fitness

Sleeping Goofy

A few months ago, I lost the knack for sleeping.

It wasn’t that I *couldn’t* fall asleep, and it wasn’t that I wasn’t sleeping for long enough,  the problem was that the quality of my sleep was poor.

I thought I had tried everything  – I went to bed earlier, I stayed in bed later. I stopped taking my ADD meds for while in case they were the problem.

Nothing worked.

I was doing basically okay but my energy was low and I felt out of sorts. Exercising felt like a HUGE effort.

I thought I should try to change my sleep environment – perhaps I was too warm, too cold, or the room was too light.

Then I remembered how, a few years ago, I had to ditch my light-based alarm clock because as soon as it brightened at all, I immediately woke up fully. There was no gentle awakening, I was asleep and then AWAKE and still tired.

And I thought about how, even though I went to bed fairly early, half the household was going to sleep after I did so there were lights going on and off in the hall as they got ready for bed. And then I considered that, when the sun rose, an unavoidable sliver of light leaked around my curtain and woke me up.

I thought about trying to get them to change which lights they turn on, and maybe buying a darker curtain for my room. That seemed complex and possibly expensive.

That’s when I hit on the solution….a sleep mask!

I even had one already – it came with a pair of pajamas my mother-in-law gave me a few years ago.

In my mind’s eye, I was going to look like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, all sleepy glamour and tassled earplugs. (I can’t actually imagine wearing earplugs to sleep but to each their own)

Actress Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's. She is a slender, brown-haired woman and she looking out around her apartment door. Only her head and one shoulder can be seen, she is wearing a light blue sleep mask pushed up on her forehead and there is a tassel visible, dangling from her right ear.
Audrey and I have very little in common, apparently. 😉

In reality, of course, I look ridiculous.  

More sleeping goofy than sleeping beauty.

The author, a white woman in her 40s with chin-length brown hair, is wearing pink and white pyjamas and  a white sleep mask that has black stars on it. She is smirking. The background of the photo is green.
See what I mean? Totally foolish. PS – My pajamas read ‘waking up is hard to do’ – ha!

Luckily I don’t have to watch myself sleep* – I can just enjoy the process.

And I REALLY enjoy waking up feeling refreshed.

It’s not just that the mask helps me regulate the light level in the room, it has also become a signal that it’s time to sleep. It’s almost like a focusing tool for resting. (I even use when I am taking nap)

Even though it feels faintly ridiculous, this small change has made a HUGE difference in my life.

Totally worth feeling like sleeping goofy.

Have you ever tried a sleep mask? Could you sleep while wearing earplugs? Do you have any other tricks for making your environment more amenable to a good night’s sleep?

PS – Yes, I have also tried melatonin, on the advice of my doctor, and it’s great. That was after the mask solved the problem, though.  The melatonin just makes things a bit better again.

PPS – Also, I have been able to start taking my ADD meds again which makes life a lot easier.

*I’d end up awake all night laughing at myself. Even that photo is cracking me up. All glam, all the time, that’s me!

fitness

More Rest for the Leery

Kim’s post about her restorative vacation put me in mind of my efforts to rest more regularly.

 

I realize how weird that sentence is. It’s bizarre to think that I have to work at resting, but it does require a concentrated effort.

 

The author, a white woman with light brown hair and glasses, is lying in an orange and grey hammock. There is a small patch of green plants in the upper right of the photo. She has a tired smirk and she is wearing a red tshirt that reads 'patriarchy got me drove.'
This was a particularly challenging day (I barely had energy to smirk) but luckily, I did remember to rest. I felt MUCH better afterwards. (My tshirt reads ‘patriarchy got me drove’)

If left to my own devices, I will keep doing the thing I’m doing until it’s done and then I will rest. That works just fine on small projects – a blog post, running an errand, doing the dishes – but it becomes a problem when the project is any bigger than that. If I am not careful, I’ll find myself working away on a large project until I run out of time or until something more pressing comes along.  

 

I’m not a ‘workaholic’, I don’t feel compelled to work all the time, that’s not my motivation at all. I just have this mistaken idea that in order to really relax, I need to have all my work finished. I don’t want to have a time limit on my rest, nor do I want thoughts of my remaining tasks to intrude on my rest time. So it’s not that I want to do MORE work, it’s that I want it all out of the way so I can just sink into my rest.

