What can we learn from cats about yoga?

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I’ve got several feline friends. Four of them were born in our back yard and officially adopted me as their favorite restaurateur and cat masseur. Another four come to visit on a regular basis especially when they feel like a change in their cuisine or when their human friends forget to leave enough food for them. I have been watching these fascinating creatures for years. They never cease to amaze me. Cats are natural yogis and there is much we can learn from them. For example:

  • Hygiene – Cats take their personal hygiene very seriously.  They keep themselves very clean. Their ablution rituals are done methodically and energetically on a regular basis. They don’t stop until the job is done. Cats also have admirable toilet habits, digging and covering after.
  • Exercise – Cats don’t like to over strain themselves but they do like to stay active. They are in tune with their bodies and are naturally aware of the fact that in order to stay healthy they need to keep their energy flowing without over taxing. Their favourite form of exercise is what fitness experts call  High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). This form of exercise consists of short bursts of high intensity activity followed by rest. Research has shown that this can boost the body’s production of growth hormone (GH), helping to maintain muscle tone and preventing muscle loss and atrophy that may occur with aging. Cats have several ways for taking part in HIIT. One way is to practice feline martial arts. They love to engage in a friendly fight with other cats in the yard. Another type of feline HIIT is hunting. Cats are natural hunters. They chase any unfortunate creature that happen to land in the back yard – birds, mice, lizards, butterflies. Anything that moves. They also invent all sorts of games that help keep them fit. One of our cats Ginger often comes back  from his nocturnal walk-abouts with a disposable plastic cup he has found somewhere. He then rolls the cup back and forth in the yard making a racket, usually around 2 o’clock in the morning….
  • Stretching – Cats are naturally aware of the fact that in order to keep their energy or Qi flowing in the meridians, they need to stretch on a regular basis. The main focus of their stretching exercises are spinal stretches. They do the cat pose (Marjaryasana) and sometimes also the upper dog pose! (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana) Often they simply role on the ground extending their limbs and in this way relieve Qi and blood stagnation from their joints and this helps keep the joints healthy and prevent arthritis.
  • Using their senses – Cats use their senses continuously. They get the information they need directly from their senses. They  look, smell, taste, listen, touch in order to decide whether a particular food is good for them, or if they can drink the water, or if another cat is a friend or a foe. There is not much intellectual noise happening up in their brains that may distort their direct perception of reality . In this respect they are living much closer to the truth than most humans.
  • Using their intuition – The term dumb animals is a dumb term. Any cat owner will tell you that cats are very clever. A large part of their cleverness can be attributed to their use of intuition. They usually listen to that little inner voice. For example they always know when we want to take them to the vet so they simply disappear.
  • Relaxing whenever possible – Cats are natural relaxation masters. Their relaxation is complete – both physiological and mental. When they are not looking for food, eating, playing, fighting with other cats, chasing or being chased, they immediately get into a comfortable position and switch off. They relax their whole body. Their muscles become completely soft and virtually melt into the ground. They spread on the ground and earth themselves fully. They allow their parasympathetic nervous system to activate and their body then goes into a maintenance and repair mode.
  • Meditating on a daily basis – Sometimes I see cats just sitting outside apparently doing nothing but also not in their normal relaxation pose. Rather, just sitting there on their bottom part, head and neck up, eyes open. Not looking at anything in particular but also not moving. They can spend anywhere from  5 to 15 minutes in this position. I call this “cat mindfulness meditation” because it seems that they are being very relaxed but at the same time alert and mindful of sounds and smells perhaps even those coming from a great distance. They seem to be fully concentrated and immersed in the stream of information flowing through their senses.Their sensory picture is probably much richer and more detailed than humans’, sensing  many sounds and scents that are too subtle for us to pick up with our relatively dull and underutilized senses.
  • Responsiveness – Even when they relax or meditate cats maintain a high state of vigilance, as evidenced by the fact that they react instantly to any change in the situation. One of the frequent visitors to our back yard is a cat I call Checkers. He looks like a well nourished rather large  black and white fur ball. He is big on energy conservation, spending hours in the mindfulness meditation pose. But his looks can be deceiving because he is quick and agile and reacts with lightning speed. A few months ago he was in his mindfulness meditation pose when a poor bird landed about six feet from him. Without flinching Checkers pounced on the poor creature. The bird didn’t know what hit her. At least she did not suffer because it all happened so quickly. Cats’ ability to react and respond to their environment so quickly is due to their ability to maintain a state of relaxed vigilance.
Checkers  the yoga cat

Checkers the yoga cat

So in summary, there is much we can learn from these fascinating creatures that will help us become better Yoga practitioners, or just BE in general.

