Chronic Back Pain: How to Sleep Through It

Check out this great article by Karen Weeks on getting a good night’s sleep while battling chronic back pain.  Karen has more great content on her website, https://elderwellness.net/

Image via Unsplash

One of the comforts of going to sleep at the end of the day is the privilege of leaving behind your worries for eight hours. However, if you’re living with chronic back pain, that worry sticks around in addition to the fact that you won’t be able to fall asleep right away, compounding your problems. Getting a good night’s sleep can be difficult if you’re suffering from back pain, but there are ways to make it happen. Dr. Stacey Naito presents tips for learning to love falling asleep while living with chronic back pain.

Yoga Before Bed

Practicing yoga before you head to bed for the night can help stretch your sore muscles and give you a better chance of falling asleep right away. The ancient practice has numerous health benefits, and research has shown that practicing yoga regularly may even reduce the need for pain medication. There are many different poses you can do that are beneficial for back pain. Doing a few poses before bed will help strengthen your muscles and improve your posture, leading to less pressure on your back in your day-to-day life, resulting in less overall back pain.

Utilize Your Smartphone

Technology is there to help you in most areas of your life, including your sleep. There are a number of different apps available aimed at helping you sleep better at night. Sleep Cycle is an alarm clock app that monitors where you are in your sleep cycle each night and wakes you at an optimal time within your preferred time frame so you feel the most refreshed. White Noise allows you to play soothing sounds from your phone to help you either drown out outside noises or add sound to a too-quiet room. Calm is a leading meditation app for beginners, allowing you to try out the art of meditation in order to calm down your mind at night.

 

Note that some of these apps stay running throughout the night in order to monitor your sleep or to keep you from waking up sporadically. Make sure that your smartphone has enough battery life! You’ll also want to ensure that your home internet connection is running smoothly. Fast and reliable internet service will give you the freedom to run any of these apps overnight without worrying about being disconnected. 

Improve on Your Sleeping Position

We all have preferences when it comes to our sleep positions. Thankfully, there are different ways to improve your preferred sleeping position to help lower your back pain. For side-sleepers, add a pillow between your legs and pull your knees a little toward your chest to stretch out your lower back. If you prefer sleeping on your stomach, place a pillow under your pelvis and forgo the pillow under your head (or switch to a flatter one). For those who like sleeping on your back, place a pillow beneath your knees to add a slight curve to your spine.

 

Whatever the cause of your back pain, know that it doesn’t have to sentence you to a lifetime of insomnia. Chronic back pain can impact your daily life in a number of different ways, but don’t let it control how much sleep you get at night. Lack of sleep impacts your life even more, causing you to become disoriented, unfocused, and unable to finish your day’s tasks. Use these tips to sleep easier at night and reduce your chronic back pain one night at a time.

Tips for Seniors Who Want to Burn Body Fat and Get Better Sleep

Image via Rawpixel

Please check out this fantastic article by Karen Weeks of Elderwellness.net on optimizing sleep in older individuals.

By Karen Weeks

karen@elderwellness.net

It’s a well-known fact that we burn calories while we sleep. Therefore, the higher the quality of our sleep, the more fat we will burn throughout the night. But sleep and body fat are even more intertwined than that. Lack of sleep, which is common among seniors, can lead to weight gain, and excess body fat can impede your quality of sleep. It’s a vicious cycle.

If you’re a senior, there are steps you can take to maximize the calories you burn during sleep, and there are also practical things you can do throughout the day that will help you reduce body fat and get better sleep. Here’s what you need to know.

Eat Better

Eating well is a cornerstone of healthy living. And yes, it can even help you sleep more soundly.  If you’re super busy and fast food is a part of your normal routine, consider getting an electric pressure cooker. That way, you can cook fast, healthy meals at home and avoid the consequences of fast food. Before you buy anything, check out reviews of various pressure cookers to compare quality, prices, and ease of use.