 

Of course, things don’t work like that. I’m a writer and a life coach and I have two teenage sons, there isn’t really a point at which I am done. Instead, I can reach ‘done for now’ and ‘done for today’ or ‘that’s enough on that project.’ – see Jennifer Louden’s ‘Conditions of Enoughness’ for a good discussion of that last point. 

 

 I’m a bit nervous about resting because I am afraid that I will derail myself and not get back to my tasks.  I’m sure my natural tendencies on this point are complicated by my ADHD. I want to get things done before I get distracted, I see the work as a whole unit instead of seeing it as being able to be broken down into parts, and I want the work ‘out of the way’ so I can focus on the next thing – rest- without thoughts of work intruding.

A square white card with black text. The text is embellished with flourishes and spirals. The text reads 'If you just work hard and play hard all the time you are missing something. You need to rest hard , too! Try it! I dare you!" The card is resting on a dark surface.
This is one of my reminder cards – I have these things everywhere!

I always coach my clients to rest more often and I have to coach myself to do the same thing. I have little notes posted all over the place reminding me to take breaks. I try to pay attention to how I am holding my shoulders and if my breathing is deep enough – two sure signs of needing to rest. 

 

That works pretty well (unless I get deeply into whatever I am working on – my brain HATES switching tasks at that point) and I’ll end up lying in my hammock for a few minutes, or taking my tea out on front steps, or sitting down with my book for a while. However, I need more rest during my workday – especially since the nature of my work means that it doesn’t always confine itself to regular work hours.

 

When my kids were small and home with me all day, I used to joke that if stay-at-home moms had two guaranteed fifteen minute breaks and a half an hour for lunch every day the job would be a lot easier.

 

It wasn’t possible for me to do then but I am thinking about instituting that for myself these days (I work from home so I have a fair bit of control over my schedule). Maybe setting an alarm for a morning break and an afternoon break would make it easier for me to rest a couple of times a day.

 

I usually have success when I take something like that out of the realm of an in-the-moment choice and make it an automatic part of my schedule.

 

Just like Kim concluded yesterday, rest is restorative. I know that, even if I sometimes forget in the moment.

 

I don’t want to rest more so I can be more effective in my work (that’s a side benefit), I want to rest more because I feel better when I do.

 

How do you ensure that you get enough rest? What do you do when you are resting?

fitness · meditation

Update: Meditative but not always meditating

After today, I have three days left in this phase of my meditation experiment.

 

A white person's hand, palm upward, rests on their leg, just above the knee. They are wearing grey pants with black polka dots. The background is a red mat resting on green carpet.
I was told once that when you meditate, you put your palm upward to receive information from the universe and you put it down if you are being introspective. I’m open to ideas in this photo.

It hasn’t gone like I had hoped but I am still pretty pleased with the results.

 

Over the past couple of weeks, things have gotten more and more hectic for me.  my freelance workload temporarily increased, the weather got super warm ( at least warm for here),  and it seemed like demands on my time increased overall.  My schedule went awry and I lost any sense of *when* to do things (a big problem for someone with a slippery grip on time in the first place).

 

So many things were flying at me that I struggled to prioritize (again, not one of my strengths) and I didn’t even choose a time to do an update here.

 

This is exactly the sort of thing that my plans were supposed to help me prepare for but I wasn’t ready for the scope of my sudden-onset-busy-ness.

 

Things worked out in their own way, just not how I had planned.

 

The Downside

 

While I did pretty well on my first couple of weeks, during the second half of the month, I only *sat* to meditate a handful of times. My idea of clearing this space and increasing my meditation time slowly didn’t work at all like I envisioned.

 

Lots of times, I got interrupted by one urgent matter or another. Or the alarms I set had to be postponed because there was too much going on at the time.

 

And sometimes I couldn’t make myself stop what I was doing, either because my brain refused  or because I had a deadline.

 

The Upside

 

I can confirm that it takes 2-3 minutes for me to stop squirming and settle into my meditation – this is valuable information.

 

I can confirm that when I am having trouble ‘settling’ on my own, I can do a guided meditation and it will help.

 

And here’s the really big thing.

