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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Part II on sleep disorders and exhaustion

I have lived on the lip
Of insanity, wanting to know reasons,
Knocking on a door.  It opens.
I've been knocking from the inside! ~ 

(As usual, I have to apologize for blogger.com's horrible formatting and at times lack of  or too much space between bullet points..  It is completely random.  There's not a thing I can do about it but switch to another blog format, which I'm working on.)

After writing this post, something seemed wrong or missing; I didn't feel comfortable posting it.  I bought two used books on sleep paralysis to see if there was something obvious I missed and to see what others have found that helped.  In late 2000 when I started looking for solutions, I couldn't find one book specifically about sleep paralysis (SP) or exhaustion that helped.  Lots of other books put together did help (a list at the end), though they were on topics from physics to mindfulness. From those books and experimenting, I found things that worked for me, the things I'm writing about here.  I'm also including things I have found more recently that I also think will help.  I'm not a professional healer and some of my terminology is just a stab at the best description.

The books that came were "Dark Intrusions" by Louis Proud (2009) and "Sleep Paralysis" by Ryan Hurd (2011).  I was impressed with the research and experiments done in both books, I had no idea people had put so much time into this topic.  I read the largest first, by Proud.  Though he redeemed himself in the end, if I had read this book while trying to get well, it would have scared the life out of me and I may never have slept again.  His conclusions were put together from his own experience and significant research of previously published materials of our shared symptoms.  About half way through the book, he started focusing on the opinions of others who also spent many years researching and experimenting.  

This additional research was not only about sleep paralysis, but other phenomenon through history as well.  He found commonalities in research and conclusions by other people who perfectly described sleep paralysis or lucid dreaming, but either didn't know of that term or it wasn't used during their life time.  In the end he learned to use SP to his benefit.   

Proud says "frightening and unpleasant SP episodes needn't necessarily remain that way, it's possible to transform these experiences and to benefit greatly as a result.  Never have I felt as satisfied as I did at the moment I escaped the clutches... My opinion of my own SP experiences has changed markedly, shifting from a largely negative viewpoint to a very positive one.  This came about through having realized that the SP state is a doorway to many possibilities, some terrifying, some interesting and delightful, others simply weird and baffling.  Overall, I think the condition is a gift - a tool, which, when used properly, can be immensely rewarding."  If you have any interest in the paranormal, this book has listed what surely must be every top book on every paranormal topic and he ties them all together with his theory.  

The second book, by Ryan Hurd was a breath of fresh air and why I am finally ready to finish this piece.  This book leaves the reader to their own opinion but with the author's and those of others spinkled in for a jumping off point.  He packed so much into about 90 pages.   Almost everything that actually helped me combat my sleep disorders, and that I'm writing about here, was in this book.  But his research and experimentation of this phenomenon and ability to condense all that into so few words has opened my eyes to SP like nothing else I've read.  

I ran as far away from my health problems as I could; Hurd only had SP as an issue and was able to stay with it and turn it over, examining it.  He researched his way to a new perspective.  The terrifying side of SP was removed from my life while getting healthy; he transformed it into a creative, beautiful tool.  "The encounter with the Stranger is still one of the biggest mysteries in dream science.  But countless people have learned how to master their fear and contor their breath in order to transform the SP vision.  Once you can do this, many new doors are opened."

"When positive feelings of love, acceptance, and trust are focused, they can transform into comforting presences that are literally the stuff of legend.  Nature reflects the face turned towards it.  Rationally speaking SP is where mystics have visions, the religious encounter God, and where seekers of all kinds can communicate with uncanny sources of wisdom.  Dream researcher Robert Van De Castle uses the phrase "Internalized Self Helper" for these archetypal characters that clearly have something to teach us.  The only thing that can limit the possibilities in conscious dreaming is a poverty of intention by not knowing what you want to do."  ~ Ryan Hurd "Sleep Paralysis"


Hurd says that lucid dreaming is a learned skill and that people who experience it call them the most exciting and profound times of their life.  Those that have SP are excellent lucid dreamers.  "You can meditate and possibly experience what mystics and visionaries have been writing poetry about for eons... the ability to have ecstatic visions and even a taste of enlightenment."  He has a section in the book on how to intentionally trigger the SP experience.  I didn't know what it was at the time, but the beautiful and life changing dreams I started having after starting this work were called lucid dreams

If I had these two books in '99, it would have saved many years of trial and error, at least for some of the sleep issues.  None of these tips were mentioned by my numerous doctors and specialists and they are common sense to me now that they have become familiar.  

It's possible, according to Hurd, that the intensive mental work I describe here delayed recovery; it's possible my idea of intensive mental work isn't even close to hisDefine intensive mental work?  But from the state of exhaustion, this mental work helped me progress to the next level of energy needed for the big work.  The Drs only had pills that didn't work.  

If you have SP, I highly recommend you get this book by Hurd.  I will amend this post and my prior posts with his comments where I think helpful.  


This is the continuation of the post "Are you tired of just exhausted."    I'm not a clinical herbalist, I just did my best to get well and paid attention along the way.  I am not condoning or condemning any religious beliefs.  Any language or techniques borrowed from any spiritual tradition was in an effort to understand and get well. 

