Sleep, meditation and relaxation strategies for greater quality of life

Blog Post No. 54

13th November 2017

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2017


Renata’s Coaching Blog: Developing resilience when you’re working on the front line in your job:

Coping with stress, anger, anxiety and depression…

Sleep, diet and exercise are critical…

~~~

Introduction

Front cover, 8Dealing with people is very enjoyable, and very demanding at the same time, isn’t it? Especially when you are dealing with people who are suffering from all the trials and tribulations that life has thrown at them.

How do you stay strong? You need all your energy to communicate with them and not become drained. And three of the most challenging conditions to deal with are the problems of anxiety, anger and depression, whether it’s experienced by yourself or other people.

My work is about helping others to grow in strength, creativity and happiness.  I do that in several ways: face to face coaching; and writing blogs; and (more recently) writing books.

What I have done most recently is to co-author a book with my husband, Dr Jim Byrne, which shows how our emotions of anxiety, anger and depression are very strongly affected by the food we eat, and the physical exercise we take, or fail to take!

We’ve put in some significant and surprising research findings which are therapeutic, because they show how we can better manage our energies and emotions so that we are stronger in ourselves. But also these findings can be used to help others.

I’m just about to begin the final proof-reading of that book, and then it will be available to you, via Amazon.

~~~

Moving on to sleep, relaxation and mediation

Sleep-book-coverBut as I mentioned in my last blog, I have now been reading Matthew Walker’s book called “Why we sleep”, which was published in September of this year. And I have been so shocked and stunned – by the many research findings that he quotes about why sleep is so important – that I have decided to write about his key findings, and to summarise them for everyone. I have also identified several other books which must be taken into account, and I have begun to do that research work and note taking.

I also intend to include research findings about the power of meditation and relaxation techniques in the book, because those three strategies are closely related; and support each other.

The benefits

Sleep, meditation and relaxation techniques can transform our experience of anger, anxiety and depression. This book will describe the ways that our resilience can be greatly enhanced by adequate sleep, daily meditation, and sound approaches to relaxation.

I’ll let you know when both books become available.

The Sleep/Meditation/Relaxation book will not be finished until I have found several ways to help you to put some new strategies into your life, to strengthen you, and to enhance the quality of your life.

Here is part of Walker’s message:

“Sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day”. (Walker 2017).

In the meantime, I strongly recommend Walker’s book, because, as he states, the importance of our sleep hasn’t been properly communicated to us by scientists. And when you look at the bare facts of the negative impact of the lack of sleep on us, it can be a real shock!

Conclusion

So if you want to live your life on a full tank of gas, then improving the quality of your sleep will make a big difference. If you have teenagers, the section of his book where he explains the needs of teenagers for more sleep than adults, is excellent and very helpful.

Sleeping -baby

See what you think of his book (and I swear I haven’t got any shares in his publishing company!)

So now, I must get back to proofreading our Diet and Exercise book; and then back to the sleep research!

renata-taylor-byrne-lifestyle-coachIf you need any help or support, you know where I am!

Happy snoozing,

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Lifestyle Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Email: renata@abc-counselling.org