 

Even though I have not yet made a regular routine of twice daily meditation, my INTENTION to do so has made me more aware of my patterns – both of thinking and of doing.

 

In these hectic weeks, I became increasingly aware of how my time was being used. I began to have some space, some additional space, between me and the action I was taking. I started to breathe slowly when I felt stressed and reminded myself that the stress was temporary. 

A rectangular index card rests on a wooden surface. The card has a drawing of one side of an analog clock face, which is outlined in green, and the words 'Take your time' are written on the left side of the card.
In addition to meditation, this month, I have also been doing the Index Card a Day challenge. This is from one day when my meditation and my art practice was on the same page.

 

\

So, even though I wasn’t sitting to meditate per se, I was in that kind of mental space.

 

It was almost as if the fact that I meant to meditate  was giving me the the breathing room that I hoped for.

 

I want to be able to have a bit more space in my head, I want to feel a little less reactive, and I want to be more thoughtful about things. I like it when I ask questions about why I’m doing things the way I’m doing.

 

So, I feel like I got one of the wellness benefits of meditating, or at least one that really helps me, without  going fully into a meditative practice.

 

In my earlier update, I talked about ‘doing the dishes meditation’ or ‘mowing the lawn meditation’ and I have found that I have had success with that again in these past two weeks. I am more conscious of what I’m doing when I’m doing it, I’m not self-conscious or anything,  but my reactions are not always automatic either.

 

Phase Two

 

The things I have gained feel great but  I still feel like I want to work toward steadier, specific meditation. I want to meditate a couple of times a day and work up to a longer times. I like how that type of meditation feels and I want that feeling more often.

 

So I’m going to keep working on it throughout August. I am going to work up to those two separate times in a day .

 

I’ll report back in a week or two and let you know how it’s going.

yoga

Cause and Effect, Effect and Cause – Anxiously Dealing with Tight Neck Muscles

I don’t suffer from any sort of anxiety disorder but I am quite experienced with garden variety anxiousness.* So that means I get stressed out while to manage my work, or when I am trying to figure out what order to do my work in. I’m sure lots of you have the same kind of thing going on.

 

While anxiety makes my thoughts hop from topic to topic, my main physical symptom is tightness in my neck, shoulders and upper back. Sometimes I don’t even realize I feel anxious until my neck gets cranky with me, and then I take the opportunity to corral my racing thoughts and bring myself some ease.

The author, a white woman with light brown hair and glasses and wearing a black shirt, is using her right hand to gently pull her head to the right and stretch the left side of her neck. Her eyes are closed and she is smirking.
This is what happens when I try to demonstrate a stretch while smirking and then accidentally close my eyes as I snap the photo. Goofiness abounds.

 

I wouldn’t say that anxiety *causes* me neck and shoulder tension but they are definitely related. 

 

I discovered a few years ago that the relationship goes both ways.

 

If I do too much writing, or overdo my upper body workouts, or if I walk too long in the wind,** my neck and shoulders get tight. Once those muscles get themselves in a twist, my brain goes problem-solving mode and tries to figure out what I am anxious about. My breathing gets shallower, I draw my shoulders up closer to my ears, and I keep waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop.

 

The thing is, there wasn’t even a first shoe, let alone an ‘other’ one. I wasn’t anxious in the first place, I just had tight shoulders. But my brain, my ever-so-helpful brain, knows what that tension signifies and reacts by generating anxious thoughts.

 

Delightful, hey?

 

Okay, it’s more frustrating than delightful, but at least I have started to recognize when it happens. Once I know what’s going on, I stretch, I do a little exercise, I roll a lacrosse ball around on my shoulders and neck (based on my chiropractor’s advice – thanks, Ken!) and eventually both the muscle tension and the resultant anxiety eases.

 

This whole scenario happened to me this past Sunday. I woke up with neck, shoulders and upper back all pulled taut. I had weird nightmares all Saturday night so I suspect that I was hunching my shoulders in my sleep.

 

I spent a good chunk of Sunday morning feeling pretty awful – my brain was bouncing from side to side in my skull and it was hard to breathe –  and I couldn’t figure out what to do with myself.

 

I meditated for a little while which helped with my racing thoughts but not with my shoulders, and then I hit on the idea of doing some yoga.