"Tolerance is necessary not because everybody is equally right, but because we have no way of proving once and for all which of us is right" ~  Kitty Ferguson

"I suggest that our concept of material reality is incomplete."
~ Ryan Hurd

"We don't know a millionth of one percent about anything."
~ Thomas Edison

I think we have about as much chance of understanding the nature of our reality as my cats do of understanding world finance.  I tried to keep an open mind and take little bits of found truths as they resonated, I hope you do as well.

This healing experience changed my mind. Not in the "pardon I asked for mustard, but can I have mayo instead" kind of way.  It changed in that my brain used to think and respond one way, with one set of chemicals and desires; then it changed to a completely different way of thinking and feeling with its own set of chemicals and desires.  I literally started getting well by changing my mind. It may not be able to heal your body, but it can certainly help your heart and hopefully your sleep.  I am fortunate that I've been having a time of health since then because of it.  

In the beginning, much of the work was mental and breath. Sometimes it's all that can be physically done.  It can be easy to discount this as seemingly unimportant work, but it was CRUCIAL.  This work changed my motivations, beliefs, emotions, and physical capabilities for the better.  

The ability to change reality and therefore health using thought seemed possible after reading books like Kitty Ferguson's "The Fire in the Equations".  In it she says "when an atom isn't being observed, it lapses into a state that can be described as ghostlike, with no concrete reality to it at all.  Only under observation does it resolve itself into either an atom with a location or an atom with a definite momentum, and which atom it will be depends entirely upon what the observer is trying to measure.  To put it bluntly, the observer seems to create reality by observing it.  Our act of observation creates a real situation where otherwise there would be only ghostly uncertainty."  So why not observe my breath like the Buddhists Zen masters recommended?

"Buddhism and science have increasingly been discussed as compatible, and Buddhism has entered into the science and religion dialogue." ~ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism_and_science 

This is an amazing short video that scientifically describes changing our mindset and therefore our world.  Please watch it!  He says in 14 minutes what I struggle describing in 14 pages.  "Jeff Lieberman, an MIT-trained artist, scientist and engineer, makes a scientific argument for mystical experience. He asks us to challenge our perception of what we are, our relationship to the universe, and our relationship to one another. Our minds are "thought-generating machines." What would happen if we could turn off the machine? If we could transcend our individual experience of the world?"  http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=N0--_R6xThs
This talk was transcribed by Brad Miele. Transcript here: http://bea.st/inevolution/?p=264

Sometimes one of the problems with not being able to sleep are repeating thoughts looping through the mind, usually trivial events that happened during the day or anxiety about the next.  I used different techniques to try and almost hypnotize myself or at least strongly lull my brain into shutting off.  The steps I took, even the ones that seem unimportant, were an attempt to clear my mind, calm my over-taxed nervous system, reset my circadian rhythms and program my brain to sleep.  

Much of this involved a change in attitude.  No matter how traumatic the past or horrid the present, put the anger or heavy emotions down.  

"Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting burned." ~ Buddha

It seems it was harder for the body to put down anger and injury than for the mind.  I think people with PTSD and traumatic muscle memory have to find a way to get the organs and tissues to also let go of that contracting, stiffing and heavy anger.  Even when the anger you have is with yourself. 

"We do not need surgery to remove our anger.  If we become angry at our anger, we will have two angers at the same time.  We only have to observe it with love and attention.  If we take care of our anger in this way, without trying to run away from it, it will transform itself.  This is peacemaking.  If we are peaceful in ourselves, we can make peace with our anger.  We can deal with depression, anxiety, fear or any unpleasant feeling in the same way."  ~ Thich Nhat Hanh "Peace is every step"

Imagine your liver making a fist of anger towards someone/ thing.  Imagine holding that fist clenched,  even if only slightly, for 10, 20, 30 years from holding anger or irritation. Getting the diaphragm to relax was easier than getting the liver and gall-bladder to stop being angry. Think about the diaphragm just over the liver and the lungs just above.  Imagine together they make a fist, like fingers of the hand would do.

When relaxed, see if you can feel the slight constriction of an irritated spirit in your diaphragm or belly area.  Notice it relaxing as you loosen the grip using deep breathing and calming the mind.  It's hard to be angry when doing this.  After getting it to relax some, think about being angry for a second.  Do you feel the slight tightness again?

I felt and heard my first gall-bladder squirt about 7 years after my lifestyle change.  It was the most powerful relief I've ever felt.  I remember lying back on the floor savoring it.  Before the first big squirt, there were improvements, but that was a giant leap forward.  Now my gall-bladder squirts frequently. I say it's talking to me.  I think of all that as the fist un-clenching and putting down the rage and anger.  Helping the liver helps calm the mind and certainly helps with sleep. 

Reducing stress is an obvious step.  My inability to sleep came directly from poor lifestyle choices, a stressful job and an irritated spirit.  After working over 2 years straight around the clock on the Y2K software project, like most software professionals at the time (which is why Y2K was a non-event), I was immediately given another big project.  I was promised some much needed and extensive time off, but it wasn't coming.  After 2 nights in a row of working till the wee hours of the morning on this new urgent project, I lost the ability to sleep.  Stress and lack of sleep were the direct triggers and the underlying  foundation of illness was poor diet, thoughts and lifestyle.