Telephone: 01422 843 629

~~~

 

 

 

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Daily Resilience–boosters for you

Blog Post No. 46

31st March 2017

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2017

Renata’s Coaching & Counselling blog: Daily resilience–boosters for you

Introduction

Do you want to be more resilient? To stand up to the pressures of your daily life more vigorously and powerfully and energetically?

Tennis-starIn this blog I am going to summarise some findings from research conducted on athletes, which can help us build our resilience in the face of all the hassles and challenges we can face at work each day.

An explanation of micro-resilience at work

Micro-book-coverBonnie St. John and Allen Haines wrote a book called ‘Micro-resilience’, and in it they summarise this research finding: Dr James Loehr (a sports psychologist) wanted to understand why there were hundreds of athletes who were on international tours, but there were only a few who regularly won the tournaments and trophies. He wanted to know what the difference was between these two sets of athletes.

Loehr put heart rate monitors on a selection of the two different sets of tennis players – the ‘winners’ and the ‘also ran’s’ – and discovered that the top tennis players were able to very speedily recover their energy and positive focus after having played shots.

As they were returning to the baseline in the tennis court, or to the side of the court, they used particular strategies to recover their energy, focus and motivation.

These top-players very quickly returned their heart rates to normal – much more quickly than their less successful competitors. Here was the crucial part of what Dr James Loehr learned:

The further he went down the list of seeded players, the more dramatic the differences were. Those at the bottom of the list (the less successful tennis players) employed none of these rejuvenating behaviours….”

“They stayed keyed up, tense and even distracted in the sixteen to twenty seconds that normally elapse between a point scored and the following serve.”

The power of ‘mini-recoveries’

He discovered that by the final set of a 3 hour tennis match, the player who had been using small, imperceptible ‘mini-recoveries’ in-between the points, was much more likely to succeed in the tennis game than the players who did not use such strategies.

So Dr Loehr created something called the ’16 second cure’ and this consists of focusing exercises and relaxation techniques that help the players, who are under intense pressure, to do the following things:

“…shake off mistakes, release tension, and project a positive image to their opponents…”

And this strategy has now been taught by tennis coaches throughout the world.

How this research finding can help people in all types of jobs

We can all use this research insight in any field of work.  Each day, any of us can experience periods of intense pressure, quiet times and a whole range of experiences in-between. We also have a constantly changing selection of people to deal with and respond to. How can we keep going so that we aren’t totally washed out by the end of the working day?

Power-of-full-engagment-coverDr James Loehr created the concept of the ‘executive athlete’ after these research findings, which he wrote about in his book ‘The Power of Full Engagement’ (2003) with T. Schwartz.

This very successful use of energy management strategies by athletes can be transferred to other working environments, if we adapt them appropriately.

Micro-resilience techniques to help us stay in control

If you experiment with using some of these strategies – listed below – to keep you going during the day, you will find that your energy level is higher and you won’t feel as drained.

I used these techniques during my career as a college tutor, and there are also techniques from Bonnie St. John and Allen Haines’s book. (Bear in mind that if you are working in exploitative work situations, you will need help from your union as well as these self-management strategies. The union’s specialist form of protection is necessary as it will be beyond your capacity to fully defend yourself if your energies are drained from: bullying management tactics; zero hours contracts; wages below the minimum wage, and/or unhealthy work environments).

Here is a little selection of just seven such strategies; and I teach many more to my coaching-counselling clients:

1. The Yoga ‘Death pose’

Picture-death-poseFirst, let us look at the ‘death pose’ from yoga practice.  This is an amazingly effective way to recharge your batteries, and is very good for your back. If you have you own office or there is a vacant room, simply lie on the floor for 10 minutes with a book (of, say, two inches thickness) under your head (as a ‘hard pillow’). Put your arms down by your sides. Clear your mind of any stress or strain, worry or preoccupation.  Breathe deeply into your belly, and relax.  Stay still, and close your eyes if you want to. Any ideas that arise in your mind should be gently brushed away.  After 10 minutes, very slowly sit up, and then stand up. This will refresh your body and mind at the same time.

Benefits-death-pose-callout

2.The  seated Tin Soldier/Rag Doll Relaxation Exercise

Whilst sitting at your desk, after about 30 or 40 minutes of intense concentration, you will need a break.  Sometimes you will need to get up and move around (as sedentary activity is very bad for you, physically and mentally!).  But sometimes you can relax while you are sitting down.  One way to do that is to use the ‘Tin soldier/Rag doll’ exercise.  This is how it goes:

Tense your body, arms, and face as much as possible for a couple of minutes. Really feel the tension in your body. Imagine you are made of tin, and are very stiff and unbending. (The ‘tin soldier’ phase).

Then slowly, slowly let all the tension drain out of your body, and change yourself into a rag doll. Feel yourself melt into the chair. Relax all your muscles – your thigh muscles, feet, arms, hands and fingers, stomach and jaw, and facial muscles.  Let your arms hang down by your sides.  Let your head fall, and your shoulder slump. (The ‘rag doll’ phase).

Sit with the feeling of complete relaxation for a few minutes (say, five or six).  This will be really good for your body and mind – to say nothing of your productivity, creativity and focus.  In the process, you will be switching on your ‘relaxation response’ which is (to get a bit technical) the parasympathetic branch of your nervous system.

3. Have a quick, healthy snack to boost your blood sugar level.

By eating a small amount of nuts and seeds (for example) you boost your blood sugar level which helps with willpower, and energy during late morning or late afternoon meetings or other challenges.

