Category Archives: Relaxation

Habits for better sleep

This spring in Toronto has been full of rain and one benefit I noticed is a cloudy rainy morning can help me sleep a little extra if I manage to allow myself. Being a student of traditional chinese medicine has me experimenting with various herbal formulas to balance my health. The unexpected benefit of these formulas has been improved sleep. I would say my sleep has always been pretty good and this spring I have experienced a whole new level of high quality sleep with trying chinese herbs and getting into a beautiful new bed. Sleep and rest is an extremely important component of health-we regenerate ourselves with sleep. In the spirit of sharing my good news of great sleep, I would like to share some habits that help ensure a good night’s sleep:

-No television or computer time after 10pm. Keep electronics to a minimum near your bed if possible.

-No caffeine intake after 3pm.

-Keep the same bed time ritual, such as reading, tea, brushing your teeth, so your body knows to wind down. Sleep is process of letting go, so develop your own routine to let go of your day in preparation for rest.

-Develop a meditation practice. One benefit is should you ever experience insomnia, you can observe yourself and what thoughts or feelings you experience while awake.

-Keep a gratitude journal to reflect on things you are grateful for at the end of your day. This practice has a life changing positive effect-

 

Lights Off

Considering how often I ask and advise people on their sleep habits, it is surprising I have not written more on the topic until now. I have suggested many times in my career that getting good sleep is more of a priority than waking up early to work out. The more I learn through various health disciplines, reading, and experience, I find that sleep is a huge priority for maintaining good health in every way. Consider sleep to be your own personal fountain of youth-everything in your body functions more optimally with good quality rest.

Years ago, when I was enjoying more libations than I do now, I noticed I was working out consistently and not quite in the shape I wanted to be. I had the privilege of attending a seminar with Dr John Berardi and posed the question-how can I have all the fun I want and stay in shape? His advice was to improve my sleep quality, even though I had declared I got 7-8 hours of sleep consistently. This was a real eye opener: I have always considered myself to be a good sleeper, as I knew how important it was for me to get 8 hours of sleep to feel fully energized and did so most of the time. Since the time I received that advice, I have studied my own habits and worked to make sleep even more of a priority. Dr. Berardi’s advice was fantastic, I just worked on improving my sleep and got into better shape, which is definitely easier than dieting or working out more.

There are lots of tips out there on how to improve our sleep. However, I notice that sleep while being one of the most important health habits to improve, is also one of the most challenging to change in the sense of our entrenched beliefs and each personality’s unique proclivities. We all manage to cope and function in life with varying sleep quality, so it is fairly easy to become accustomed to whatever our current pattern is…therefore we are unlikely to feel much need or motivation to make changes to our sleep habits on any given day when we feel fine.

For example, a question I love to ask is: if it was required, would you rather stay up all night or wake up super early? This gives us some insight into whether we are more of a morning or a night person. Since I was a teenager, I have known myself to prefer staying up late than wake up early. In fact, I would even say it is quite difficult for me to go to sleep much before 11:30pm. I have heard from so many different sources over the years that it is better for our health and hormones through balancing our circadian rhythms to time our sleep patterns to the rising and setting of the sun. Have I ever been able to attempt to do this? Not until the past few weeks…

The book Lights Out came recommended in an article by John Paul Catanzaro, a strength training guru I have known for many years. The book piqued my curiosity and details some highly interesting theories on our sleeping, eating, mating habits and our health. As I read all about the benefits of sleep, I had 2 busy trips within 2 weeks to different time zones that left me a bit tired when I returned home. At the same time, there were some beautiful sunsets to watch at home, so I got into a habit of leaving the lights off in my living area to enjoy the natural light. The surprising thing that happened was I noticed feeling tired and ready for bed considerably earlier than usual. With this feeling, I was able to observe that ordinarily, if I had the lights on, I would easily push past this tiredness and find a second wind that would take me to midnight. I was tired enough from my travels to feel the need to honour when my body felt tired to get to bed earlier. However, I had to make a pact with myself that I must go to bed when I felt tired, which was easier said than done, since I was fighting my urge to accomplish just a few more things. Even though I would say I generally sleep well, I felt my sleep quality improve in waking up without an alarm, feeling even more energetic and happy that I have been motivated to keep the lights off habit going.

All this to say that even when we think our habits of being a night owl are unlikely to change, being willing and open to possibilities can bring about change (especially when there is a beautiful sunset to enjoy), even for a brief period of time. I would say I feel great when I wake up just about every day (except for those super early mornings), and I have been amazed to feel even better! I would never have guessed that I would be able to get into the habit of going to bed earlier at the start of summer, a time of year I have always relished staying up late. So if this change can happen in an avowed night owl such as myself, pretty much anything is possible and every little thing you do in the spirit of taking care of yourself adds up!

If all this talk sparks any interest in you to feel the benefits of improving your sleep habits, such as losing fat and improving your health by helping your hormones such as insulin function better: Try maximizing your exposure to natural light (be outside!) and minimizing your exposure to artificial light once the sun goes down. My number one tip that I live by is quit television or computer time before 10pm, and I realize this is easy for me to say since I have do not own a television. Secrets of a Good Night’s Sleep, which can be found in my recommended reading section, is a fantastic easy to read resource in learning about psychological nature of sleep, observing and improving your own habits, and even ways to cope with insomnia.

Making Life Good recommends spending lots of time outdoors and keeping the lights off to fully enjoy the upcoming summer solstice-cheers to a happy, healthy summer with sweet dreams!