 

That’s when I found this:

A yoga video from ‘Yoga with Adriene’ that is focused on ‘neck and shoulder relief’

 

(I really like Adriene’s videos because she’s cheerfully goofy)

 

It was exactly what I needed. Not only did it have the sort of stretching that I needed to do, it kept me sitting still long enough for my brain to rest a bit.

 

My next step is to work on some preventative habits that help keep my neck from getting so tight in the first place.

 

Do you have that cause then effect and effect then cause thing going on too? How does it happen for you?

What do you do to help yourself out of that loop?

 

*I feel like this is pretty common with people with ADD. When you have trouble measuring time and your executive function is not always on call, the risk of messing something up or forgetting something important is pretty high.

**Apparently, I hunch my shoulders when walking in the wind. This is a serious hazard in NL where it is windy ALL THE TIME.

meditation

Slow Build Meditation – Christine Checks In

 

I’m enjoying my practice so far.

 

I mean, I both enjoy the practice of meditating and I enjoy that I have a daily meditation practice.

 

Here’s what I have learned so far:

 

Perfectly imperfect, perhaps?

A screen capture from the Insight Timer app, the author, a white woman in her forties, is pictured in a small round image, she has her short brown hair pulled back on one side, she is smirking and she is wearing red lipstick. Beneath her photo are 7 white circles representing the days of the week. Text below reads 'Congratulations, Christine. 3 mins completed."
My app is pretty happy that I have visited it 7 days in a row. I chose this profile photo to a) scare off creepy people and b) remind myself not to take things too seriously.

I have meditated on six of seven days. I actually started by ‘failing’ right out of the gate. I didn’t think about the fact that I was having people over on Canada Day so I would have lots of prep to do for that, and I had visitors until late into the evening. I decided not to worry about it and just pick things up on the 2nd. (that’s why this post is today, and my meditation app is happy for me to have seven days in a row – it includes today)

 

I think I have only managed to do two sessions on three of seven days. Despite that, I still feel that twice a day is worth working toward and even if I can’t do it every day, it’s great on the days that it happens.

 

And even though I haven’t been able to get myself to sit twice a day, meditation has come to my mind at other times when I couldn’t just sit and I chose to do my task more while breathing steadily. I guess, then, that I chose to be more mindful of those tasks?

 

So, if you will allow me that loophole, then I have done dishwashing meditation, icing-making meditation, lawn mowing meditation, and a walking meditation. That seems like a positive to me. 🙂

 

‘Don’t be precious about things, Christine’

 

The author, a white woman in her mid-forties with short brown hair is lying on a brown wooden floor. Her eyes are closed.
Here I am, right after meditating, lying mat-less on my living room floor. Working hard at not being precious about the details.

When I set out my plan for how I was going to meditate, I thought that clearly picturing myself meditating on my yoga mat on my living room floor, would be helpful. I thought it would be a good (metaphorically) separate space, a marker for when I should meditate.

 

However, my household was a bit busy this week and I couldn’t always commandeer the living room for my own purposes.

 

I was annoyed with myself at first for not picking a better plan but then I remembered that there is no point in being precious* about the details (the heading for this section is a direct quote from me talking to myself). 

I have to remember that the details are supposed to serve me, not to hamper me.

 

So, I have meditated in my hammock, sitting in the front seat of my car before going into the supermarket, sitting at my kitchen table, lying on my living room floor without my mat, and lying crossways on my bed. I think I have only meditated the way I planned to on one occasion.

 

I’m completely okay with that.

 

Adjusting the plan as needed

 

Several times this week, three minutes has seemed ‘too short’, so I am taking that as a good sign for my plan to increase my time this week.

 

I think that two minutes may be my ‘getting into it’ time frame for meditation. I feel squirmy for the first minute or so (I have peeked at my timer – I am totally imperfect) and that second minute takes a fair bit of reminding to come back to my breath, but that third minute starts feeling really good. Let’s see how that holds out for my plan for six minutes this week!

 

Last week, I tried to have a specific place for meditation and that didn’t play out as I imagined. This week, I am going to try to have specific times. I like having alarms and timers for things so I don’t have to make a decision in the moment, so I’m going to set an alarm for 8:30am and 8:30pm and see how they suit me as meditation times. If for some reason I *can’t* stop what I am doing right then, I won’t just turn off the alarm, I’ll reset it for a time I will be free.