In response to "why am I having these experiences now, at this time in my life?", Hurd says "SP can serve as a metaphor for the fact that our old defenses are no longer functioning as well as before.  It's also an indicator that life stress is becoming overwhelming or that we are having trouble coping with major life changes, such as a death in the family or trouble on the job front" and I had both. 

"When the stress manifests as SP, the body is paralyzed, the mind is in fight or flight, and there's nowhere to run." ~ Ryan Hurd

Using your thoughts to change health isn't new or something that just the religious or new-agers believe; it's scientific - as are most unexplained things.  Just because we can't measure or touch something, doesn't mean it doesn't exist.  "The Russian biophysicist and molecular biologist Pjotr Garjajev and his colleagues also explored the vibrational behavior of the DNA.  The bottom line was: "Living chromosomes function just like solitonic/ holographic computers using the endogenous DNA laser radiation." This means that they managed for example to modulate certain frequency patterns onto a laster ray and with it influenced the DNA frequency and thus the genetic information itself.  Since the basic structure of DNA-alkaline pairs and of language are of the same structure, no DNA decoding is necessary." 

"This finally and scientifically explains why affirmations, autogenous training, hypnosis and the like can have such strong effects on humans and their bodies.  It is entirely normal and natural for our DNA to react to language.  While western researchers cut single genes from the DNA strands and insert them elsewhere, the Russians enthusiastically worked on devices that can influence the cellular metabolism through suitable modulated radio and light frequencies and thus repair genetic defects." ~  http://myscienceacademy.org/2013/01/23/scientists-finally-present-evidence-on-expanding-dna-strands/

I kept myself open to suggestions of others and books that came my way, most of which would lead to an idea that eventually made a change.  I hope some of these things will trigger ideas for you or get you to research something that will ultimately help.  Some people I know personally have tried everything I have and it just doesn't work for them.  So please don't give up, keep listening and reading and maybe a breakthrough will happen.  

During the day, but no later than 2-3 hours before bed, exercise.  I've since read that it's a myth that you can't exercise before bed, but that wasn't my experience.  If exhausted, I would just do what I could and even push myself slightly beyond that.  As sleep started coming, then I could do more exercises, which helped me get more sleep.  A lovely cycle!  I started with the easier methods in this list, then gradually over several months and years, worked up to the higher levels.  And of course you should seek advice from your health care practitioner before starting an exercise program. The links below weren't available to me at the time, but I did yoga poses to help with lymph. 
  • Stretch and move around the legs, arms and neck.  This works out built up stress from the day and helps move stagnant lymph around.  Being tired and a person that sits or lies around a lot during the day, lymph drainage is a good place to start.  There are lots of youtube videos on lymph drainage and here is a wonderfully easy video that anyone can do on lymph massage:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XPlEa33er_c

    Other Lymph Exercises: http://www.drdavidwilliams.com/lymphatic-system-drainage-exercises#axzz2JEyTI47z  

    Lymph tapping: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QA-wi0d7-Ro   

  • I'll talk about diet in my next post, but keep in mind after extended periods of inactivity, suddenly doing lymph work may result in burdening the lymphatic system causing tiredness.  Drink lots of water (not right before bed of course), eat fiber and look into skin brushing for lymph health. 

  • I moved up to "Sit and be fit" exercises during the day.  It was on TV one sleepless night and it was something I could do.

  • Bouncing lightly where the feet don't leave the floor I believe also helps the lymph and reduce stress.  Some people use a ball for this, but I just stood.
  • As much walking as possible, if exhausted at least shuffle around the house or yard, it's crucial to getting to sleep. 
  • The next big step, after I started sleeping at night, were "real" exercises.  First, light yoga and progressing to more advanced as I became healthier.  A friend gave me Mantra Girl's Yoga video and poses are demonstrated for all ability levels.  Stuff I couldn't do, I just didn't.    
  • When I really started sleeping and my energy level was up, dancing was a fantastic form of exercise and I learned later that there is more to it than just body movement.  I started exercising using full range of movements with the music to open up areas of stiffness while trying to be in a mindful state, trying to move in all ways that the body would have moved when people worked with their body all day.  Then years later I found out it's called ecstatic dance.

    • "Sufis practice rituals using body movement and music to achieve the state. Zila Kahn also practices this through music therapy and her performances." ~ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_ecstasy

    • It's been said that ecstasy "bestows a sense of amazing grace and can come about with, or without, conscious intention.  It's an experience of unity and wholeness, an opening  of the heart and mind that suddenly brings you into communion with something much larger than yourself.  It's a deeply intimate experience creating a palpable sense of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts." 

    • "Ecstatic experience is the oldest form of healing and spiritual practice known with evidence of it dating back over 30,000 years to ancient traditions of shamanism.  It is believed that shamans were the first to discover and codify the use and power of rhythm through drumming, dancing and chanting to carry them on their journeys into a world beyond the ordinary.  Ecstatic dance is a form of active meditation or prayer where music, movement, and the breath are used to shift brain wave patterns from the day-to-day cognitive beta state, to the more meditative and insightful alpha state." (emphasis added) ~ http://www.firetribehawaii.org/articles/ecstaticdance.shtml 
      More great info at this link on how to use ecstatic dance along with creating intentions to change your health.   