~~~~

4. Have a short walk

Get out of the building, to change your environment. Just a ten minute walk will put you in a different space (mentally), but in particular, it’s really valuable to get out at dinnertime (lunchtime).   You will feel mentally refreshed and have more energy for your work in the afternoon. Seeing trees and experiencing fresh air will boost your energy. Recent research shows that taking a stroll through a natural setting can boost performance on “tasks calling for sustained focus”: “Taking in the sights and sounds of nature appears to be especially beneficial for our minds.”

5. Write it Out!

If you’ve had a draining, difficult interaction with someone in work, and you are still reverberating from it, then when you are at your desk (or workstation), write down what happened and how you felt about it.  Writing it down will get it out of your head and give you a chance to cool down. Later you can then reflect on what happened.

(If you are unable to write anything down, simply name the emotions that you are going through, in your mind.)  This is a technique that is called “labelling” and there is a New England head teacher (whom St John and Haines describe in their book) who uses this technique when she has confrontations with parents and teachers.

“When she tried labelling, Kathleen noticed that it increased her sense of control. Now, unbeknownst to her guests, Kathleen’s notes during confrontational meetings not only cover action steps and follow-up items but also descriptions of her emotions during each encounter.”

Dr Daniel Amen, who is an expert on brain-scanning techniques, says: “Often, just naming a thought takes away its power”.

Or as Dr Daniel Siegel says: “You have to name it to tame it!”

~~~

6. Using your sense of smell

Cinnamon

Scents are very powerful. Dr Joan Borysenko, who was one of the pioneers of  integrative medicine and worked at Harvard medical school, stated: “Certain scents can cut right through an emotional hijack. For example, cinnamon, vanilla and nutmeg.” These scents affect our limbic system and relax us very quickly. This finding was confirmed by Dr Daniel Amen, in his book ‘Change your brain, change your life’:

“Because your sense of smell goes directly to the deep limbic system, it is easy to see why smells can have such a powerful impact on our feeling states. The right smells likely cool the limbic system. Pleasing fragrances are like an anti-inflammatory”.

So, having small samples of spices, perfumes or sweets, in your work environment, which have really comforting associations for you, can give you a quick boost of energy.

hardcastle-crags

7. Images from nature can calm us down

Finally, having pictures of scenes from nature around us will have a beneficial effect on us, even if they are just on our screensaver or on a poster on the wall. Or in a frame on our desk or workstation.  Just looking at photos of nature in a quiet room can give us a greater mental boost than walking down a busy urban street.

Dr Marc Berman and researchers at the University of Michigan had participants take a break for 10 minutes in a quiet room to look at pictures of a nature scene or city street. They found that mental performance improved after the nature break, even though the images were  only on paper. Although the boost wasn’t as great as when participants actually took a walk among the trees, it was more effective than an actual city walk.

Conclusion

Balancing our stressful working days with micro-resilience techniques- like the seven outlined above – will make us happier, increase our energy, and improve the quality of our lives.

Why not experiment with them, and see if any of them work for you!

If I had more time and space I could teach lots more of this stuff to you.

Best wishes

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Lifestyle Coach-Counsellor

ABC Coaching-Counselling Division

Telephone: 01422 843 629

Email: renata@abc-counselling.org

~~~

References

Loehr, J and Schwartz, T (2003) The Power of Full Engagement. New York. Simon and Shuster.