It’s also worth considering that there are certain foods you can eat late at night that will give your metabolism a boost, which will help you burn more calories in your sleep. Protein shakes, pistachios, plain yogurt, strawberries, and cheese are just a few examples of healthy late-nightsnacks. Just be sure to keep the portions under control so that your body isn’t working too hard to digest, which can keep you from falling asleep.

Get a Move on It

Exercise is another thing that can help you lose body fat and get better sleep. Not only that, but it also comes with a number of mental health benefits, such as improved self-confidence and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression.

There are many types of exercise that are safe and beneficial for seniors. Many older adults opt for low-impact movements like swimming, cycling, brisk walking, and using the elliptical. The important thing is that you find something you enjoy and that you do it for at least 30 minutes a day, even if you need to break it into 10- or 15-minute segments.

When you have a solid exercise routine, you will have more energy throughout the day and it will help you feel more tired by bedtime. Morning and afternoon routines tend to work best for improving sleep, as exercising in the evening can make it difficult to fall asleep.

Establish a Killer Bedtime Routine

If you want to get better sleep and burn off more calories, you need a bedtime routine. This can include anything that helps you fall and stay asleep. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day (even on weekends). Also, try a variety of activities that help you wind down and get ready for sleep. Taking a warm bath, listening to soft music, practicing yoga, meditating, and reading a book are all things that can put you in the right frame of mind to drift off.

Make Your Bedroom Dark, Quiet, and Cool

Your bedroom is also important when it comes to healthy sleep, so make sure this space promotes relaxation by keeping it dark and quiet leading up to bedtime and throughout the night.

Keeping the temperature a little cooler can improve sleep as well. Moreover, consider removingthe use of electronic devices (e.g., smartphones, tablets, TVs, etc.) from your bedtime routine, as the blue light emitted from the screens can be a sleep disrupter.

If you want to reduce your body fat and get better sleep, make sure you’re following a healthy diet and exercise routine. Also, create a good bedtime routine and turn your bedroom into a sleep haven. Just because poor sleep is common among seniors doesn’t mean you have to accept it as your fate. Making little changes like these might be all it takes to help you improve your overall health and well-being.

A Great TED Talk On Clutter

“Clutter is postponed decisions.” – Barbara Hemphill

I absolutely love this brilliant quote by Barbara Hemphill which Kerry Thomas mentions in this TED Talk video, because it is completely true. No matter what type of clutter plagues you, it may be impeding you in a profound way from living a free and peaceful life.

I hate physical clutter and fight it all the time by conducting purges throughout the year. But physical clutter is only one type of clutter, and Ms. Thomas breaks down the different types into the following:

Physical
Mental
Emotional
Digital
Spiritual

Although I feel that I have a good handle on physical clutter in my environment, the other categories are more challenging. I control digital clutter by going through my email inboxes on a daily basis, consolidating images and deleting old text messages on my phone. I also think I have a decent handle on spiritual clutter because I meditate daily, take meditation and yoga courses, and also practice breathwork. I try to forgive those who upset me, and I also make sure to avoid toxic people.

The areas where I get hung up (and I suspect many others do) is with mental and emotional clutter. Ms. Thomas states that mental clutter consists of fears one might have, and it also could stem from the judgmental words of others, while emotional clutter consists of negative thoughts and behaviors. The thing is, I have fears which keep my mind racing, and I also fall into the trap of negative thinking from time to time, especially when I am in the middle of a crisis. So by no means am I completely free of clutter. However, I constantly strive to clear up anything which is depressing me or slowing me down.

It’s incredibly liberating to get rid of items which are damaged, unused, or worn, and it’s also wonderful to let go of all the mental blockades to happiness and freedom. One thing I always try to remind myself is that worrying about things will never bring about a solution. The only thing worry ends up doing is eroding one’s demeanor and sparking anxiety.

I suggest that you think about the different areas in which clutter might be adversely affecting your life, and adopt behaviors which counteract such clutter.

Overcoming The Daily Grind: How Women Can Focus On Their Health

Photo via Pixabay by Stocksnap

Attention ladies…how can you focus on yourself in the midst of a hectic lifestyle? Read on to see what Sheila Olson of fitsheila.com has to say!

