Sleep, Presence and Posture
People often tell me they “slept wrong”, waking up to a painful neck or shoulder. Others, wanting my opinion about pillows, mattress firmness and sleeping positions ask, “how should I sleep?” In general, my response to questions about sleep is this: how we sleep depends on how we live—what we’re doing with our bodies and minds while we’re awake. Recently I read several articles that confirm me in this view.
One article, in Time Business, reports about the booming industry of “sleep assistance”—pills, products, medical devices, sleep ‘consultants’ and clinics, white noise machines, expensive mattresses, etc. The journalist predicts that the “sleep industry” will continue to burgeon apace with the jet stream of 21st century culture. One of the biggest culprits in the nationwide sleep deprivation epidemic is the habit of using light-emitting electronics just before bed. Good luck getting everyone to stop doing that!
Another article was a post in Dr. Andrew Weil’s blog entitled “Social Jet Lag”, a condition resulting from too much time spent working indoors without enough exposure to daylight. Weil says people with this condition are “more likely to be overweight, to smoke, to be sleep-deprived and to drink more alcohol and caffeine” than people with balanced schedules. Our biological clocks simply cannot adapt to fast-paced work lives. Sit by a window at work, Weil suggests.
To be sure, we need major environmental, economic and political fixes before we can become a population of people who rest easy. Nutrition; air, sound and electronic pollution; swing shifts—all those things play a part in our sleeping, and all are hard to change.
But at another level–a soma level–we can do something about the way our bodies respond to the stresses we’re subjected to. We can choose to be present with whatever it is we’re doing while we are awake. By practicing presence, we train ourselves to engage with the world from a state of relaxation. And then, when it’s time for sleep, there’s a good chance sleep will come easier.
How do we do this? Considering the things we sometimes have to be present with, the task seems overwhelming. So much is amiss with our world. It’s understandable to seek “presence” in places that are beautiful and peaceful, where it’s easier to come by. However, there is one place where there is always the potential to be present. That place is one’s own body.
For me, the tools I teach in The New Rules of Posture, in my DVD, and in classes are the very tools that help me return, again and again, to the state of being here, now.
Remember? We orient ourselves by two main perceptions: the sense of the weight of one’s bones, yielding to and being supported by the ground; and the sense of the space around one’s body (which we now know is coded within the brain’s sensory map AS body). Whatever situation I’m in, if I can restore those two physical perceptions, that helps me modulate an infusion of the fear of what was and what might be, and places me right here on this spot, in this moment.
Presence is not a quick fix: it’s a practice for a lifetime. I lose it repeatedly. At a recent stoplight I became aware of a familiar inner rush. I was late because I had tried to squeeze too many little activities into the time between leaving and getting there (ironically, to a church service). I suspect this isn’t a failing unique to myself, so I’ll share my mantra: “Where is my ground? Where is my space? Where, along the centerline of myself, does tension diminish my capacity to remember earth and sky?”