 

The photo depicts a pair of legs in a hammock. The person is wearing grey capris that have black polka dots on them. The hammock is grey and orange and is hanging from a large tree, there is an unpainted fence to the left.
My meditation location this morning was not a hardship.

Big picture

 

I feel good about this practice and I feel like it is worth explore how to make it work even better for me.

 

For a change, I was unfazed by not sticking to my exact plan, I just rolled with it the best I could.

 

I wonder where the next week will take me?

 

*I have lots of things in my life that are precious to me, I’m not using the word that way. In this case, I mean that I shouldn’t get too caught up in having perfect conditions, or following a specific ideal. I fall into that trap sometimes.

health · meditation

Meditate on this – Christine decides on a slow build to a new habit

This isn’t going to be a post about how I fight my brain in order to meditate. 

A large maple tree branch full of leaves against a blue sky with a few clouds in it.
This is the view from my hammock in my yard, it gives my brain the same kind of feeling that meditation does.

 

In fact, I really like meditating and once I sit down, I enjoy the process of bringing myself back to my breath over and over. I like the IDEA of it, and I like the practice.

 

Yet, I don’t meditate regularly.

 

It’s not that I don’t want to meditate, I just have trouble *starting* to meditate. 

 

Changing activities is a real challenge for me.  Even if I want to do the next thing, my brain hates to let go of the thing that I am already doing and transition into the next one.

 

So, I have to use some tricks to make that happen.

 

Through trial and error, over time, I have discovered that I can get over the transition barrier (that trouble switching tasks) by identifying how long it takes me to start to enjoy something once I switch into that activity.

 

Writing, for example, takes 5 minutes to become fun. No matter how much I don’t feel like writing in a given moment, if I spend 5 minutes at it, I stop fighting myself. Then I start to find the fun it, it starts to become rewarding.

 

With exercise, it usually takes 10 minutes before I stop fighting myself, before I can quiet the inner temptation to do something else – anything else. Once I hit that 10 minute mark, I am in the groove and I have fun.

 

So, I don’t let those initial feelings of discontent convince me to switch activities in that ‘warm-up’ time and as a result I spent my time in an intentional, purposeful way.

 

Oddly though, despite my desire to meditate, I haven’t applied that ‘warm-up’ approach to meditation.

The author, a white woman in her mid-forties, with light brown hair, wearing a black shirt, lies on a green mat. Her eyes are closed.
I’m not actually meditating here, obviously (how would I get a photo of that?), this was part of a photo project. Let’s pretend it is a meditation simulation.

 

It’s on my mental list of enjoyable things to do in a given day, but it rarely makes it into practice.

A screen capture of the timer screen of the Insight Timer meditation app. The words 'Starting Bell' are at the top, and a bowl is depicted below with the word 'Basu' on it. Below the bowl are four oblong shapes indicating the duration of the timer (Meditation 3 minutes), the interval bells (none), the ambient sound (none), and the ending bell (Basu is listed again). The word Start is in a white circle at the bottom of the screen.
My timer screen for week 1. One of the things I like about Insight Timer is how peaceful all of the sounds are.

It’s time to change that.

 

In July, I am going to incorporate a short meditation practice into my day, lying on my yoga mat, using my ‘Insight Timer’ app to time myself and to journal about the experience.

 

In week 1, I’ll do 3 minutes, twice a day and if that is successful, I’ll increase in two minute increments each week.

 

I know those are very small goals but want to find that ‘warm-up’ point, and I want to keep the bar low. I’m not trying to do a great practice, nor a deep one, I’m aiming for a consistent one.

 

I’ll report back after week 1.

A screen capture of a phone app featuring a black screen with the word Journal at the top middle and the words 'Write your journal note here...' underneath it.
This is the journal page of my app. I like how plain it is.
gear · walking · yoga

Summer Victory! Christine troubleshoots her outdoor fitness

I’m my own superhero this week – gleefully removing obstacles that prevent me from going outside to play.

 

How did I do that you may ask?  I bought a mat and a new pair of sneakers.