St John, Bonnie and Haines, Allen (2017) Micro-Resilience: Minor shifts for Major Boosts in Focus, Drive and Energy. London. Piatkus.

~~~
Continue reading “Daily Resilience–boosters for you”

Why meditation is really good for you…

Blog Post No.6

Published on 18th September 2016 (Previously posted on 7th October 2015)

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2015

Renata’s Coaching/Counselling blog: A *star* technique for enjoying your life more: Daily meditation

Introduction:

nata-5-jpg-w300h225In this blog I am going to explain why meditation is really good for you. It’s the mental equivalent of being on a very nutritious and healthy diet.

And it’s better for our bodies than going on holiday, or going shopping –because you feel good for longer and it doesn’t reduce your bank balance!

That’s a big claim, so I’d better explain why I think it’s so good for you. In order to do that I need to get a bit technical.

But firstly, let me clarify what I mean by ‘meditation’: Sitting quietly, clearing your mind of mental chatter, and focusing your attention in the here and now by counting your breaths in and out.  It’s that simple.  But you can always get more guidance on how to do it by consulting our How to Meditate page.***

~~~

Mental demands on our energy

In our daily lives, here are some examples of the mental demands we face:

# Starting the day with too much to do and too little time to do it.

# If you are married: Getting the kids dressed, breakfasted and ready for school – and keeping the mobile phone on, so you can be easily contacted

# Other people’s conversations (and problems), and responding to them appropriately

# TV and radio news which always give the bad news first, relentlessly

stress-at-work3# If you use a mobile phone: Text messages throughout the day – with good or bad news; and the ever-present threat of a bad/stressing phone call

# Emails waiting for us when we get to work

# Adverts trying to get us to buy things

# If you are a car driver: Other drivers’ behaviour on the roads

# The demands of the job when you get to work

# Your inner dialogue (mind chatter), as you prepare, respond and carry out your daily responsibilities

~~~

Have I missed anything out? Probably!

Our poor brains are deluged with information overload, and the messages don’t stop until we crawl, tired out, into bed, hoping for a decent night’s sleep.

By that time your body has got plenty of stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) circulating in it, so the quality of your sleep will be affected by them. That’s the bad news.

~~~

The good news: how meditation works

stop-stress2What meditation does is it switches off your stress response, and switches on the relaxation response.

The stress response is a natural, human response to all the daily challenges you’ve been facing. You’ve probably heard it referred to as the ‘fight or flight response’.  Your heart rate and breathing increase; your big muscles tense up to fight or run; your digestive system closes down, to conserve energy; your body/brain fills with cortisol and adrenaline, so it becomes difficult to think straight.

We’ve got 2 nervous systems in our body: the ‘sympathetic’ nervous system, which activates our ‘fight or flight’ response; and the ‘parasympathetic’ nervous system, which switches on when threats to us have passed.  The parasympathetic nervous system is also called the ‘rest and digest’ or ‘relaxation’ response.

These two systems alternate with each other, to keep a balance in the body – a bit like mixer taps for hot and cold water.

Meditation gets your body’s relaxation response activated which means that the feelings of stress drain away and the ‘rest and digest’ mechanisms start to operate in your body.

So your body stops producing cortisol, and switches to the relaxation part of your autonomic nervous system. Your digestion starts working again, your big muscles relax, and mental relaxation and whole-body rest take place.

~~~

Breath-counting – recommended by the Buddha:

school-meditation-008Begin by sitting quietly, with no external distractions. Switch off the TV or radio. Sit in a room which does not have any human activity going on. And focus your attention completely on your breathing, so that your thinking about yesterday and tomorrow close down.

Counting your breaths over and over for a period of time rests your brain and reconnects you to your body – to the regular rhythms of your breathing. And in this way your thoughts settle down, lose their power to disturb or run you ragged, and become mere thoughts which come and go, like clouds in the sky.

Meditation roots you more powerfully in the reality of your body and your current surroundings and less in the world of your thoughts.

You may quickly feel sleepy when you start meditating – this is a sign that your body needs rest and wants more sleep.

~~~

How do you do it?

the-buddha-copyYou sit still, in a quiet place, and slowly start counting your breaths from 1 to 4, over and over again. It’s as simple as that.  Count 1 on the in-breath; 2 on the out-breath; 3 on the in-breath; and 4 on the out-breath.  And repeat.  Slowly, slowly; let your rate of breathing slow down, and relax your body.