    • One of their tips "When you are formulating your intention, focus more on the feelings and qualities of it, rather than specific details of what you think the result should look like.  For example, if you're seeking a new job, picture yourself having that job and the good feelings it gives you.  You're ecstatic about the work, your colleagues, the location, etc.  Use the dance journey to plant the seeds of change that will blossom into this reality.  Focusing on the qualities of your dream change will help you be more open and perhaps less prejudiced against receiving those occasional unexpected, quirky, yet brilliant opportunities the universe sends your way in response to your intentions."

      For sale here: http://www.redbubble.com/people/eyetrigger/works/5170135-shaman-dance

Last time I talked about how to prepare an hour before bedtime.  To re-iterate my last post - no exercise, TV, music (some debate this), or bright lights.  If you can, dim the lights or turn them all off and let just the moonlight fill the room.  Here are some things you can do while sitting comfortably.  Get the bed, bedroom and yourself ready for bed first.  Please see my other post, towards the middle and end, on more tips about what to do right before bed to prepare.  For deep breathing, meditation and visualization, get into a comfortable position either sitting in a chair with both feet on the floor and hands in the lap, or sitting cross-legged on the floor.  

  • Start wind down time with reading.  Sit near a light that is dimmed slightly or has a thin scarf over it if that doesn't bother your eyes too much.  If possible have the rest of the lights off in the house.  Sit near a window so that if the moon and stars are visible you can see them.  If my eyes started crossing or I felt even the slightest bit of tiredness coming on, I'd start the next step or retire to a chair near the bed to finish out the hour.

  • Deep Breathing Exercises.  This is probably the first thing that had the biggest impact.  Close your eyes and take a very long breath out through the nose, bring your belly in towards you spine.  Then take a long, slow, deep breath in through the nose - try at least 7 seconds.  Imagine on the in breath, that your belly is filling with air and let it expand as large as you can.  Hold for 2 seconds, and then repeat with a long 10 second breath out.  Just think about your belly moving.

    • You can do this as long as you like, but try for at least 10 minutes.  You can think "I breathe in" on the in breath and "I breathe out" on the out breath.  There is a wonderful little book called "Miracle of Mindfulness" by Thich Nhat Hanh and I would highly suggest reading and taking his lessons to heart.  This book taught me breathing exercises and ways of clearing the incessantly thinking mind.  This was one of the first books that got me on the path of health and it's a very easy, short read. Number II on this link has more info on mindful breathing.
    • Ryan Hurd also highly recommends focusing on your breath and calls it controlled breathing.  "It lessens the feelings of chest pain that sometimes accompany SP.  (Breath is) not paralyzed like the big muscles in our arms, chest and legs.  If you control your breath you can control your fear.  A few moments of focused breathing with a strong intention to wake up is effective."  He goes into more detail on breath work in his book.
    • I liked to do a very slight rocking motion when doing the deep breathing and meditation exercises.  It reminded me of a mother rocking her child to sleep.  It was so slight it may have been imperceptible by an observer.  

  •  Meditation and Visualization.  There are meditative visualization tapes, but I always enjoyed doing my own.  Some I would do right after laying down in bed and others while in the wind-down time an hour before bed. 

    During the meditation an hour or so prior to going to bed, I would sometimes focus my eyes upward towards my brow, or pineal gland - what many traditions (even some Christians) call the 3rd eye.

    Some self-help books written about using thoughts or intentions are watered down.  Yet at the same time, they overly complicate a very ancient technique used to change your world and health by using a very misunderstood tool, the imagination.

    • When speaking of using Mundus Imaginalis in regard to studying plants, Buhner said "...(mundus imaginalis means) literally 'world imagination.'  What he (Henry Corbin) actually meant by the term was the imagination through which the true nature of the world is perceived.  It is, in fact, a specific kind of seeing, a specific kind of perceiving. It occurs after sensory focus, after feelings, after you have connected with the living reality of the plant, and after its wholeness bursts into awareness and you are at the pregnant point.  In a sense, what you have inside you now is the living phenomenon itself, held in the multidimensional, imaginal field of your heart.  That whole, meaning-imbued image you are now holding within you is a living reality.  At the pregnant moment, once you have gotten over the joy -- of the thing, of the process -- you will find that for just a moment you are holding the image you now see within you in a momentarily static state.  You can, in this tiny instant of suspended time, view the living, meaning-filled image from multiple points of view, rotate it to see it from any perspective you wish."  (emphasis added)
"The number of neural cells in the heart runs between 15 and 25%" ~ Stephen Buhner

    • According to Henry Corbin who coined the word in Mundus Imaginalis or the Imaginary and the Imaginal, "the term is equated with the unreal, with something that is outside the framework of being and existing, in brief, with something Utopian.  I believe it is indispensable here to be clear in our minds as to the real meaning and impact of the mass of information about the topographies explored in a visionary state, i.e., the intermediary state between waking and sleeping." (italics mine.  Note: this is where SP and Lucid dreaming occurs).