 

I know, it doesn’t sound heroic at all, blah de blah, Christine bought things, but I had to do a ridiculous amount of thinking to figure that those were the things I needed.

 

I’m sure I have told you before how my ADD makes it hard to break a problem into pieces, I usually refer to it as a reverse ‘forest for the trees’ problem – it’s not that I can’t see the forest for the trees, it’s that I can’t see that the forest is made of trees. So, when I meet some resistance to things I am trying to do, I often can’t see what the solvable issue is – I just see the whole situation as difficult.

 

So, given that it is (finally) getting summer(ish) here in Newfoundland*, I want to do more things outdoors, especially exercise. I love to go for walks and I love to do yoga in the sunshine in my yard.

 

But, last summer and fall, I found myself a bit reluctant to go out walking. I liked the process of being on a walk but it was hard to get myself to put on my sneakers.

 

And, also last summer, I really liked the times that I did yoga in the yard but I didn’t do it as often as I meant to.

 

I know that some of the more fitness-driven readers might be thinking – oh, just do it and stop whining about it. You’re right, of course, that’s a lot of the issue. I ‘just’ need to get over myself but there was more to it, and this week,for some reason, I managed to zero in on the issues with both activities.

 

First, the walking… 

 

My old sneakers had holes in the sole. I don’t mean that I had worn a hole in them, I mean that the design was such that there were a series of spaces in the sole of the shoe. That may not seem like a big deal until you realize that the holes are big enough to pick up rocks. So, every time I wear them, I have to stop and pry rocks out over and over. It’s annoying but apparently the task had sunk at least part way into my subconscious, so I didn’t really realize what a hassle it had become.

The bottom of a right sneaker. The sole is grey and green and the design of the surface includes ridges and a line of large holes. The sneaker is resting on a brown linoleum floor.
See what I mean? Imagine the rocks that could fit in there and click while you walk.

 

It was only this week, when I was putting the sneakers on to walk my son to school for an exam and I suggested a less rocky route, that I realized they were such an impediment. And the sneakers are several years old so I don’t even feel guilty about replacing a pair of ‘perfectly good sneakers’ because they aren’t perfectly good in other ways either.

 

So, now I have a pair of brand new sneakers and I have already taken the long way to get several places just to get a bit more of a walk in.

The author's feet in her new grey and pink sneakers. She is standing on black asphalt.

 

 

Next – yard yoga!

 

The grass in my backyard is bumpy. I’m sure that there are plenty of rocks getting in my way under the surface out there, as well. Perhaps the sod is not laid well, I don’t know, and I am not about to do the kind of landscaping that would fix it. If I put my yoga mat directly on the grass, I am all uneven, I’m on a slant, and I can’t do any poses requiring balance.

 

My back deck is old and the ‘floor’ is made of fairly widely spaced slats. If I put my yoga mat directly on that, I can feel the spaces under my feet or back or knee, and one of my fingers always ends up pushing my yoga mat into the space.

Three weathered brown deck boards. There are finger-width spaces between each one.
Look at those finger-trapping spaces. Ignore how badly the deck needs painting, we’ve only had about nice days so far, so painting will have to wait.

 

Last summer, I countered the problem by dragging a piece of plywood from behind the shed and placing it on the grass before putting my yoga mat down. It worked but it added one more task to the process of doing yoga and that was enough hassle to stop me sometimes.

 

After I bought my sneakers on Wednesday, my next errand was the grocery store.

 

Since I was in problem solving mode, I guess my brain decided it was a good time to kick up the memory of the patio mats I had seen at that store a couple of weeks before. Previous to that, I didn’t know patio mats existed.

 

This time, I put two and two together and, to quote my dad, ‘got something approximating four’ and realized that the patio mat would instantly remove the obstacle to putting my yoga mat on the deck.

 

A green yoga mat with flowers printed on it in yellow rests on a larger beige patio mat that has circular patters on it.
Yoga mat + deck mat = more yoga It’s mathematical!

 

I’ve already done two outdoor yoga sessions and it had only been a few days.

 

So, yeah, I’m my own obstacle-removing superhero this week. I don’t have a clever name yet though, and my costume will have to wait until I get back from a walk.

 

*My province is called Newfoundland and Labrador but I live on the island portion and I can’t speak for what the weather is like in Labrador.