Monthly Archives: April 2015

37 Sleep Cures Many Things

Sleep cures many things. bearcat  sleeping in tree

Many years ago a doctor said this to me. I have never forgotten it.

I don’t think the doc meant lack of sleep itself is the direct cause of most of our ailments. I think he meant many things we suffer from are made worse by not getting adequate sleep.

We may wear our immune system down with lack of sleep and then be more susceptible to contracting the cold or flu that is going around the office. Or we may already have a cold and our lack of sleep makes it linger on that much longer. Or we may have a chronic condition that we have to live with and manage and lack of sleep makes it that much more difficult to deal with.

I originally started to study with an Alexander teacher in 1995 because I had been suffering from chronic neck, shoulder and upper back pain for about 6 years. Although I was diagnosed with a condition related to Fibromyalgia, a lot of the pain was due to postural and tension issues—things that I could affect positively through learning and applying the skills of the Alexander Technique.

The Alexander Technique helped and continues to help me a great deal. What is also very important though is that I get adequate sleep. Because if I do not get adequate sleep over a period of time, my posture suffers, excess tension creeps in and I can slip into a pain cycle.

When you are tired your muscles don’t work as well to hold you up and you literally droop. That drooping pulls you out of shape and stresses your body. When you droop it affects your ability to breathe efficiently. When we don’t breathe efficiently you don’t get as much oxygen to your cells as otherwise. And you need adequate oxygen to fuel all the systems of your body.

Over the years some people have tried to convince me that you can train yourself to need less sleep. I have not found that to be the case with myself. I need between 8 ½ and 9 hours of sleep a night. I know that because if I let myself sleep without an alarm clock for a week or two I almost without fail wake up after 8 ½ or 9 hours.

I have chosen to make sleep one of my top priorities. Because I don’t like it when I am in pain and I know that lack of sleep contributes to pain for me.

Making sleep a top priority for me means…

  • I do not stay up late to get one more thing done on my to do list.
  • I listen to my body. When it is tired I don’t continue reading or watching that TV program for another ½ hour. I turn off the light and shut my eyes.
  • I don’t answer the phone after 9 o’clock.

And it means I wake up at an advantage and not a disadvantage when it comes to working on my posture.

Photo courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Advertisements

36 Comfortable or Familiar?

woman sleeping on her sideI’ve been conducting an experiment for the past month.

For years I slept on all four sides. I slept on my back, right side, left side and front. Sometimes for a time I would have a preference for one of the four sides. Sometimes I would rotate through all of them in the course of one night.

I decided for the past month to sleep only on my back or on my front.

What I noticed from day one is that my shoulders feel much better each morning when I wake up. They don’t feel the least bit stiff, which is how they normally feel. That in itself is enough for me to continue with the experiment.

What has been most interesting though to observe is the strong desire in me to roll onto my side–even though lying on my side has never been completely pain free for me. Even if I have enough pillows to support my head and neck the shoulder toward the bed is always compressed somewhat and just a little bit painful. But the slightly curled up fetal position I adopt when on my side is very familiar and the comfort that familiarity provided would win out over the slight discomfort I felt in the shoulder.

Your posture is to a great extent habit. Habits are familiar. When you are familiar with something it is comfortable. But not necessarily comfortable as we traditionally define it: affording physical ease or relaxation. Comfortable because it is known and not something new. An important distinction.

For me it is more comfortable to get together with old friends than to go to a party where I don’t know many people. Humans tend to resist change. What’s known (the old friends) is familiar and therefore comfortable. Something (or somebody) new is unfamiliar and therefore uncomfortable (at least until you get to know them).

Often a student experimenting with a new way of balancing her weight in sitting or standing will comment that her old way is more comfortable than the new way—even though the old way is compressing her low back and causing pain. This is just one more example of the same phenomenon of describing something familiar as comfortable.

man crossing his armsTry this experiment: cross your arms in front of you. Notice how this feels. Cross your arms the opposite way (so if your right arm was on top originally, put your left arm on top and vice versa). Notice how this feels.

Typically the way you cross your arms first will be your habitual way and it will feel comfortable (because it is familiar). The second way will not be your habitual way and it will feel uncomfortable (because it is unfamiliar). You can do this same experiment with crossing your legs as well.

One of the reasons that making changes to your posture is challenging is that we feel this strong pull back towards the familiar. New ways of doing things at first feel uncomfortable (meaning unfamiliar).

Understanding this fact is important. And also realizing that the more you practice the more familiar new habits will become and consequently the more comfortable.

Photo of woman sleeping courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Photo of man crossing his arms courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net