In my years of teaching and mentoring experience, it still amazes me that so many people neglect themselves in this way. The idea of taking time to be quiet each day, to leave space for the spontaneous action to take wing, to reflect rather than just plan, seems absurd. “But I can’t do that!” They protest. “I’m too busy!”
If your results are satisfactory, then, great! Keep on keeping on. What you are doing is working, on some level.
However, if what you are doing is not working to your satisfaction, it might be time to take yourself on as a project. Get to know thyself.
For centuries, humankind has devised practices and processes for the purpose of developing self-knowledge. Find one.
“Know thyself” is not a course you take, and then you are done. “Know thyself” is also an ongoing process. Check in with yourself each day to observe your own personal climate. Knowing thyself (the process) brings a new calm and a new dynamic to life, as you make progress toward your transformational goals.
In the past couple of days, my creativity has bubbled out in the form of creating new images from free stock photos. I add a quotation that “moves” me, and BINGO — something nice emerges that I can share.
I like this quotation because it resonates with a theme throughout the Feldenkrais Method® — that the ability to make choices is an aspect of our full human-ness. We have choices as we alter habitual patterns in the tiniest movements, to our largest actions. We make choices about how to spend our time. Did you choose to just be quiet and still for a few minutes today? We make a choice to stay on the computer creating images (ahem!) or to shut things down and go to bed. And, we make choices at the grocery store, the restaurant, and in front of the fridge.
This free stock photo from pixabay.com really appeals to me. I like the metaphor of the key: keys open doors and treasure chests and hearts, they start cars, they “unlock” concepts and ideas. They also lock to hide, keep safe, or imprison. So many choices!
Moshe Feldenkrais knew that we create the reality we experience through the choices we make. That’s some food for thought, right there.
For most people, “Learning” is what happens, or happened, in the course of formal education. School, classes, memorization, papers, mountains of reading, drilling French verb conjugations. sitting still through boring lectures — that is learning. No wonder so many people are eager and relieved to be done with it!
I grew up knowing that the learning in school was only one aspect of learning. My parents instilled in me the desire to learn — to learn about anything and everything that captured my interest. The pastor of the church I attended during high school wrote me a lovely note just before I went off to college. The most memorable line said, “Don’t let your education get in the way of your learning.”
It seems inevitable that I would become a teacher. These days, I love teaching people how to be able to learn on their own. The practice and process of experimentation, exploration, observation, and reflection is something that seems far away from the learning we all had to do in school, yet so satisfying. Sometimes, you need a guide to help you to reconnect with your ability to learn things, important things, on your own. There is nothing quite like the feeling after a light bulb goes on, a penny drops, dots are connected.
My dear departed vocal mentor, Dr. Thomas Houser, was known for saying, “Learn something new every day, or something old in a new way.” We do learn something every day, whether we realize it or not. It’s never too late to learn. new things, new ways of being, new attitudes, new habits.
As I write this afternoon, I am seated in the sunny kitchen of a beautiful home in York, PA. It is a day away from home, and a day that is far from my routine.
Life is full of disruption! Yesterday was a travel day. Up WAAAAAAYYYYY early to get to the airport. My exercise for the day consisted of schlepping my suitcase and backpack through Houston Hobby, DFW, and BWI airports. Too much sitting to fly, and then to drive, I can tell that I need to MOVE. There is a treadmill in the upstairs bedroom, which I will use later. I’m planning a walk in the neighborhood after dinner. It is what I can do, and it’s the best I can do — so that is the solution for today, and probably for the next few days.
Sleep is disrupted as well. I function best on 7.5 hours of sleep each night. My internal alarm clock is reliable. However, two short nights — the night before travel, and then the long settling in process last night in a different bed — and I can tell I am under-slept. Since I am on vacation, there’s the tantalizing possibility of a nap later in the afternoon. I’ll get to bed at a reasonable hour tonight, and perhaps that will hit the internal “reset” button and tomorrow will be better.
Since I started following the Eat to Live plan eleven months ago, I have been able to create a food environment at home that is supportive of my health goals. Since I don’t travel for a living, I don’t really have routines and systems set up so that I can eat constructively when I do travel. However, so far I have been able to stick with the plan while I am at my cousin’s home. I had a glass of wine (or two) last night while visiting, and that was my splurge. We’re going out for a family dinner tomorrow after my aunt’s memorial service, and I will probably have another small splurge — a glass of wine, or a bite of dessert. It helps me to tell myself, “It is easy and convenient to stay on this plan, even when I travel. It is easy to make good choices 90% of the time.” If I instead told myself, “This is so hard! How will I ever do it? There are so many temptations!” I would be completely focused on what I don’t want, instead of what I DO want.