      "As a result of internalization, one has moved out of external reality. Henceforth, spiritual reality envelops, surrounds, contains so-called material reality...  Moreover, it may help us to discover what distinguishes the visionary experience of spiritualists, from such pejorative terms in our modern vocabulary as "figments of the mind" or "imagings" - to wit, Utopian fantasies.  ...we must make a real effort to overcome what one might call Western man's "agnostic reflex", since it is responsible for the divorce between thinking and being."  ~  http://henrycorbinproject.blogspot.com/2009/10/mundus-imaginalis-or-imaginary-and.html

"When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come close to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge."  ~ Einstein

"In part because of our encounter with the quantum situation, we are more than ready to suspect that on any level of the universe how we look changes what we find." ~ Kitty Ferguson

"Without imagination, we cannot penetrate our psyches, nor will we allow ourselves to be absorbed by the world around us." ~  Joan Halifax

    • The pineal gland is said to be the 3rd eye. It synthesizes and secretes melatonin.  The precursor to melatonin is serotonin, a neurotransmitter that itself is derived from the amino acid tryptophan.  All of these assist with sleep.  Some say by looking at your brow, your thoughts and attention are focused on the pineal gland - thereby stimulating it.  There are some that believe certain sounds made by the individual and therefore that resonate in the skull help the pineal gland.  These are typical sounds that you will hear in mantras such as om, aum or hum.
      • I stopped using toothpaste with fluoride and drinking city water because I thought it might help with pineal gland health.   "1990s a British scientist Jennifer Luke, discovered that fluoride accumulates to strikingly high levels in the pineal gland.  Preliminary animal experiments found that fluoride reduced melatonin levels and shortened the time to puberty. Based on this and other evidence, the National Research Council has stated that "fluoride is likely to cause decreased melatonin production and to have other effects on normal pineal function, which in turn could contribute to a variety of effects in humans" ... studies have found that calcified deposits in the pineal are associated with decreased numbers of functioning pinealocytes and reduced melatonin production (Kunz et al., 1999) as well as impairments in the sleep-wake cycle." (emphasis mine) ~ http://www.fluoridealert.org/issues/health/pineal-gland/
    • Wind-Down visualization and relaxation.  Observe how the body feels, note any areas of stress.  Try to relax those areas.  I tried to pay attention to the parts of my body that felt the hottest, coldest, or stiffest etc.  and then imagine what it needed.  If there was an area of pain, I'd put my hand on it and sit with it, listening. Use your imagine as the tool it is to help with this.
      •  I "told" my stem cells "I know you are capable of becoming any cell my body needs you to be."  I don't know if that is technically true, but they are capable of  becoming many things.  And I told my body "I know you are capable of being well." 
"Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right."
~ Henry Ford
      • Relax the muscles on top of the head, in the face, the neck, the shoulders, working down to the toes.  Imagine the magnetic field around your body as also appears around the Earth.  I would imagine my pain and disease being swept into this field and being deposited into the earth.  
"When the rotation of the needle occurred, a reproducible magnetic field of 800-1500 mT (8-15 mGauss) was indicated on the digital measuring device (this was tested 12 times). It is concluded that traditional Oriental Qi Gong breathing appears to stimulate an unusually large biomagnetic field emission." ~ http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9051169
    • Wind-down meditation is used to practice clearing the mind for bedtime and stopping those chattering thoughts.  It was VERY difficult, if not impossible, for me to do this completely if I had any caffeine that day (decaf coffee has caffeine) or sugar in the afternoon.  It's important to practice even with stimulants in your system, but don't feel discouraged if you can't hold an image for more than a few seconds or can't calm your thoughts right away - or at all.  As hard as it is to function without caffeine when exhausted, try it from Friday afternoon through Sunday night and see how your meditation (and sleep) go on Sunday night. You might be surprised how different you feel after 2 full days with no caffeine (besides having a withdrawal headache).  There are health benefits to caffeine, chocolate and coffee  - but when facing sleep problems it's worth experimenting with it's removal for a time.  

      • Observe how the body feels and make note every night of even the slightest improvement.  With a smile on the face, start with deep breathing exercises, but then I transfer to just a state of calm, non-stressed listening.

      • There are many methods to meditation and "Miracle of Mindfulness" will help teach that.  One simple method people use is just observing the breath and as thoughts come up, see them float away in balloons.  I hate the thought of store bought balloons in the environment, so my balloons are made of biodegradable rice paper, which I'm sure in the real world wouldn't work!  Here is a video on breathing meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh. 

When it's time to go to bed, you want no activity except slowly and gently walking to the bed and getting in.  Imagine a caring nurturer that you love dearly carrying you, if you don't have a memory of one, create one in your mind.  Visualize every detail of this person every night as you are being carried to bed so that the more you think of them, the easier it is to immediately see what they look and feel like, another way to train your mind that it's time to get ready to sleep.  In my last post I talked a little more about how to prepare for bed.

  • As soon as you get into bed, begin relaxing all your muscles starting with your head and temples.  

  • Bed-time visualization - Ryan Hurd does not recommend doing intense mental practices before bed and feels these practices can exasperate the situation.  However for me this was one of the best things I found to train my brain and after much practice it would almost always knock me out immediately.  