– By Sheila Olson

For many women, finding the time to focus on their overall well-being can be a challenge. Busy work schedules, spending time with family, and personal projects can sometimes prevent us from taking the time we need to take care of our bodies and minds, leaving us feeling exhausted and without the defenses we need to stay healthy. While having a routine can be a great thing, it can also become monotonous, leaving you with the feeling of being stuck in that “daily grind” everyone talks about.

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to boost your health and overall well-being without sacrificing the time you need to spend on other things. Making small changes to your lifestyle and routine will help you boost your energy, immune system and self-esteem, all while ensuring that you stay efficient and productive.

Keep reading for some great tips on how to get started.

Ask for help

No matter how productive you are, there’s just no way you can do everything by yourself, so don’t even try! Ask for help now and then, especially when it comes to managing your time. Not only will this help you get everything done, it will reduce stress at the same time. Think about the small things that will have a big impact, such as delegating chores to the kids or hiring a dogwalker to take care of your pup while you focus on other things.


Get in a daily workout

It may seem easier said than done, but it’s actually not that hard to fit in a workout if you know where to look. Many people think that their exercise routine needs to be done in a gym, for at least an hour at a time, with fancy equipment and gear, but the truth is, you can break up your workout into two fifteen-minute increments and get some nice results. You can also try yoga or simply use the tools you have around you including stairs instead of heading to the gym.

Eat well-balanced meals

Eating healthy isn’t always easy when you have a packed schedule; many women find themselves settling for fast food or even finishing what’s left on their child’s plate rather than making something good for themselves. If time is an issue, consider preparing some healthy meals ahead of time such as on a Sunday night and freezing them for the week. It will also help to keep quick, easy foods like pre-mixed salad, fruit, granola and oatmeal at the ready so you can make a healthy meal even when you don’t have much time.

Fuel up at work

When you spend long hours at the office, it can be hard to focus on your needs. Schedule breaks in which you can meditate, read a good book, go for a walk around the block, or eat a healthy snack. This will not only help you stay physically healthy, but mentally as well.

Getting over the daily grind and focusing on yourself is a must in today’s busy world. No matter what kind of job you have, or what responsibilities await you at home, it’s important to remember that your health matters. Find small ways to reduce stress as much as possible, and don’t forget to ask for help! Learn to say no if it takes away from some much-needed self-care; you’ll thank yourself later.

The Magic Of Kundalini Yoga

I fell into kundalini yoga quite by accident earlier this year, when I decided to sign up for a class at a local yoga studio which was listed on ClassPass. From the first class, I was deeply moved, intrigued, and interested in continuing the practice. I hadn’t been aware of the fact that kundalini yoga is considered to be the most powerful and spiritual form of yoga, but I am grateful that it is now a part of my life. Kundalini yoga also complements my daily meditation practice.

How is kundalini yoga different from other forms of yoga? While it can be VERY physical, kundalini yoga is incredibly spiritual and meditative. You will spend a decent amount of time in “easy pose”, which is a standard pose for meditation. Kundalini yoga consists of chants, repetitive movements, and coordinated breathing techniques which are all designed to increase consciousness and activate the body’s energy centers. Because this type of yoga targets energy blockages, sessions can be emotional, intense, sacred, and filled with a sense of connectedness to everyone.

An article by James McCrae states that the objective of kundalini yoga is “decentralized and selfless – help people actualize their Higher Self”. The practice of kundalini yoga has been around since approximately 1,000 B.C. – 500 B.C. during the time in which the Upanishads were written. Kundalini, or “coiled snake”, refers to the energy of creation which sits at the base of the spine, and which can be activated and made to move up the spine and throughout the entire body. It was brought to the western world in the late 1960’s by Yogi Bhajan.

Kundalini yoga can be regarded as the fast track to spiritual enlightenment, and can bring about immense positive changes to one’s life. It increases awareness, brings a sense of well-being, and also creates a stillness and calmness which help to deflect the stresses of the modern world.

