How Yoga is Helping Me Find Tension in My Body and Rehab My Sleep

Dear friends,

Immediately after Christmas, I went into reset mode. Between New Year’s Eve 2017 and New Year’s Eve 2018, I lost a total of 13 pounds (If you’re curious how I gained those pounds in the first place, see last year’s post “My Healthy Body Update and a Warning About Depo Provera”). Throughout the Christmas season I was determined not to put weight back on after I’d come so far, and I’m happy to report that I was successful in keeping it off! With that said, although I didn’t overindulge in sweets and junk, I was eating some amount of sweets every day and it started to show a bit in my lower belly. Which is why the very second Christmas was over I decided to reset my body and get back into a healthy mindset.

One of my goals for 2019 was to finally establish a fitness routine that works for me (the woman with a bad knee and a relentless Charlie horse in my right foot), and that included yoga. I’d done yoga before, about three to four years ago, when beach body first came out with a program. They had a free three week trial period, which I did…but when the trial came to an end I was disappointed to find that the three week program was all they had for yoga. So if I had paid for a subscription I would’ve been paying to simply repeat the exact same beginner program I had just completed in a never-ending loop. For obvious reasons, I chose not to do that.

I went out on my own, looking mostly to YouTube, for yoga poses and flows that I liked, but I never found anything that quite kept me on track and ended up leaving yoga behind me. Fast forward to now, and I found a couple of apps on my Roku that had some yoga poses and flows. I went through some of this to develop a beginner flow of my own. I now have that flow memorized, so I can just do it, and don’t need to follow along with any videos. As I progress I will look up more poses and flows to change and add to what I have.

Another goal I have for 2019 is to get my sleep in order. I honestly thought this would be a much bigger struggle than it has been. I was relying far too much on sleep aid. I would take none throughout the week, but because I wanted to be able to sleep in on the weekends, rather than waking up at 5am like I so habitually tend to do, I would take something to sleep on Friday and Saturday nights. And even then, although I might sleep past 6am, I would still feel like my brain was in a fog from the sleep meds. I wanted to stop relying on sleep aid altogether, even on weekends.

When I set this goal, I listed out some bullet points for how to accomplish it. No more sleep aid. Meditation. No phone for the last 30 minutes before sleep. Epsom salt baths. And finally, on weekends no getting out of bed before 7am no matter what time I wake up. Basically I have to retrain my internal clock to get out of the habit of laying in bed awake for an hour past bedtime, and to stop waking up an hour or more early. Insomniacs can appreciate the predicament–I was getting it at both ends of the insomnia stick.

Now then, here is what I’ve discovered, and how I’ve managed to make so much headway on the sleep conundrum in just a couple of weeks’ time.

With the yoga and meditation, came a realization. I was tense. All the time. The thing about yoga and meditation is that they force you to pay attention to your body and notice all of the little things that are going on. While scanning down from head to toe, I realized places that I hold tension. Beyond the obvious tensing/raising of the shoulders, I was squinting my eyes and eybrows (hello there, unnecessary forehead lines forming before their time). I was tensing my cheeks around my mouth. I was tensing my hips and lower back, as well as my neck. I was even tensing my tongue!

Yoga has forced me to relax and stretch a lot of these areas, and meditation has caused me to start noticing tension in these areas throughout the day. I’ll be sitting at work and suddenly realize my shoulders are scrunched up, or that I’m squinting at my computer, or that my lips are pursed and my cheeks are tensed around my mouth and my tongue is tensed down both sides and forced against the roof of my mouth. I’m able to catch myself doing it, which means I’m able to make myself relax. I can’t believe how many times per day I catch it. I think I unknowingly trained these muscles to tense during the difficult, stressful times of 2018. I’m confident that I will be able to untrain them and get “relaxed” to be their natural state again.

I’m also using Epsom salt baths more frequently, about three times per week, which encourages muscle relaxation as well as detoxifying the body. I always believed that my issues with insomnia were based on an overactive mind. And while that is one factor, it was far from the only one. As I began noticing the tension throughout my body and working to correct it and loosen those muscles, my sleep also began to improve. My entire body, not just my mind, was stuck in a state of tension that was negatively impacting my sleep.

At first, last week, my body started relaxing into sleep before 10, but a new issue arose to take its place–I was waking up several times throughout the night. It was like I was falling asleep okay, but I wasn’t falling into a deep sleep and was waking constantly. But instead of getting frustrated and giving up because it wasn’t working immediately (which is something my stubborn self totally would’ve done once upon a time), I chose to be patient and consistent, and give my body and mind time to adjust. The wakefulness lasted a few days before subsiding and easing me into a healthy cycle.

Now, instead of going to bed at 9 because I know it will take at least an hour to fall asleep, I’m going to bed at 9:30 because it’s taking half an hour or less. Reading before bed has helped to distract my brain from incessant thoughts, which means it’s wandering much less at bedtime. Stopping the early waking has been a bit more of a challenge, but I seem to finally be making some headway with that as well. Last week I still woke up early four times, including Saturday and Sunday. I woke up at 5am on Saturday, and although I stayed in bed until 7am, I never fell back asleep.

On Sunday, I again woke up at 5am. This time, however, I was able to make myself fall back asleep within the hour and woke up at 8 feeling very well-rested. I think part of it was because I had awakened so early on Saturday, and then had a full day complete with workouts, that I was too tired to stay awake. Another part of it, however, is that I was able to keep my mind from running away with me. Every time I would start thinking about everything I was going to do that day, I stopped myself and enacted some meditation to clear my mind. And then I borrowed a tip that I learned from Mel Robbins via her Mindset Reset program, and visualized myself comfortably asleep. Miraculously, I drifted off again.

I have not awakened early one single time since that night! Every night so far this week I have not only been asleep by 10 (I know this because I have a white noise app that I set for 30 minutes and I’m always asleep before it shuts off), but I have been awakened every morning by my alarm at 6am, just like I’m supposed to! This is the first week in at least a year that I’ve had more than one day where I felt well-rested and alert at work. I have felt fantastic every single day, and it has made such a massive improvement on my mood and my mindset. It’s also helping me keep to my workout goals, because I’m not dragging myself through the door in the evenings with the thought “I’m just too tired to do anything else today.” I’m bursting with energy all day long and it feels GREAT!

It is really incredible how much of a life changer getting good sleep is. I feel like any and all things are possible, if they begin after a good night’s sleep!

How are all of you coming so far on your 2019 goals? I wish you the best in all that you’re working for, and I would love to hear from you!

Love,
Loren

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Author: Loren Miller

I'm a Midwestern woman living my best and healthiest life, fueled by passion and caffeine. I follow the Mediterranean diet, I'm a yoga newbie, and a hiker and general explorer of the outdoors. I adore fashion and dressing up, and finding amazing, quality designer pieces through thrift shopping. Most all of my outfits have at least one thrifted item--saving my wallet and the planet one designer top at a time <3

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