Namaste

Dr. Jon
sleepyoga.wix.com/sleepyoga
sleepyoga.wordpress.com

Deep relaxation – 5 quick and easy steps

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What is relaxation?
There are many definitions for relaxation. For example: Wikipedia broadly defines relaxation as a state of low tension associated with reduced arousal that possibly results from intense emotions of various sorts.

Low tension makes sense but how does reduced arousal fit into this?
The definition above points to an important aspect of relaxation, namely – that it is association with a reduced state of arousal. But what is arousal? Most people would probably associate the word arousal with sex. However, sexual arousal is only one type of arousal. Generally, there are two broad categories of arousal. The first is physiological arousal and the second is psychological arousal. These are often interrelated, as psychological arousal may result in physiological arousal and vice verse.
Psychological arousal as the name implies is associated with various types of intense mental states both negative (anxiety, fear, worry, nervousness, anger etc.) and positive (excitement, intense concentration etc.).
Physiological arousal may manifest in many ways including faster heart rate, elevated blood pressure, muscular tension,  more acute sensory perception and  increased peripheral circulation.  These are all the result of a change in the balance within the autonomous nervous system (ANS) as explained below.

The autonomous nervous system (ANS)
As the name implies, the ANS is the part of the nervous system that works autonomously, without the need to be activated by conscious mental commands. This system continuously regulates most bodily functions, such as breathing, heart rate, digestion and so on. It actually has two components that have opposing roles. The sympathetic nervous system is somewhat like the accelerator pedal in a car and the parasympathetic nervous system that is somewhat like the break pedal. The ANS balance is a reflection of the balance between these two opposing/complementary systems. You can regard the parasympathetic and sympathetic as the Yin and Yang components of the ANS.

The relaxation response
We often hear the term “relaxation response” mentioned in the context of relaxation or meditation techniques. In simple terms it is a change in the ANS balance where there is a reduced sympathetic activity and increased parasympathetic activity (explained above). If we use the  car analogy again, it is similar to what happens when you are driving your car and decide to slow down. You achieve this by  moving your foot off the accelerator pedal while gently pressing down on the break pedal. When you reach the desired speed, you then remove your foot off the break and gently press the accelerator when needed to maintain the desired cruising speed. Of course the car analogy is a bit over simplistic. Because in the  body both sympathetic and parasympathetic systems work continuously and concurrently, whereas in the car we never  press both accelerator and break pedals at the same time.

So what is the relaxation response good for?
During a state of tension and arousal associated with sympathetic activation and parasympathetic deactivation the body diverts energy to systems that are required for survival. The blood rushes to the muscles, the senses become acute and the mind becomes alert. This is called the Fight or Flight Response.
During a state of relaxation associated with parasympathetic activation and sympathetic deactivation the body diverts resources (i.e. energy and blood flow) to maintenance, building and repair, both physiologically and psychologically.

My definition of relaxation:
A natural idling mode the human mind-body complex goes into when the right conditions are met. While in this state  the body is able to recover and recuperate physically and the mind is able to automatically  review and reassess information, reset and realign, reduce internal clutter and noise, allow latent data to come forth and creative processes to ripen and manifest on the conscious level.

How to achieve deep relaxation
Many people think that relaxation is something that happens to you when you sit in front of the TV , drinking Beer and munching on Tortilla chips. It may work for some. However if you really want to achieve deep relaxation you would probably benefit from practising methods that have been used by yogis and meditation masters since ancient times. I will review the relaxation principles here in a nutshell and discuss each in more depth in future posts.

Basic Relaxation inducing principles

1. Cutting off external stimuli
This is achieved by finding a suitable quiet place where you do not expect distractions for the duration of your relaxation period. You may want to close the door to your room, turn off your phone, radio, TV and other devices. During the meditation you need to keep your eyes closed for blocking out visual stimuli. You may also wear a sleep eye mask. For blocking off external noises you may have to use ear plugs if necessary and in some cases may benefit from playing a “white noise” recording. I will talk more on that in coming posts.