For more guidance, see our How to Meditate page.***

I suggest you try 10 minutes a day at first. Ten minutes of peace!

But as you get to feel the effects on your body I would suggest that you build up to 30 minutes a day. That will be really good for your mind and body.

You will be able to feel and experience the benefits for yourself, and may well want to go into the subject of meditation in more depth.

The Buddha recommended counting your breaths, but there are loads of different types of mediation.

~~~

Regular practice makes for successful meditation

meditation-effects-copyWhy meditate every day? You will only get the full benefits of meditation, and experience them for yourself, if you do it every day, because it takes time to reap the rewards, just like when you start an exercise programme.

Zig Ziglar once said: ‘People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily’.

The same applies to meditation.  Daily practice will strengthen your connection to your body, slow down your mind, build up your stamina and lower your blood pressure. The resultant increase in relaxation will mean that when you experience stressful events, you will be meeting them with a more relaxed body/mind. Therefore the stress response will be less powerful and you’ll recover more quickly.

And the only time the brain rests is when we’re meditating!

~~~

The benefits of meditating:

Here is a link to a website which has listed 100 of the benefits of meditation: http://www.lotustemple.us/images/Benefits_of_Meditation.pdf

And here is a more detailed account of how to meditate which my partner, Jim Byrne and myself, wrote some time ago: our How to Meditate page.***

How come such a beneficial technique isn’t more popular?

Well, firstly, you will need to get up earlier in the morning or carve out the time in your daily life, if you want to experiment with it.  And some people don’t like having to do that!

It’s not a quick fix, and some people are not very patient.  Give it time to work. The benefits will be worth the effort.  For examples: people have been able to give up hard drugs, cigarettes, lose weight, change their lives, start exercise routines, etc., through using this very simple technique.

meditation-benefits-copy

It is also very useful if you have difficulty getting to sleep at night or wake up in the middle of the night, worrying about past or future events. The simple practice of breath-counting will help you get off to sleep more quickly.

That’s all for now. I hope you find this helpful.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata4coaching@btinternet.com

01422 843 629

~~~

Meditation for stress reduction

Renata’s Blog Post No.6

Written on 7th October 2015.  Posted here on 6th May 2016

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2015-16

Renata’s Coaching/Counselling blog: The dramatic benefits of Daily meditation

Introduction:

Meditation-benefits.JPGIn this blog I am going to explain why meditation is really good for you. It’s the mental equivalent of being on a very nutritious and healthy diet.

And it’s better for our bodies than going on holiday, or going shopping –because you feel good for longer and it doesn’t reduce your bank balance!

That’s a big claim, so I’d better explain why I think it’s so good for you. In order to do that I need to get a bit technical.

But firstly, let me clarify what I mean by ‘meditation’: Sitting quietly, clearing your mind of mental chatter, and focusing your attention in the here and now by counting your breaths in and out.  It’s that simple.  But you can always get more guidance on how to do it by consulting our How to Meditate page.***

~~~

Mental demands on our energy

Meditation-effects.JPGIn our daily lives, here are some examples of the mental demands we face:

# Starting the day with too much to do and too little time to do it.

# If you are married: Getting the kids dressed, breakfasted and ready for school – and keeping the mobile phone on, so you can be easily contacted

# Other people’s conversations (and problems), and responding to them appropriately

# TV and radio news which always give the bad news first, relentlessly

# If you use a mobile phone: Text messages throughout the day – with good or bad news; and the ever-present threat of a bad/stressing phone call

# Emails waiting for us when we get to work

# Adverts trying to get us to buy things

# If you are a car driver: Other drivers’ behaviour on the roads

# The demands of the job when you get to work

# Your inner dialogue (mind chatter), as you prepare, respond and carry out your daily responsibilities

~~~

Have I missed anything out? Probably!

NataCrags005.jpgOur poor brains are deluged with information overload, and the messages don’t stop until we crawl, tired out, into bed, hoping for a decent night’s sleep.

By that time your body has got plenty of stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) circulating in it, so the quality of your sleep will be affected by them. That’s the bad news.