    • Here is an easy visualization to do in bed just to get used to the idea and I like to do this one when settling into a nap or laying down outside.  After getting relaxed and settled in, imagine being a clump of grass growing in a creek.  My roots are my feet, safely and firmly anchored deep into the rocks below.  My body floating on top of the water, cool, relaxed, healthy, flexible, and moving with the current.  Above me a leaf covered tree branch stretches over the water and above that a deep blue sky.  Think of nothing but how good and safe it feels to be that clump of grass.  Any thoughts that come up, let them slip into the water and float away. 

photo by Jamie - actual clump of grass that inspired this meditation

  • Primary visualization  - this has been my primary for over a decade.  It took lots and lots of practice to be able to see everything clearly and be able to slip right into the scene which now immediately releases those sleepy hormones.  This was the ultimate goal, to train my brain to sleep.  I still do this every night.  

    • I imagine that I'm in a small round room open up to a 2nd floor.  All along the walls are books, like a personal library, from the floor to the top of the 2nd floor ceiling.  There is a nice desk in the middle with the most beautiful little reading lamp.  Make it as rich or simple as your ultimate library would be.  This room is your mind and the books are where all your thoughts are stored.

    • If thoughts are flying around in your mind, imagine them flying around on sheets of paper in this library.  Get used to the idea that all your thoughts are on sheets of paper.  Notice that there is a fan in the room blowing loose sheets of paper around.  Walk over and unplug the fan.  The sheets fall to the floor.  This is a magical place where anything is possible, so with the wave of your hand, the pages fly into the correct books.  You don't have to worry about forgetting your important (or not so important) thoughts, they are filed away and you can see them later - but not tonight.
    • I haven't had to unplug a fan in a long time and usually my thoughts are on sheets of paper on the desk.  These are current projects and issues I'm working on  On the bookshelf closest to the desk, at eye level and arm reach away, are the books of the most importance.  Important to-dos, work, family, etc.  With a wave of the hand the papers on the desk file themselves away, usually into those books close by.
    • At the 2nd floor level, there is a little single sized bed next to a window recessed into the book shelves.  I'd fly up and stand next to the bed.  In it I visualize anyone that is on my mind.  Imagine they are safe and sound asleep.  If it's appropriate, I tuck them in and give them a little kiss on the forehead.  Then I don't have to worry or think about them again that night.

    • On the same 2nd story level, on the opposite side of the room from the bed, there is a landing.  I fly over and magically change into the most beautiful and comfortable sleeping clothes I can imagine.  There are 2 giant steel doors leading outside with a tiny, paper-width gap between them.  There are rusty rivets all around the door, they are heavy and secure.

    • The doors open and I'm standing on top of a hill with the most beautiful scenery imaginable.  I can see in every direction, it's very safe.  There is a small patio overlooking a bottom land with a creek winding through.  On the other side of the creek is a tree covered hill.  On the patio, there is a small pool with an infinity edge and the most comfortable lounge chair ever designed.  Lots of plants and flowers are all around.

    • Sometimes I float in the pool till I'm asleep.  Other times I lay in the lounge chair covered with a thick, down-filled comforter.  When I ease into the chair all I think about is the fact that this is the most comfortable chair I've ever been in and repeat that to myself several times.
    • I start to relax my muscles from my head to my toes.  Any thoughts that arise, I imagine them flying out of my mind on slips of paper.  There is a slight breeze caused by suction coming from behind the two steel doors behind me and all thoughts slip right between the doors to magically file themselves away.  
    • I look to the left and see another image of myself lying on a comfortable and beautifully decorated blanket, sleeping under a tree about 100 feet away.  I look at her sleeping so peacefully.   She has her back towards me.  After I got really good at falling asleep in the lounge chair, for fun I'd switch it around and be the "me" under the tree.  I don't know why two people are important, but when it was just me in the lounge chair it took longer to fall asleep till I figured out if I could already see myself asleep it helped.
    • The only awareness I have at this point is that my muscles are relaxed, I'm in a safe, beautiful, uncluttered space in an incredibly comfortable lounge chair with a warm and fluffy blanket.  I hold this awareness and stay relaxed till I fall asleep.  Sometimes I had to hold that awareness for a very long time, hours it would seem.  It did take a lot of practice, but now I fall asleep almost immediately using this technique.  Sometimes I fall asleep just thinking about the papers on my desk filing themselves away.  Other times I skip right to the patio.  
      • Some sleep experts say that if you don't fall asleep within so much time to get up and read until you are sleepy and try again.  I tried that method over and over and it NEVER worked for me.  I've verified with friends that have sleep problems that this doesn't work for them either.   If I got up at all and turned a light on, that was it, I wasn't sleeping the rest of the night. Even if I had to lay there on my mental lounge chair for hours in the bed, I at least had the chance that I would fall asleep at some point.  
      • I visualized this place so much, it became a home in my dreams.  
    • Make fun of the power of attraction all you want, but 10 years later we ended up buying property that looks almost exactly like my night-time visualization.  At the time, in my poverty of debt, ill-health and a horrible credit rating; having a place like this would have been inconceivable.  So use this time to create the most perfect place for yourself and maybe it will arrive one day unexpectedly in the common hours. 
“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.” ~Henry David Thoreau

During the day, no matter where you are, try to stay in a state of mindfulness or awareness.  If you are helping your child with their homework, only think about that.  Don't think of the dozens of other things you need to do.  If you are washing the dishes, enjoy the act.  I like to think of my ancestors for thousands of years that have partaken in the daily activity of cooking or washing dishes and I am connected to them through thinking about these activities. 

