8. Recharge with Booster Naps.
Not getting enough sleep can contribute to bad health. Visited by life challenges including illness, injuries, bereavements, crime and other stressors, the human body needs more time than usual to repair and rebuild itself. The problem for many people is giving themselves permission to take time out to rest when running low in energy because an all-too-common attitude is that napping is degenerate and selfish.
However, even a 20 to 30 minute snooze produces measurable signs of physical restoration. Animals doze a lot and much more when they have survived pressurising circumstances. It has been suggested, based on emerging evidence, that the Mediterranean siesta habit plays a significant role, apart from the diet, in lower incidences of heart disease and cancer in those regions, indicating the preventative power of napping. The best time to start fitting naps into everyday schedules is while people are still healthy. Those who are run down and exhausted find it much more difficult to make changes.
Becoming sensitive to bodily signs of tiredness is the simple way to know when taking a nap is called for. Getting used to reacting to these signs and arranging activities so that suitable safe places are identified where napping can be done, wherever the location, are the only preparations required. Then it’s a matter of caring enough about long-term well-being to go lie back with eyes closed and relax into a lovely mini-sleep as often as required. No one should deny themselves the healing force of napping; there are too many good reasons to become a dedicated napper for life!
7. Nature’s Nightly Restorer.
Shakespeare appreciated sleep; he wrote of
“the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care,
The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast.”
Science is discovering that he was quite right, if in more concrete terms, such as via impacts on the immune system, metabolism, memory, learning and all aspects of human functioning. Most people feel lacking in energy and focus after going a night or two without sleep, as if some important source of maintenance has been cut off and needs to be plugged into again. Where trauma, including bad news and stressful situations, is concerned, a vicious circle may set in as anxiety itself can be a severe disrupter of sleep. Everybody goes through an occasional period of missed sleep, so exercising patience and making allowances for having to deal with shocks of one kind or another are the first steps to take in order not to worsen the problem. At the same time, nipping sleep-loss in the bud makes everything easier to handle in the long run because getting enough sleep renews physical and mental processes as directly as food does. Sleep itself is one of the strengths that gets people through crises much better.
Many tips and trivia about sleep are broadcast, much of them helpful, but beware of some popular misconceptions and to-do lists that treat everyone the same. The NIH supplies a little guide to healthy sleep that’s free to download. Most healthy adults need between seven and a half to nine hours sleep per night. Self-observation using a diary if necessary to log waking and sleeping times, moods, sense of tiredness during the day etcetera will soon reveal the individual picture. Without enough, a sleep debt builds up and exhausts resources that the body and mind should be drawing on. Frequently-heard suggestions – avoiding meals and stimulating drinks before bedtime, having a sleep routine, doing without a television and lighting during the night, taking actions to block out environmental noises that cut into deep sleep – can all lead to impressive improvements.
Medication suits some people but because of dependency and side-effect issues, are preferably a short-term solution. Behavioural or habit changes are frequently required for more enduring results, which can be difficult to do without support. Doctors and counsellors are becoming better versed in sleep matters, and sleep clinics are flourishing. Making genuine efforts, with endless self-compassion, to practise the more readily-accessible recommendations can overhaul and recalibrate poor sleep level. If that is not effective, look for more specialist help, for which rates of recovery are good. Regular sound rest makes every difference.
5. Training for essential movement.
By adhering to a programme involving medical care, meditation, diet, counselling and crucially, exercise including yoga and daily walking, patients with advanced heart disease under Dr Dean Ornish reversed their conditions in a trial in 1989. It’s a good idea to consult some of the many studies demonstrating the wide range of healthy effects exercise produces, but there’s really no need to , since everyone can do their own personal experiment by observing how they feel after going from little or no activity to moderate exertion. Watch especially those, including animals, who love to move. Note the glow of unblocked fresh energy available to them. This is the reward of regular voluntary physical activity, which releases mood-enhancing endorphins that lift athletes into the proverbial ‘zone’. People involved in creative work consistently report on breakthroughs that come while taking an active break from their craft. Mental and emotional gains are as significant as physical ones.
Intrinsic also to the long-running Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programme initiated by Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn in Massachusetts are light and slow stretching exercises. Many chronic conditions have responded with measurable clinical improvements to that programme. Providing opportunities for the body to move signals confidence that it can do what it was designed to do, proving a trustworthy vehicle to accomplish goals and desires. Shutting down and sliding into couch potato mode unconsciously lets it know it’s not needed any more. Remember the motto: use it or lose it!