2. Reducing muscular tension
Conscious reduction of muscular tension has been shown to decrease the activation of the sympathetic nervous system and to lower mental tension as well. There are several effective techniques for reducing muscular tension. I hope to talk about these in future posts. However the first place to start is by lying on a mat in the supine position (on your back with the face up), with your feet hip width apart and and your arms beside your body but not touching the body. In yoga this pose is called Shivasana (corpse pose). In this position the skeleton does not have to support body weight and the weight bearing muscles that support the skeleton itself can relax and let go. If you are having difficulty with this position you may try using a comfortable reclining arm chair.

3. Slowing down mental processes
Random thoughts may trigger random emotions and result in tension. For most people it is very difficult to completely stop all thoughts. Instead, for most it would be more practical to use various techniques for slowing down the thinking process and use other techniques for diverting the attention so it would focus on other things. I hope to discuss these techniques in great detail in future posts. For now I would like to quote an ancient core Yoga text called the Yoga Sutras written by Patanjali one of  greatest yoga sages of all times. In the second verse Patanjali says that Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. I hope to talk more about this in coming posts, because this  is at the heart of true yoga practice.

4. Staying awake
True relaxation is achieved by methodical practice. When we begin to enter into a state of relaxation we often tend to fall asleep. This is a natural phenomenon. If our sleep during the night is not truly refreshing or too short we quickly build a sleep deficit. Deep sleep is essential for physiological recuperation and therefore our body tends to revert to that state when it gets a chance. In extreme cases of sleep deprivation people may fall asleep when they shouldn’t (e.g. while driving). So don’t worry if when you start practising relaxation you tend to fall asleep. Your body is taking what it needs. However, to progress along the path you will need to make a conscious resolve and make an effort not to fall asleep and instead continue with the practice to get better results faster.

5. Avoiding alcohol and other mind altering drugs
Alcohol and recreational drugs and some prescription drugs all fall into the category of mind altering drugs. They may all reduce your ability to achieve full mental control and deep relaxation. Of course, in case of prescription drugs such as relaxants (drugs used to reduce tension), hypnotics (drugs used to induce sleep), antidepressants (drugs used to reduce depression) you always need to consult your doctor. You should not stop taking any prescription medication without a doctor’s approval. I hope to talk more about this in future posts.

See you in the next post in good health.
Namaste!

Dr Jon
sleepyoga.wix.com/sleepyoga
sleepyoga.wordpress.com

5 sleep destroying habits: How to fix them and achieve restorative sleep

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Many of our problems stem from the fact that we no longer live in harmony with nature. This includes nature around us and nature within us. People have generally come to believe that technological and scientific progress are making us more and more advanced and sophisticated. Unfortunately, modern life style and sleep habits, are very unhealthy and by far inferior to those practised in ancient times.

The Sleep Yoga system has two distinct aspects: What to do and what not to do, or avoid. A bird requires both its wings to fly, it cannot stay up in the air using a single wing. To achieve success , it is absolutely necessary to put both aspects of this system into practice.

The sleep yoga action component, or what to do, will be discussed in detail in coming posts. In this post I will outline the avoidance component, or what not do.

There are five sleep destroying life style habits:

1. Poor sleep timing habits Going to bed too late and / or not getting enough sleep  will result in your sleep not being restorative enough. Over time this will undermine your physical and psychological health with potentially morbid or even devastating consequences.

♦ Poor sleep timing habits can only be overcome by living a disciplined life style in harmony with nature. This includes retiring to bed approximately 2-3 hours after sunset and getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep at least. I will discuss correct sleep timing in more detail in coming posts.

2.  Poor eating habits – Eating too close to bed time and / or eating the wrong kind of foods at dinner in particular.

♦ Poor eating habits can only be overcome by living a disciplined life style in harmony with nature. This includes having dinner before or no later than sunset. Contrary to prevailing custom dinner should be the lightest and smallest meal. It should consist of foods that are easy and quick to digest and do not irritate the digestive system or excite the mind.  

3.  Poor drinking habits – Drinking too close to bed time and / or drinking the wrong kind of beverages close to bedtime in particular. This includes drinking stimulating beverages such as coffee, or alcoholic drinks such as wine or beer close to bed time. Some people actually drink a “night cap” before going to bed, believing that it will relax them and help them sleep better. This is a common misconception that will be explained in more detail in coming posts.