It is not my intention to say, “Am I not amazing? Look how resilient I am!” However, perhaps people would feel better, stronger, and more in-control of their lives if they would say that to themselves. Humans have survived as a species because we are adaptable to a wide variety of circumstances and environments. Our internal regulatory systems strive to bring us back into balance — homeostasis — so that life systems can continue. Emotional shocks, or threats to the comfortable and familiar, are sometimes less easy to take in stride. Moshe Feldenkrais spoke and wrote extensively about the various adaptations, positive and negative, that individuals devise to “get through” particular situations. To do the best you can with what you have to work with in any moment — that’s the best you can do. Surely, when I remind myself that I do have the capacity for resilience, and I do have the resourcefulness to adapt, each day can be enjoyed for what it is: a gift of opportunity and possibility.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, insufficient sleep is a national health epidemic. Forget the summer blockbusters: “zombies” are everywhere, “undead” and chronically exhausted, driving on the highways, operating heavy machinery, piloting oil tankers, monitoring air traffic, taking care of our children, staffing our hospitals — you get the idea. If you are one of the 50-70 million Americans who suffers from a sleep or wakefulness disorder, it is small consolation to know that you are not alone.
If you google “insomnia cures,” 2.4 million results will appear in under one second. The top article is from the Mayo Clinic, entitled “What medications are used to treat insomnia?” You can tell a lot about our culture and its expectations by what comes up in search results. People expect to take a pill to “cure” their insomnia. And yet, many are apprehensive, and do not wish to take medications.
Other authorities will recommend the long list: a cup of herbal tea before bed, a darkened room, shutting off electronic devices well before bedtime. Some will purchase a new mattress, sheets, bedding, blackout curtains, and white-noise generators, to no avail. Even the “natural remedies” are in line with the same mindset: take a pill or buy a pillow — you need something you ain’t got.
While I don’t begrudge anyone the opportunity to explore solutions to find what is right for them, it seems that the conventional approaches don’t address the core cause of insomnia. Most insomnia is caused by stress, pure and simple. The non-stop stress of modern life leads to a chronically over-stimulated nervous system. Your brain just won’t stop, chugging and chattering along until the wee hours. Unless you deal with the over-stimulation, you’ll be spending a lot of time watching those late-night infomercials.
I find that most folks don’t want to hear this. They tell me how their life is way too stressful, and nothing can change. They want a pill, or a trick, so that they can keep going along their merry way and not be bothered anymore. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) sleeplessness is an early warning sign of possible health problems to come. Insomnia has been linked to heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, anxiety and depression, and cognitive decline. The sooner you intervene and get a handle on your insomnia, the better. The question remains: how can you deal with the stress that is keeping you up at night?
Rather than throwing money away on pills, gadgets, and gimmicks, a simple investment of your time will pay you great dividends. If you want a good night’s sleep, be willing to practice a bit. Night-time rituals are important. However, after a stressful day, it is almost impossible to de-stress rapidly enough so that your brain and nervous system can be quiet enough to allow you to fall asleep. Here is the secret: you must take breaks during the day to be quiet. Only then can you have a hope of falling asleep.
I like the analogy of an overflowing bathtub. The tub is your life. The water is stress: job, family, finances, relationships, the news — you name it! You can’t always control the flow from the faucet. Stress keeps pouring in. In order to prevent damage beyond the bathroom, you have to drain the tub before it overflows.
A wonderful set of tools, called the Sounder Sleep System®, was developed by Michael Krugman, author of The Insomnia Solution. The system relies on a set of gentle practices, designed to work together so that you can “drain your tub” of stress every day. If you have allowed most of the daily stress to drain away before bedtime, you have a much better chance of falling asleep, and of getting back to sleep in case you wake up. The simple techniques are powerful and effective: natural breathing and small movements allow your zooming thoughts to quiet down enough so that you can get the sleep you need. It takes only a few nights to begin to put the practice into effect. Sleeplessness becomes a habit, and habits learned can be unlearned. That is very good news!
I love to teach my clients how to use the Sounder Sleep System, because the results are so dramatic, satisfying, and rewarding. Don’t lose another night’s sleep! Find a teacher at SounderSleep.com.
This blog and website is the new and public face of the Feldenkrais® Center of Houston.
Posts will be varied, with the major interest categories being Moving, Sleeping (or not), and Eating.
I want to give you resources and actionable ideas to improve your life. How to move better, sleep better, and eat better.
Pretty simple and direct.
I’m looking forward to the minimalist approach: make things as simple as possible, and no simpler. I think Einstein said that.
If you are interested in “the examined life,” or mindfulness in general, I hope you will visit here often. Fruitful digressions will include Awareness, Mindfulness, Compassion, Kindness, Culture, Transformation, the Feldenkrais Method®, Vegetables, and as much silly stuff as I can curate.
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