  • Try to move as much as possible.  At work, get up and move around at least every hour if you can.  Walk around the parking garage or building or climb the stairs.  When I did this alone, I would use this time to re-program my brain and would repeat positive phrases and feel the meaning and emotion of each before moving to the next.  The easiest string of phrases for me to remember in the beginning was from childhood, the fruits of the spirit that we had memorized.  But as I became friends with Hindus, Buddhists, Pagans and others; I learned other positive and affirming songs, mantras and phrases.  Mostly I would just say and think of memories that reminded me of love, joy, peace, patience, and gentleness.  If I couldn't think of a memory that reminded me of the emotions of those words, I'd borrow one from someone else or just make one up.  
  • My natural base state much of the time was irritated, pissed-off, or angry even sometimes to the point of rage.  My humor could be biting and condescending.   Even if I smiled and seemed just fine, there was usually something gnawing at me inside.  I worked very hard to stop being angry, especially at the owner of the company who I felt screwed me over after Y2k and at my ex-husband for many justifiable reasons.  I tried to project the feeling of compassion or love all day so that I could be healthy, even if it was for selfish reasons.  This was just about as an impossible task as there ever was, but I did my best.  My boss one day mentioned that she noticed I suddenly stopped being so angry at the owner of the company, and I had. 
  • Don't try to just get rid of the disease.  Look at it for a time, acknowledge it, what do you think the root cause is and how can you remove that from your life?   Use this time of exhaustion for an inner journey of self-discovery.  Pay attention to and learn the lessons the illness is teaching.  It's so much easier to slip into a state of inner reflection when you are really exhausted, so use this time to your advantage.  
"Suffering can also bear the fruit of compassion, the fruit of joy.  I have gone into the darkness to harvest this fruit.  Going into the wound, we can see that the suffering of others is our suffering.  Some of us will seek healing from those who have borne the wound more deeply than we have ourselves.  Our suffering is a sacrifice, but often what we suffer from can be a gift of strength, like the shaman's wound that becomes the source of his or her compassion."
~ Joan Halifax "The Fruitful Darkness"

  • Though I loved punk and hard-rock music, I turned it off for a long time.  For the first time I also had quite times.  Times of absolute silence. In the 1 - 1.5 hour commute to work one way, instead of blasting music the whole time, I started using that as a time of silence.  Maybe I'd do some breath work, practice smiling and relaxing my diaphragm.  Music resonates in your body.  For a time switch to only the most relaxing or uplifting and positive music, make sure to get times of absolute silence and I found it helpful to stop listening to and watching the news.  Now I listen to what I want, but I enjoy silence just as much as I do music.  I don't crave punk and rock like I did.  Our vibrations aren't the same much anymore, but I do still listen some - I enjoy all sorts of music.
    • Think about everything that goes into your eyes and ears; the movies, music and video games. Are they calming, peaceful and would help your sleep health; or are they violent, over-stimulating and would wind you up?  It is a full day process to prepare to sleep when you normally can't.  EVERYTHING you do that day can affect you that night.  
    • Is the TV on all the time, even during commercials just for the background noise?  Turn it off!  If your dogs are anxious and you leave the TV on for them during the day, realize it's probably the TV being on all the time that may be making them anxious.  You may be too numb to realize the impact constant noise has on you.  
    • Do you have all the lights in the house on all the time?  Turn them off.  Get used to natural lighting and only turn on artificial lights if absolutely needed  Just like star gazing, give your eyes 10 minutes or so to adjust before deciding if you really need to turn on the lights.  At work, I had them remove 2 of the 3 long florescent lights over my work space. People would sometimes come sit in my office and say "Ignore me, I just want to sit here a minute".  It was so much more peaceful feeling without such harsh lighting.
  • Go outside as much as possible for nature therapy.  You can sit, relax your eyes and look at everything with a soft gaze.  Listen to the world around you.  Take off your shoes and let your bare feet touch the ground, especially if it's moist.  Be still, be quiet.  Lay somewhere and do the grass in the stream visualization mentioned above.  Imagine your heart has an ear that only your subconscious can hear.  Your job is just shut up and let the heart listen.  If you need the info, you'll get the message later in a flash or in your dreams.  Sometimes it's insightful to look at the images that will appear in patterns on the tree bark or in leaf patterns as your gaze softens further, these images can be a message as well.  There has been much discussion on the importance of nature therapy for all sorts of problems, especially those of an attention deficit nature in children.
    • Standing with arms outstretched will boost testosterone and decrease cortisol (stress hormone).  Try it outside facing the sun, eyes closed and stand as tall as possible, stretch those arms out, and lift your chin up.   Here is an article about power posturing that explains it a little more. 
    • Getting outside during the night is a beneficial part of nature therapy too.  Holding your head back, looking at the stars, letting the moon light into your eyes.  Notice how unnatural looking up is and correct that. 
Hands in my pockets
and a smile on my face,
the night is this place. 
~ Poem by Jamie Jackson (me) @ 15 years old

