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How to unwind from your day

Science has now proven that good quality sleep is one of the most important factors in repairing and restoring the body and the brain. There is a big difference between deep sleep and light sleep when it comes to our overall health and wellbeing. Dr. Amen, one of America’s leading psychiatrists, who is a brain disorder specialist, the director of the Amen Clinics, and a New York Times bestselling author, believes that we should all aim to have a minimum of 7-8hrs deep sleep per night. Those of us who are highly stressed and over stimulated individuals, will find that this prospect, in itself, sounds like a dream. What can we do to prepare both the body and the mind, in order to ensure that we get our daily dose of 7-8hrs of deep sleep? Thankfully the method is relatively simple, and it may only take some time before the body and mind adjust to the new daily rituals and routines required to cultivate deep sleep. It is important to remember that you are a highly adaptable human being; one of the most adaptable species on the planet in fact! You have the capacity to change, if you are committed to your goals and are willing to go through some short-term discomfort, in order to achieve long-term results. Some changes will be simple, however some will be more challenging. Either way, remember that, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you”, as my good friend Fred DeVito always says. There are a variety of different considerations to make when it comes to creating a restful night’s sleep, and there is not any one formula that fits all scenarios or all people. I believe that the most important thing, is to test and try different tools and techniques, until you find what works for you, and then stick to that. Become your own science experiment! Here is a list of 12 very helpful and advisable suggested changes to make in your own life, in order to cultivate, not only a healthy sleep pattern, but also a healthy lifestyle. Things to avoid:

  1. Caffeine after 4pm, including tea, coffee, cola, etc.;

  2. Sugar after dinner (cut out dessert);

  3. Eating or drinking 2hrs before bed (this includes water) as you could break your sleep with bathroom breaks during the night;

  4. Device time 2hrs before bed. This includes all Internet surfing, emails, social media and other stimulants on your phone, tablet and/or computer;

  5. Certain types of television you watch or books you read before bed. These could be over-stimulating if they get your heart rate racing and your mind over thinking;

  6. Staying up after 10pm.

Things to start:

  1. Getting up early, at least by 6am, and consuming a large glass of alkaline water;

  2. Make your own super smoothie of choice everyday, in order to fuel your body with good quality nutrients;

  3. A daily meditation practice of at least 20 minutes, done either in the morning or in the evening. It is best if it is done at the same time and in the same place everyday. Meditation is always done sitting up with the spine straight (not lying down); so get what you need to support your seat;

  4. Exercise till you sweat, for at least 30-60 minutes a day;

  5. Create your own gratitude prayer that you say every night before going to sleep. It can be short and sweet, but something that is meaningful for you so you end the day with positive energy;

  6. Get a good quality bed and pillow.

Here are some tips to help you create a sacred space for your meditation practice. Find a special place in your home that you can dedicate as your meditation corner. It does not have to be a big space; mine is only 1.5m x 1.5m. You can create a space that is what you need it to be; some people like to put special crystals, flowers and photos up. This is not necessary, however, and I personally have nothing in my corner other than a window. Once you have chosen your sacred space, you will need a special meditation mat, plus a pillow or chair to support your seat. It is paramount that you sit upright with your spine long and strong, to allow energy to flow freely up and down the central nervous system. This in itself can be a challenging practice, as, often, peoples’ feet, knees, hips or back hurt sitting for 20mins at a time. But, like anything, practice makes permanence. Once you have found your comfortable seat, allowing you to be at ease, the second step is to stay still and commit to your seat. For many, this step is also very challenging, as one often wants to move and fidget. The mind is excellent at playing tricks on us, and we can become itchy or uncomfortable, tempting us to break our stillness. This step is all about building your discipline and self-restraint, which has wonderful side effects that will trickle into your daily life. Once we have cultivated stillness of the body, we move towards stillness of the mind. The final step to undertake before meditation, is to simply focus the mind. There are many strategies to help focus the mind. Some people like to use breathing techniques, also known as pranayama, and some like to use relaxing music. Other strategies include chanting or candle gazing. All are great tools to help you harness your mind, bringing it into one point of focus. It is only when the mind is completely merged with the point of focus for an extended period of time, uninterrupted, that we have the potential to practice meditation. The average person has 35-48 thoughts per minute, according to the Huffington Post (May 23, 2013), making it a very challenging task to focus on just one thing for 20 minutes. That is why true meditation is very difficult to achieve. Having said this, practicing the art of pure concentration, can have significant benefits with regards to your ability to focus and detach from stimulation. I often pop a lot of students’ bubbles when I highlight that they aren’t really meditating and that they are simply practicing concentration. I believe this is a necessary process for us to develop, in order to unwind from our day and master the mind, making it much easier to achieve the required 7-8hrs deep sleep for optimum health and wellbeing, for both our body and our brain.

By Michelle Cassidy

Essence of Living

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