♦ Caffeine containing or alcoholic beverages should not be consumed within 3-4 hours of bedtime. Middle aged or older people should also monitor their fluid intake in the evening to avoid frequent “toilet breaks” during the night.

4. Poor physical activity habits – Exercising vigorously too close to bed time  or being too sedentary close to bedtime in particular.

♦ Exercise is great and has innumerable benefits. It is probably the best medicine for most health problems. However, vigorous exercise stimulates the heart, increases metabolism and raises body temperature and should not be performed within 2 hours of bedtime. Light exercise and stretching before bedtime are fine and will actually improve sleep quality.

5. Poor mental activity habits – Engaging in stimulating mental activity  too close to bed time, working in front of a computer screen or watching TV  in particular.

♦ Intense mental activity stimulates the mind and the nervous system and is not conducive to good sleep. The intense light from computer and TV screens inhibits production of Melatonin, a master hormone, essential for good sleep. In the evening one should try to read pleasant relaxing books using incandescent lamps rather than the newer so called “green” lamps,  practice restorative relaxing yoga, go for a slow mindful walk, meditate, spend quality  time with family and friends, engage in a relaxing hobby or similar activities.

 I will discuss correct sleep supporting life style habits in more detail in coming posts. I will then introduce the Sleep Yoga exercise and meditation system designed to induce good sleep and beyond.

See you in the next post in good health,

Dr. Jon
sleepyoga.wix.com/sleepyoga
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Yoga – what does it really mean? (Hint – its not all about stretching)

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Today’s  post is not  strictly about the Yoga Nidra technique. However, it is very much related to sleep yoga. Many people regard yoga as a physical exercise system with a lot of good stretches. Some have also experienced  some relaxation exercises given at the end of some yoga classes. However, in reality, yoga is not about stretching or even about relaxing. The yoga poses (Asanas in Sanskrit), that have many benefits beyond stretching, are only a  small part of yoga.

So what does the word yoga actually mean?

One of the most widely accepted interpretations of the term yoga is union“. Spiritually inclined yoga writers often talk about the union with the divine and the union with the whole of creation. They sometimes also talk about union with other human beings, our brothers and sisters, in this dysfunctional family called the human race.

But what does union mean on the individual level?

It is interesting to note that the word yoga is derived from the sanskrit root Yuj that means to tie or bind together. Therefore, in the limited sphere of our own individual selves, union means  full integration of all aspects of our body-mind. This includes thoughts, emotions,  speech, action and lifestyle in general. In simple terms it means “getting our act together”. This can be achieved by developing awareness, mindfulness  and self control and by exercising constant vigilance, day and night.

As a foundation for achieving personal union or integration, ancient yoga  texts have prescribed a  yoga life style that is beyond the scope of this blog. I will only discuss several aspects that are essential for good sleep. However, If anyone is interested please leave a message here and next time I will try to add a few  links that talk about it.

Yoga masters in ancient times  regarded sleep and wakefulness as one continuum and paid great attention to the quality  of their sleep.

In my next  post I will point to several damaging life-style habits that have a substantial impact on sleep quality. Correcting these habits is an essential foundation for the Sleep Yoga practice system.

See you in the next post in good health,

Dr. Jon
sleepyoga.wix.com/sleepyoga
sleepyoga.wordpress.com

​ Basic Yoga Nidra sequence​

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 Basic Yoga Nidra session sequence​

There are numerous sequences of yoga nidra. Some have been perfected by Swami Satyananda Swaraswati ( of Bihar School of Yoga), Swami Rama ( of the Himalayan Institute) and many other yoga masters .

Below is a basic yoga nidra protocol that includes mostly traditional components plus an additional  component  (can you tell which one ?).​

Preparation: lie down comfortably on a mat in the supine position, feet apart and palms facing upwards. If necessary, the body is covered with a blanket to keep warm and once comfortable, the practitioner is instructed to stay still until the end of the practice (if the supine position is not comfortable other horizontal or sitting positions are permissible). The practitioner is then instructed to focus on external sounds and direct his/her attention from sound to sound (Antar Mouna) in Sanskrit

Relaxation: scan the entire body and feel if there is any tension in the muscles and then feel the tension dissolving away while relaxing the whole body (part by part or all at once) this component resembles some western muscle relaxation techniques

Resolve (Sankalpa in Sanskrit):  make a wish for any positive change in your life, health, relationships etc. and this is repeated three times