Two Breaths

Regular meditation practice has shaped my life for the past eleven years, and I honor and value all it has bestowed upon me in terms of balance, harmony, calmness and peace. When I began practicing meditation on a consistent basis, I was at a low point in my life as a result of a long-term relationship which had suddenly terminated. As fate would have it, I met a wonderful person who became my meditation teacher, my spiritual guide, and my dear friend. He invited me to become part of a local meditation group which met one to two times per week, and I gladly accepted. Within a couple of months, I began to learn how to sit in silence, let thoughts and feelings go, and focus on being completely in the moment. I quickly realized what a gift it was to fall into awareness during these sessions.

After my meditation teacher passed away in April of 2014, I went through a rough period in which I was so grief-stricken by his death that I was paralyzed, unable to meditate for several months. When I returned to meditation practice, it was alone, without the comfort of a group, but I was able to quickly fall into awareness during my sessions.

At the beginning of this year, I encountered another difficult life challenge, and instead of shying away from my meditation practice, I decided to sit daily. One tool which kept me accountable with daily meditation practice was a phone app called Insight Timer, which I still use. It is no longer a struggle for me to sit daily in meditation, and I have noticed profound changes in my demeanor and my general outlook on life.

In an effort to fortify my spiritual practice, I added kundalini yoga, and have noticed even more profound changes in my energy and my physiology, especially in my breathing. A few days ago, I had noticed that my respiratory rate had become much slower, so I decided to assess it while I practiced relaxation breathing. I was astonished when I discovered that I am now able to slow down my breathing to two respirations per minute. The breaths which I take during meditative and relaxation sessions are very slow, with a pause at the end of both the inhalation and exhalation phases.

Most people are so accustomed to shallow respirations in their daily lives that they assume that 12 to 14 respirations per minute is considered acceptable. As a physician, I regularly encounter a respiratory rate in that range, and am trained to consider that normal. However, in my spiritual practice, I know that in order to take 12 to 14 breaths per minute, the breaths tend to be quite shallow.

Modern society keeps us on the hamster wheel and fosters anxiety, but it is vital to step off the wheel, slow down, and allow the trappings of daily life to fall away so that we can truly let go. If you find yourself constantly wound up, try slowing down your breathing on a consistent basis. It has beneficial effects on your mood and blood pressure, and decreases muscle tension.

“But I Just CAN’T Meditate…”

The concept of sitting with oneself in a meditative pose seems to frighten many non-meditators. People will make all sorts of excuses why they “can’t” meditate, from stating that their thoughts will distract them too much, their home environments aren’t conducive to sitting quietly, or that they have back or hip problems and can’t sit still long enough to meditate. They will also state that they simply don’t have the time to meditate, an excuse which I find to be the weakest one out of the bunch.

For people who complain of physical restrictions which prevent them from sitting in easy pose (lotus position), there are meditations in which one can lie down, stand, or even move around to explore how the body is feeling at that moment. If thoughts keep flying around, that’s all right. Regular meditators know that the thoughts can come and go like clouds, and that allowing them to move in and out without having the mind engage those thoughts becomes easier with practice. And as for having no time to meditate, one can always find time to meditate. Even setting aside two minutes to pause, breathe, and let go of the myriad of thoughts and activities which keep us occupied is enough to reset the spirit.

When I counsel patients to meditate, I often discover that letting go is something they just don’t want to do. After all, aren’t we defined by our jobs, our family roles, our relationship roles, the cars we drive, how much money we make, and where we live? In the whole grand scheme of things, the elements which define us in the outside world simply distract us from the life force which we carry within us. One of the main reasons why anxiety and depression are so prevalent in the modern world is because people are too afraid to walk away from the craziness for a moment or two.

When you meditate regularly, you may get to a point in which you understand that the important moments are the spaces between thoughts, and the spaces between words. It is incredibly liberating to be able to let go of all the concerns and feelings which may be floating around in your head and just focus on your breath. Inhale, exhale. Just that and nothing more.

Lastly, you shouldn’t feel intimidated by the practice of meditation. If you regard it as a very welcome morsel of time for yourself, you will learn to look forward to your sessions.