~~~

~~~

The good news: how meditation works

What meditation does is it switches off your stress response, and switches on the relaxation response.

The stress response is a natural, human response to all the daily challenges you’ve been facing. You’ve probably heard it referred to as the ‘fight or flight response’.  Your heart rate and breathing increase; your big muscles tense up to fight or run; your digestive system closes down, to conserve energy; your body/brain fills with cortisol and adrenaline, so it becomes difficult to think straight.

We’ve got 2 nervous systems in our body: the ‘sympathetic’ nervous system, which activates our ‘fight or flight’ response; and the ‘parasympathetic’ nervous system, which switches on when threats to us have passed.  The parasympathetic nervous system is also called the ‘rest and digest’ or ‘relaxation’ response.

These two systems alternate with each other, to keep a balance in the body – a bit like mixer taps for hot and cold water.

Meditation gets your body’s relaxation response activated which means that the feelings of stress drain away and the ‘rest and digest’ mechanisms start to operate in your body.

So your body stops producing cortisol, and switches to the relaxation part of your autonomic nervous system. Your digestion starts working again, your big muscles relax, and mental relaxation and whole-body rest take place.

~~~

Breath-counting – recommended by the Buddha:

Begin by sitting quietly, with no external distractions. Switch off the TV or radio. Sit in a room which does not have any human activity going on. And focus your attention completely on your breathing, so that your thinking about yesterday and tomorrow close down.

Counting your breaths over and over for a period of time rests your brain and reconnects you to your body – to the regular rhythms of your breathing. And in this way your thoughts settle down, lose their power to disturb or run you ragged, and become mere thoughts which come and go, like clouds in the sky.

Meditation roots you more powerfully in the reality of your body and your current surroundings and less in the world of your thoughts.

You may quickly feel sleepy when you start meditating – this is a sign that your body needs rest and wants more sleep.

~~~

How do you do it?

You sit still, in a quiet place, and slowly start counting your breaths from 1 to 4, over and over again. It’s as simple as that.  Count 1 on the in-breath; 2 on the out-breath; 3 on the in-breath; and 4 on the out-breath.  And repeat.  Slowly, slowly; let your rate of breathing slow down, and relax your body.

For more guidance, see our How to Meditate page.***

I suggest you try 10 minutes a day at first. Ten minutes of peace!

But as you get to feel the effects on your body I would suggest that you build up to 30 minutes a day. That will be really good for your mind and body.

You will be able to feel and experience the benefits for yourself, and may well want to go into the subject of meditation in more depth.

The Buddha recommended counting your breaths, but there are loads of different types of mediation.

~~~

Regular practice makes for successful meditation

Why meditate every day? You will only get the full benefits of meditation, and experience them for yourself, if you do it every day, because it takes time to reap the rewards, just like when you start an exercise programme.

Zig Ziglar once said: ‘People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily’.

The same applies to meditation.  Daily practice will strengthen your connection to your body, slow down your mind, build up your stamina and lower your blood pressure. The resultant increase in relaxation will mean that when you experience stressful events, you will be meeting them with a more relaxed body/mind. Therefore the stress response will be less powerful and you’ll recover more quickly.

And the only time the brain rests is when we’re meditating!

~~~

The benefits of meditating:

Here is a link to a website which has listed 100 of the benefits of mediation:http://www.lotustemple.us/images/Benefits_of_Meditation.pdf

And here is a more detailed account of how to meditate which my partner, Jim Byrne and myself, wrote some time ago: our How to Meditate page.***

How come such a beneficial technique isn’t more popular?

Well, firstly, you will need to get up earlier in the morning or carve out the time in your daily life, if you want to experiment with it.  And some people don’t like having to do that!

It’s not a quick fix, and some people are not very patient.  Give it time to work. The benefits will be worth the effort.  For examples: people have been able to give up hard drugs, cigarettes, lose weight, change their lives, start exercise routines, etc., through using this very simple technique.

It is also very useful if you have difficulty getting to sleep at night or wake up in the middle of the night, worrying about past or future events. The simple practice of breath-counting will help you get off to sleep more quickly.

That’s all for now. I hope you find this helpful.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata4coaching@btinternet.com

01422 843 629

~~~