Unexpected side-effects.
  • Sleepy Brain.  When I got tough with myself and started making changes, I finally started sleeping again.  A character showed up I named sleepy brain and I decided it was a man because it was so separate from my own personality. When I started sleeping "he" would play tricks on me to get more sleep.  When the pendulum swung to the other side and all I wanted to do was sleep, he was the pin that held it in place.  Just as the adrenaline, caffeine, alcohol, sugar and a negative mind set held the pendulum in place in the other direction when I could not sleep.  I started feeling "sleep drunk" and drowsy after a full night's sleep.  My inner voice would absolutely convince me it was the weekend or remind me I took a vacation day or simply wouldn't allow my eyes to open or body to get up. I was greedy for sleep and sometimes if I could, I'd lay in bed all day going in and out of sleep, especially on the weekend.
  • Sometimes a dream would start right after a paralysis in that I was awake and seeing my own room.  It was very real, as are all SP episodes.  Then in the dream I got up, ready for work, drove to work, worked all day and drove home.  Then something would happen after I arrived home to let me know I was still dreaming and had never gone to work.  
    • Usually the scene would dim to shades of gray and something out of the ordinary and frightening would happen. When I'd wake up, dammit I was late for work.  Sometimes when I woke up late for work, even that was a dream and it would loop over and over like that to keep me in bed.  I'd wake up, it was 11 am or later and I had been "time-looping" from the time I laid down the night before.  After getting up for real once, I yelled at my ex-husband "why didn't you get me up?!"  "I tried, you kept slapping me saying no, so I just left you there."  When I did arrive to work, I was never really sure if I was at work or just time-looping. 
    • With no help from the ex and sleepy brain arriving on the scene, I had to start setting an alarm in the other room.  Once I got up, ripped it out of the wall, went back to bed and didn't remember doing it.  
"False Awakenings are dreams that seem like waking life, and they are common with SP.  They are alarming because we think we are awake, but then suddenly a new nightmare occurs.  Some people have five to ten false awakenings in a row, and when they finally wake up for real, they are harried and may even doubt their sanity.   Not only do we feel awake during the experience, but the dream is modeled to look just like our actual sleeping space." ~ Ryan Hurd

  • Thankfully "he" didn't last too long.  At some point my thirst for sleep became satiated, my energy level rose, my diet changed and I got control.  Getting rid of him got easier after a few months of really good, excessive sleep.  There was a specific trick that helped get rid of him completely though.  
    • After those several months of excessive sleep, much of my not getting up wasn't a dream trick anymore.  I just really, really, really didn't want to get up and though my limbs weren't paralyzed, they felt like they weighed a hundred pounds each.   It was those days that I had to absolutely force the situation and get up on will power alone.  Some mornings I was a big whiny baby.  Sometimes I'd roll myself out of the bed so I'd purposely fall on the floor - some mornings it was the only way to get up.  It would take a while for the sleep drunk feelings to wear off.  That was a good time to do some exercises, even light ones like sit and be fit. 
    • The more days in a row I could force myself to get up, the easier it got as my body responded to the training.   I tried a new trick that my friend's aunt taught me.  I have no idea if it's clinical, but worked for me.  
    • When I finally started sleeping, I'd sleep 13+ hours a day.  It started creeping up from 2 to 4, then 6 to 8, then 10 to 11.  I was still tired, but in a different way, in a more lethargic or weighed down way that I call sleep drunk. 

      My friend's aunt told me to cut my sleep back to 5-6 hours a night, less than is a healthy night's sleep.  It's very temporary. Unfortunately, it's also crucial that you still go to bed at the regular time you set.  That might mean getting up at 4am.  It was EXTREMELY difficult!  After a while of this, 8-10 hours were enough and I could start getting up without an alarm.  This was one of the hardest things to do and I certainly wasn't very good at it with any consistency at first.  
    • Now my goal is 9 hours a night.  Sometimes a little more in the winter and a little less in the summer because of the garden schedule.  

I don't have children, but I've often wondered if these types of exercises might be helpful when kids are afraid to go to bed.  If learning to be peaceful and calm when the monsters come out at night, and if breathing deeply to a state of calm would help transform that monster under the bed or in the closet into something warm and fuzzy of the child's imagination.  I wish children were being taught the true power of their imagination and stop having it numbed by constant over-stimulation of TV, music and games.  I also wonder if simply putting the child's mattress directly on the floor would help to remove the fear of the empty space under the bed. 

Some books that helped me understand what is possible using observation, mindfulness, meditation, creative visualization, and the two books on Sleep Paralysis mentioned earlier are:
When I'm in Houston, TX, I like to go to Yoga Lola studios.  

(update 02/06/13: I just saw this inspirational video, if this guy can change his life, then anyone can! He ALSO used breath workhttp://www.ddpyoga.com/site/index.php/en/results/83)

Thank you Robin McGee for the long Buhner quote since my book is missing.  Thanks to Sharen Berry who helped me over the phone from Ecuador when I struggled writing these thoughts down.  Thanks to my Mom for planting the seed of alternative health treatments and for helping me to look there during my first big health crisis in 1986.  Special thanks to Lola and Mary Anne for reaching into my darkness and helping me so much to get well.

If anyone has ANYTHING that has helped them with sleep problems or exhaustion, please post in the comments.

Dedicated with love to Thay Nhat Hanh

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