If you need help getting started, check out yoga centers for guided meditation classes, or download a phone app such as Insight Timer to guide you through thousands of different meditations. I highly recommend Insight Timer for everyone, from those new to meditation, to individuals who have been meditating for years.

My Just Float Experience

What is Floating – Just Float, The World’s Largest Float Therapy Center

Yesterday I had a pretty remarkable experience, floating for an hour in a room devoid of light and external noise. The 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt which saturated the pleasant, tepid water caused my body to float effortlessly. Since I meditate daily, I welcomed the release that came with being untethered by my senses, gently hovering in a state of incredible relaxation.

For those of you who are wondering what the process is, you shower before entering the chamber to remove oils, lotions and pollutants from your skin and hair. Then you step into the tub which is softly illuminated. Once you lie in the water and adjust to your body’s buoyancy, you can turn off the lights and allow the soothing music to lull you into a state of stillness. The music fades away, leaving your breathing as the only steady sound.

At the end of your session, the music and lights slowly return. You exit the tub and rinse off the salty water.

Forty dollars (intro price) and an hour later, I definitely think the experience was well worth it.

If you are in the Los Angeles area, and you would like to try floating, please click on this link: http://justfloat.com/

There’s Always Time To Breathe

breathing

As I was speaking with one of my patients earlier today, I was struck by the fact that she said she had no time to do anything, and that her work schedule was so stacked that she felt like she was unraveling. I suggested that she take a moment at some point in her day to just sit still and BREATHE, without any task or agenda. Her reply? “Oh, I don’t even have time for that!”

It seemed unreasonable to me that this woman wouldn’t even take a few SECONDS for herself just to breathe, take momentary break from the maddening rush of her life, and just be in the moment. It’s not that people can’t stop and breathe, they WON’T, because they have been led to believe that remaining on the hamster wheel of life all the time is a necessary sacrifice for all the success they hope to achieve. The sad truth is that those brief moments of stillness enable the spirit to reset and restore balance to mind and body as well.

If you are like my patient, you are doing yourself a major disservice by constantly moving and not allowing yourself to rest, even for a few seconds. Even the most creative and driven people in the world find time to enjoy their surroundings, pause in the midst of chaos, and realign with themselves. All you will do if you insist on going full guns all the time, without a moment to rest, is burn out your adrenal glands, damage your immune system, and set the tone for depression and anxiety.

For only a few seconds a day, you can enjoy the gift of being in the moment. What’s even better is that you can indulge in such moments throughout the day, between projects, meetings and chores. You can even do it upon waking, right before you start the ignition in your car, while standing in line at the grocery store, or just about anywhere.

The Magic Of Meditation

meditation-cognitive-bias

Meditation is something I have engaged in regularly for over ten years, but my practice had dwindled in the past two years to a session every few months. This was partially due to the fact that the death of my meditation teacher had rattled me so deeply that I was unable to sit in a meditation without being distracted at some point by my own grief.

It took a major life event from early April to wake me up and make me realize that by neglecting my meditation practice, I had made my spirit weary and unbalanced, Since the cadence of my life had changed rather dramatically and suddenly, I decided that adopting regular habits like meditating would be good for me. I have been able to carve out time in my schedule to meditate daily over the last few weeks, and the effects have been profound and positive. On some days, I only have a few minutes to set up my zafu (meditation cushion), light incense and the candles on my meditation altar, and sit in the moment for mindfulness meditation, but I still make sure I meditate before crawling in bed each night. I am not joking when I say I think more clearly, feel more calm, and experience less anxiety after meditating daily over the last few weeks. I now look at my daily meditation sessions as important daily workouts for my mind and spirit. I swear that even my gym workouts are better as a result of meditation, because I am more focused and calm during gym time than I used to be. Things which used to irritate me sort of glide off me now.

Regular meditation has made a tremendous difference in my general demeanor and my outlook on life, and now I honestly look forward to my sessions. I strongly encourage everyone to meditate regularly, especially anyone who feels beaten down by life or who deals with constant stress. Meditation provides an excellent outlet for stress, and can lessen symptoms of depression, reduce blood pressure and boost immunity.