Derived from yoga, mindful exercises increase musculo-skeletal strength, balance and flexibility, improve circulation and lead to a trimmer, fitter figure. The states of greater awareness and relaxation they bring about help to reduce and heal disease. No special equipment or setting is required, and careful experimentation is recommended. Rather than straining to push past them, limits are to be explored in present-moment consciousness, aided by full breathing. This advances the skill of acknowledging and working with messages that the body is giving, of knowing when to stop to prevent risk of injury. For some lovely examples with clear instructions, try the practice manual from The Community of Interbeing.
Intentional attending to experience and sensations, and following the breath, are also integral to mindful walking. Doing this often leads to a realisation of how absorbed in thoughts people are, instead of appreciating what’s going on inside and outside them. It is normally done slowly especially in training phases when the wonderful process of walking itself is contemplated and savoured. It can be done indoors in areas of very little space, or outdoors where nature and the environment can be admired at the same time. Clear, simple instructions for walking meditation are provided courtesy of Mindful Magazine. They are worth trying to get moving again or as an extra to your regular exercise routine. Whether a little or a lot, keep moving!
4. Get Stronger with Movement.
Moving requires more breathing than staying in a sedentary state. This means that the life-giving effects of the process of breathing properly are multiplied during movement, especially when mindful breathing is incorporated into the activity. If a form of exercise is already being done regularly that provides a rewarding safe workout, it is very possibly fulfilling many needs for movement. When people become very ill or immobile a more gradual resumption of physical stretches can be more suitable.
Methods of slow stretching, however, produce particularly thorough benefits and learning some of the postures from one or other of the traditions that date back to ancient times is recommended for everyone. Courses, classes and workshops are widely accessible, and the gentle progressive nature combine harmlessly with most medical conditions while generating subtle changes in flexibility, stamina and balance that help compose both body and mind. More common methods include yoga, Pilates (yoga blend), Tai Chi and Chi/Qi Gong. Some people will find them sufficient in themselves; other can append them to their current exercise regimen, or run through them from time to time. Research into yoga and the rest is ongoing. Various energy therapies, including polarity, quantum touch, FSM and others, are known to give relief.
Further information is readily available from many books, videos, websites, workshops and organisations on these and all kinds of exercise. The initial effort and decision to investigate and trial one or more options, to find a programme that can be followed and that matches current needs and abilities, depends on the person.
It is important to get into a rhythm of regular movement activity that can be scheduled into the individual timetable because while euphoric rewards may be experienced in the aftermath, motivation to start each session and keep up repeats can pose challenges. The habit sends messages to the immune system to tune up and do its job of defending life. Extend movement to a point of mild exertion, then hold and release. Pushing too far too fast is self-sabotaging, risky and a recipe to become quickly discouraged and give up. Discovering and setting the individual pace to stay engaged is the key.
Walking, swimming, cycling, team games like tennis and football, hiking, dancing, aerobics classes, supervised gym and weight-training; all these can form part of a regime for vitality according to the level of fitness and wellness the participant is currently at. Even housework can account for exercise that helps the heart, the engine of the body. The priority is to realise the value of moving and of personally ensuring exercise structures are put in place so that the fruits can be enjoyed every day.
3. Breathing Exercises
Ensuring whole-body breathing throughout the day is so critical that sometimes it requires more structured exercises to get going. The three outlined below have produced success in training people to correct breathing that has become so shallow, it denies them vital benefits.
This exercise is adapted from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programme.
Sit in a comfortable posture in a quiet place, spine erect, shoulders dropped, eyes closed if preferred.
Bring awareness to physical sensations, focussing attention on touch and pressure felt by the body making contact with surfaces. Take time to notice these sensations and stay with them for a few minutes.
Feel the belly rise and expand with the in- and out-breath. Devote attention to the second-to-second expansion and deflation of the abdomen, so closely that the mingling of being with the process can be acknowledged.
If and when the mind wanders, note what subject distracts it from concentration on the breath before taking it back to the area of the diaphragm and the breathing activity going on there. Keep doing this for 5-15 minutes per session.
Practising the above exercise for even one minute more often than once or twice daily improves physical condition. Harnessing inner resources as the world pushes ahead with its busy agendas pays off by developing readily-available inner resources to access anywhere, any time. Deliberately bringing attention to breathing serves as a sort of stop to instantly refuel body and mind. It facilitates getting in touch with whatever is being experienced at that moment and acknowledging how that feels. Even negative emotions and thoughts can be present and accepted without panic, just delivering their message, possibly revealing constructive action to be taken later.
