue to be in fear of them.

 

Just … Nope

As often happens, this morning one of my friends posted something on Facebook that was provocative.  It caught my eye and as I started reading the statistics it was a little suffocating.

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These statistics are from seven states!  In one month! And please note, the statistics are only taken from one source.  That means these statistics are low because of how few states they represent.
This is heartbreaking. It hit me hard because (a) duh and (b) as many of you know, I worship the dachshund breed and Abigail Rose was meant to be bred. When she turned out to be such a teeny-weeny, we couldn’t. Looking at how many dachshunds lost their lives in rescue simply confirms the world doesn’t need another kitchen breeder  (Abs was fixed long ago, btw).
Folks who have gotten dogs from reputable breeders, as we did with Abigail Rose, this isn’t a shot and isn’t directed at you. This is for people who are looking for a dog on Craig’s List (NOOOOOOOOO!) or PetFinder or elsewhere on line.  Or thinking how cute their dog’s personality is and wouldn’t she make a good mom.  If you think you will make money breeding a kitchen litter, sit down and add it up.  It doesn’t happen, you will lose money and may have puppies for whom you can’t find a home.  All I’m saying is check your local rescues first. If you are simply looking to add a good dog to your home, please check your local shelters before heading to a breeder or (gulp!?!?) a pet store.** You will find purebreds at the shelters too. Please always consider adopting. When you don’t, a wonderful dog sitting in a cage with a cold concrete floor could end up dead.  Its that simple.
**Unless you live in an are where the pet stores are filled with shelter dogs, in which case YAY!!! and go for it!
Images:  Black/white dog was Tag.  He lived at Big Dog Ranch Rescue until he died of cancer there.  You’ll find his story in this blog.
Goofy unfocused dog is Stanley.  We adopted him as an adult, he came from a shelter in Rome, GA.  Adopting Stanley as an adult has completely changed our perspective on adopting an adult dog.
The beautiful yellow dog is Jezebel Snowflake.  She was adopted as a puppy from BDRR.
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Its how you see the world …

Yesterday was an exciting day, because I was going to have 2-3 free hours to practice and work on the Yoga Sutras class I’m taking. Those of you who know me know that the 2-3 free hours whittled down to 2 hours, then 90 minutes, then 45 minutes. That’s life and I tried not to let it frustrate me, because the parts of the class that I did touched me deeply enough that I am happy to sit with some of those thoughts and ideas.
 
This morning I found myself with free time. Happily, I brought out my crystal bowls, did some pranayama, practiced, did some homework. And as always, in re-reading the Sutras I found something that struck me deeply.
 
Sutra 1.2 reads “The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.” Those who have studied the Sutras, and know far more than I, know that this is the big Sutra, this is the explanation of Yoga.  The other Sutras explain 1.2.  Were I an accomplished yoga student I could begin and end here. “Pantanjali has given the definition of Yoga and at the same time the practice.” If you can control the mind-stuff, you have achieved yoga.
 
Ha! Just like that, right? No, for me I need the definitions and the practice. I am not in a state of yoga, not today anyway.
 
Here is what struck me. Swami Satchidananda says, in his commentary on this Sutra: “The entire outside world is based on your thoughts and mental attitude. The entire world is your own projection. Your values may change within a fraction of a second. Today you may not even want to see the one who was your sweet honey yesterday. If we remember that, we won’t put so much stress on outward things.
That is why Yoga does not bother much about changing the outside world. There is a Sanskrit saying “Mana eva manusyanam karanam bandha moksayoh” “As the mind, so the person; bondage or liberation are in your own mind.” If you feel bound, you are bound. If you feel liberated, you are liberated. Things outside neither bind nor liberate you; only your attitude towards them does.
 
I’m not going to give a long-winded commentary on the words of Pantanjali & Swami Satchidananda because they’ve done the deed. What I would like to say is I hope that some of you will sit with this idea, that the outside world is based upon your point of view, your perspective. The liberation of your mind comes from the freedom from the outside world and influences. It is what is inside you, what is deep inside you, what you see  when you are meditating or it is very quiet in your mind – that is you. The outside world is not heaven or hell. It is your mind that determines what you are feeling and how you perceive the rest of the world. You can see your world as difficult and complicated and complain for the negative attention.  You can open your eyes and remove some clutter from the mind and as you do, the way you experience your world will too.
As you sit with these ideas, perhaps we can think about we can shift our perspective to see the beauty, the hope & the happiness in the world. When love, peace, happiness and hope are in your mind, they will be reflected in your world, too.
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Lesson learned, Tag. Lesson learned.

On July 5, 2014 we lost Tag.
I still miss that dog.

Jacquie Stephens Yoga

This post has taken me a bit to write because I want you to feel happy, not sad, after you read it.

The first dog I ever worked with at Big Dog Ranch Rescue, Tag, passed away. He overcame a lot in his life but couldn’t beat this. I saw him on Wednesday, he wasn’t eating, vomited a little and later that day stopped drinking water. He was taken to Medical; by Friday he was clearly weak and I sat with him Friday morning for awhile, opened his kennel doors while he rested his head in my lap as I sang to him (I’m sorry medical staff). I told him he was tough and he could do it but deep down I had the feeling I was saying good-bye. I left hoping I’d see him one more time again …

Tag had been at the Ranch for almost a year…

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