Before you say that there’s no time to meditate, I am willing to bet you that there are a few minutes each day you can spare to nurture your spirit. You can either take a few minutes first thing in the morning to sit and meditate, or do it right before you go to sleep. If you feel intimidated by the idea of sitting on a meditation cushion, you can simply sit on the floor comfortably, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing. Each time you inhale, allow your chest to expand, and pull your shoulders back. When you exhale, imagine pushing away all of the stress of the day, out of your body, and into the air. Keep breathing slowly and deeply with your eyes closed, and try to empty your mind of any random thoughts or feelings which may come up.

For a more detailed description of a great breathing meditation, read on. The original link can be found here: http://www.mindful.org/a-five-minute-breathing-meditation/

A 5-Minute Breathing Meditation To Cultivate Mindfulness

Reduce stress, anxiety, and negative emotions, cool yourself down when your temper flares, and sharpen your concentration skills.

By Greater Good Science Center | February 26, 2016

How do you cultivate mindfulness? One way is to meditate. A basic method is to focus your attention on your own breathing—a practice simply called “mindful breathing.” After setting aside time to practice mindful breathing, you’ll find it easier to focus attention on your breath in your daily life—an important skill to help you deal with stress, anxiety, and negative emotions, cool yourself down when your temper flares, and sharpen your ability to concentrate.

Time required:

15 minutes daily for at least a week (though evidence suggests that mindfulness increases the more you practice it).

How to do it

The most basic way to do mindful breathing is simply to focus your attention on your breath, the inhale and exhale. You can do this while standing, but ideally you’ll be sitting or even lying in a comfortable position. Your eyes may be open or closed, but you may find it easier to maintain your focus if you close your eyes. It can help to set aside a designated time for this exercise, but it can also help to practice it when you’re feeling particularly stressed or anxious. Experts believe a regular practice of mindful breathing can make it easier to do it in difficult situations.

Sometimes, especially when trying to calm yourself in a stressful moment, it might help to start by taking an exaggerated breath: a deep inhale through your nostrils (3 seconds), hold your breath (2 seconds), and a long exhale through your mouth (4 seconds). Otherwise, simply observe each breath without trying to adjust it; it may help to focus on the rise and fall of your chest or the sensation through your nostrils. As you do so, you may find that your mind wanders, distracted by thoughts or bodily sensations. That’s OK. Just notice that this is happening and gently bring your attention back to your breath.

Find a relaxed, comfortable position. You could be seated on a chair or on the floor on a cushion. Keep your back upright, but not too tight. Hands resting wherever they’re comfortable. Tongue on the roof of your mouth or wherever it’s comfortable.

Notice and relax your body. Try to notice the shape of your body, its weight. Let yourself relax and become curious about your body seated here—the sensations it experiences, the touch, the connection with the floor or the chair. Relax any areas of tightness or tension. Just breathe.

Tune into your breath. Feel the natural flow of breath—in, out. You don’t need to do anything to your breath. Not long, not short, just natural. Notice where you feel your breath in your body. It might be in your abdomen. It may be in your chest or throat or in your nostrils. See if you can feel the sensations of breath, one breath at a time. When one breath ends, the next breath begins.
Be kind to your wandering mind. Now as you do this, you might notice that your mind may start to wander. You may start thinking about other things. If this happens, it is not a problem. It’s very natural. Just notice that your mind has wandered. You can say “thinking” or “wandering” in your head softly. And then gently redirect your attention right back to the breathing.
Stay here for five to seven minutes. Notice your breath, in silence. From time to time, you’ll get lost in thought, then return to your breath.
Check in before you check out. After a few minutes, once again notice your body, your whole body, seated here. Let yourself relax even more deeply and then offer yourself some appreciation for doing this practice today.

One of the most beautiful things about meditation is that you can be fully in the moment, without holding onto the trappings of your day. Work obligations, chores, errands, and any other mundane distraction can wait. It’s a wonderful escape from the physical world and the ultimate way to attain balance and peace. Plus it’s free!