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Are you a nose or mouth breather?

Are you a nose or mouth breather? A question I regularly ask when discussing breathing. Learning if and when you breathe through your nose or mouth is a good way to observe yourself throughout various situations in life. It may be true that some forms of breathing are more beneficial than others, the first step is to become aware of how we are breathing right now.

Breathing through your nose is ideal as the nose is well designed as a breathing apparatus. The nose warms, moistens and filters the air before it reaches the lungs. However, for those of us that have stuck with nose breathing while swimming, it is a mildly painful lesson to learn that the mouth is a much better choice!

Breathing through the mouth brings in a larger volume of air, which is highly useful in situations where we need more air. Strenuous exercise being a good example.

Since breathing is the only vital bodily function where we have some volitional control, we can view it is as a window to our vitality and changeable with our conscious, kind intentions. Ask yourself at any given moment: am I breathing? how am I breathing? where am I breathing? This self inquiry into your breath is a mindful anytime meditation.

A most important posture

Easy pose, meditation

Easy pose, meditation

Sitting crossed legged is a posture that I choose often, on the ground, on a couch, in an office chair and for meditation. I find the position to be most comfortable for me to stay still for a period of time. I realize the posture is not available or comfortable for everyone (it does improve with practice, I promise), however, getting down, sitting on and getting up from the ground are movements we want to cultivate for healthy spine, hips, knees and ankles.

In addition, I have learned through my studies in yoga that siddhasana (essentially sitting crossed legged on the ground), as referenced in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and Light on Yoga is one of the most important postures we can practice. The posture allows us to have a long spine with optimal relaxation throughout the rest of the body. Sitting tall gives us better awareness and alignment to our subtle energy, so we can be a meditative state. Taking a few minutes to sit cross legged on the ground, on a block, on cushions and bringing our attention to our breathing is a meditative break we can practice daily.

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Change Your Energy…

Here is great perspective from Alyssa Cohen, homeopathic doctor on how we can empower ourselves to change our energy or vibrational state and impact our moods.

http://alyssacohen.ca/what-kirtan-and-homeopathy-have-in-common/

I experienced singing kirtan with her in November 2012. I was clueless about kirtan, and I was carried by the enthusiasm of her invitation. I definitely felt a vibrational difference and that opened the door to many possibilities for me. An example of how keeping an open mind and supporting the art that people around you create actually creates more positive energy and learning.

On Meditation

Many of us believe that meditation is good for us, as the prevalent belief is meditating can clear our minds. Meditation can help to clear our minds, especially when practiced on a regular basis. I strongly believe the first step in meditation is simply to observe what is on our minds. I have heard many times ‘I am unable to meditate, because I have too much going on in my mind’.

I invite you to sit for one to five minutes, breathe and simply notice what is going through your mind. The exercise is even more pleasant when you are outdoors or focusing your eyes on a photo or piece of art (we’ll call it scenery). See if you can focus on your breathing and the scenery. Then simply notice what is crossing your mind without judgement. This is a start to meditation and you most certainly can do it-

 

Fat Loss Tip: Enjoy the weather and relax by a pool

This is actually a general health and fitness tip, but most of us have goals of losing fat and this tip applies. I enjoyed a couple hours of sunshine by a pool this afternoon with a good friend. We both commented on how it was an exceptionally pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

Most people that we work with experience fairly high levels of stress in their modern lives. Relaxation is always on the list of lifestyle habits that we advise for general health, well being and fat loss. However, this is much easier said than done. One idea to make more time to relax and enjoy life is to make a plan with a friend, much like the way you would if you’re trying to get more active. Most of us have difficulty taking time out for ourselves to unwind, myself included.

Why is relaxation a lifestyle habit that we advise? When we run around all day to accomplish our ever growing to do list, we stimulate our sympathetic nervous system. That is our high gear, flight or fight side. Our bodies need equal stimulus in addition to sleep to rest, relax and rejuvenate, which is what our parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for. When our nervous system is in better balance, we are in better health and everything in our bodies including our minds functions more optimally. When our bodies are functioning in an optimal way, fat loss becomes a natural consequence of exercising, eating well and enjoying life (to put is simplistically).

Enjoying good weather, swimming and relaxing is an activity that simply feels good and is good for you on many levels. Here is a photo of one of my favourite pools that I have experienced some relaxation at for a little inspiration to take some time out for yourself.

 

 

Green and Zen

I believe taking some time out whenever possible to enjoy green space is a great source of enjoyment and calm. Enjoying an outdoor space is a great natural way to relieve stress. Here are some green moments of zen I have had recently:

This was the Allweather Landscape garden at Canada Blooms. I loved the way the trees were proportioned to the flower beds.

Here is Dr Landscape himself Tony Lombardi in his award winning garden Ethnography at Canada Blooms . Tony is a real talent in creating urban green space. Enjoy his work outside of the Summerhill liquor store. I have enjoyed a danish or macaron from Petite Thuet on many sunny days there.

Golden Gate Park is at least a full day of zen green moments, including the Japanese tea garden.

And Stowe Lake.

Enjoyed these plants on my way out of Golden Gate Park.

A great green spot for a zen moment can be found almost anywhere. It’s a matter of taking a moment to take it all in and appreciate being there. Try taking in the beauty of a green setting by stopping and taking ten deep breaths the next time you pass by a spot that you like, you will feel good!