Continuing to breathe into the experience, gently focusing more and more on the breath, is calming. Let thoughts pass and gather as much available attention as possible onto the flow of the breath in and out. In this way the breath can act as an anchor in the present moment, linked to a state of stillness and awareness in the midst of external flurry.
Finally, expand conciousness of the breathing process so that it seems as if the whole body is breathing – which in a way it certainly is as the exchange of fluids and gases across capillary walls is carried out more effectively all over with each hearty breath, at peace in the space the exercise is done.
Try to practice each and all stages of this slower mindful breathing process at least 3 times a day. Linking it to a regular activity might assist reminders to do it.
Try especially to practise it when going through an occasion that is triggering anxiety, such as a discussion involving conflict of some kind, or when rushing somewhere. Paradoxically the times it could most help pose the most difficulty, and blocking, shutting off, numbing and other deterrent feelings can create resistance. After succeeding and staying with the strain to set up new patterns, though, confidence sets in about being able to relax under turbulent conditions. Persistence pays off.
Another trick for improving diaphragmatic breathing to obtain maximum health gain is to use the 1:4:2 breathing method.
The 1:4:2 refers to the time ratio at which the breath should be inhaled, held and exhaled for best results. For every good deep inhalation, hold four times as long, to fully oxygenate the blood and activate the lymphatic system, and breathe out in double the time, to eliminate all the toxins flushed out of cells. Breathe in for at least 3 seconds, meaning a hold for 12 seconds and an exhalation for 6 seconds, and repeat the procedure at least 3 times every day. Every effort to incorporate this activity stands to the practitioner and augers well.
Breathe in life!
(Asthma suffers might like to investigate the Buteyko method of breathing, of which there are many positive reports.)
2. Breath is Life.
Whoever has managed to stay alive after whatever terrible event has befallen them is proof that breath at least is still being drawn. How this is done will determine to an extent more than most people realise, how quickly someone will feel better and how much energy and resilience can be accessed for ready benefit. The great thing is that making this work is largely under each person’s own control.
Breathing indicates safe arrival at birth and its termination warns of imminent death. The body lasts only minutes without air which is constantly required to oxygenate blood and subsequently all the cells of the body. A circulatory system that is working properly, efficiently transporting nutrients through the bloodstream, reflects general good health. Besides the vital oxygenation of blood to nourish vital cellular processes, effective exchanges between the capillaries and cells across lymph fluid depend on the quality of breathing. Humans have four times as much lymph fluid as blood which bathes all cells and removes toxic materials such as dead cells. Lymph nodes neutralise and destroy the poisons passed through them. The lymph system, like a sewerage plant, drains off damaging particles and excess fluid that can block cells from accessing nutrients. If it fails for more than one day, death surely ensues. It’s that important. Unlike the bloodstream, which has a pump, the heart, the lymph system relies entirely on deep diaphragmatic breathing and muscular movement. That is to say, the immune system that defend the basic functions for life, is as good as the level at which the lymph system is maintained. How breathing is done affects it directly, and this is something that anyone can do something about immediately.
Studies replicated many times, originally conducted by Dr Otto Warburg, showed that reducing the amount of oxygen available turns healthy cells into malignant cells. Other tests done by Dr Jack Shields showed via tiny internal cameras that deep breathing and exercise can accelerate the pace at which the body eliminates toxins by up to fifteen times the starting level.
Improving breathing often requires a very deliberate strategy, especially when people are experiencing stress which can constrict muscles and induce shallow breathing that can gradually debilitate the body on its own account. Luckily, from time immemorial, the importance of breathing to life has been incorporated in various practices which go on yielding remarkable revitalising results, both in their original and adapted forms. Yoga and meditation are amongst the most well known but shamans and healers of all traditions offer exercises in breath training. The best approach is to do a little research, pick one that appeals, preferably but not necessarily that’s taught in a local class, and commit to it for a term. The effort required at the beginning can feel strange and uncomfortable while at the same time subtle changes for the better are noticed very quickly too. A wonderful selection of additional information, including physiological descriptions, step-by-step schedules for brief practices to incorporate regularly into daily life, guidance on suitable activities and much more, will reward an online or book search, while health and fitness workers can also advise.
Attending to correct breathing is a priority for restoring health and well-being and builds instant stamina for what needs to be done. Throughout every day, whenever the act of breathing is brought into the realm of consciousness, it is another opportunity to do it slower and deeper. It must become a habit. The difference it makes encourages and assists on all fronts.