Rotation of consciousness: focus on various body parts  called out  in a rapid succession, from top to bottom and from right to left. The practitioner is instructed to direct his/her awareness to the body part called out and to mentally repeat the name of the body part  and focus on any sensation there. In yoga nidra, the practitioner is passive and the rate and direction of the body scan is dictated by the teacher or the recording. Arguably, this allows the yoga nidra practitioner to let go further and achieve a deeper level of relaxation

​Awareness of the contact between body and floor:  become aware of the contact points between body and floor, whole body at once or part by part

Awareness of subtle body movements:  become aware of muscle twitches or subtle movements in the body in conjunction with the breath

​Breath awareness: Direct your awareness to the natural (uncontrolled) breath as it manifests in the movement of the navel, chest, throat, nostrils eyebrow center. Usually this practice is done while mentally counting the breaths. For example, the practitioner maintains focus and counts down from a certain number to zero or vice verse

 Awareness of opposing sensations: Sense opposite sensations in the body, such as heat and then cold, lightness and then heaviness, painful and then pleasant sensation etc.

​Focusing on the ‘inner space’ (Chidakasha – in Sanskrit): Focus on the inner space between the eyebrows (with the eyes closed) and observe whatever appears there such as colors, patterns etc.

​​Visualizations: Visualize a rapidly changing sequence of objects such as natural scenery, building, flowers, people, etc. The practitioner tries to visualize them as vividly as possible as they are called out by the teacher

 Movement in time: Mentally review/visualize the events which have occurred during the day

Repeating the Resolve: Repeat the initial resolve (a wish for any positive change in his/her life, health, relationship etc.) three times.  At this point in the meditation the practitioner is immersed deeper in the meditation, the mind is calmer and arguably the level of suggestibility to the resolve statement is increased

Completion: Gradually become aware of his/her body, the room and its surroundings and thereby finish the practice

See you in the next post

Namaste,

Dr. Jon
sleepyoga.wix.com/sleepyoga
sleepyoga.wordpress.com

 

What is Yoga Nidra ?

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Yoga Nidra (translated from Sanskrit as yogic sleep) is a form of yogic guided meditation technique. ​​​​​​​​​​​​Guided meditation means that the practitioner follows mentally instructions given by a yoga teacher (in person or via an audio recording). The eyes  must be closed and in most cases Yoga Nidra is performed lying on the back, arms and legs parallel and not touching the body, with the body relaxed.

Yoga Nidra is a very simple meditation technique. It  may include various meditation and relaxation components that date back to ancient times. ​​​​​​​​​​​

Yoga Nidra leads the mediator into a state that is similar to sleep but at the same time also very different. However the idea is to maintain alertness and awareness and not be overcome by sleep. It may be a challenge if you enter yoga nidra practice drowsy or tired, but even if you fall asleep during practice you may still enjoy many benefits. I have personally found that when I am tired and fall asleep during yoga nidra I often wake up completely refreshed after only 5 or 10 minutes.

Yoga Nidra practice has been shown to improve various aspects of our life including emotional and physiological health and mental acuity.  It may alleviate  various health conditions.

This blog as well as our website have been created in order to introduce Yoga Nidra and promote research and education of Yoga Nidra.

See you in the next post,

Namaste,

Dr. Jon
sleepyoga.wix.com/sleepyoga
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Introducing Sleep Yoga

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Research has shown the importance of  good restorative sleep for achieving health and well being. Unfortunately, it seems that to many  getting a good night’s sleep has become increasingly difficult.

This site will focus on using natural time proven methods to achieve deep restorative sleep. In this site you will find articles and discussions on sleep disorders and on meditative and yogic techniques that can help alleviate them and facilitate good sleep. We will also be discussing “life style medicine” methods that will help you sleep soundly and wake up refreshed and energized ready to engage in life energetically and enthusiastically.

The following posts will

  1. Introduce the technique of Yoga Nidra to many who may have not heard of it before
  2. Report latest research findings related to Yoga Nidra and other yogic meditation techniques
  3. Report and discuss the uses of yoga Nidra to improve physiological and psychological health
  4. Provide basic yoga nidra sequences and instructions
  5. Provide usefull links to valuable resources

in the meantime you may like to check this site

http://www.sleepyoga.wix.com/sleepyoga

See you in the next post.
Yours in good health,

Dr. Jon
sleepyoga.wix.com/sleepyoga
sleepyoga.wordpress.com

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