Sleep, depression: Mindfulness practice and swim

I’ve been struggling with sleep issues for years. I have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep.  Sometimes my husband would tell me to clear my mind to fall asleep.  I would ask how do you clear your mind?  Where is the off button for your mind?  He wouldn’t be able to answer.

So I got on prescription sleep pills which treat the condition but just like the authors in the book No More Sleepless Nights say: even after decades of sleeping center clinical experience, there is simply no magic sleeping pill that will work long term.  I was on Lunesta for over a year and one day it just quit working.  Then I tried Ambien.  That pill associated with many other stresses made my depression and anxiety so bad that I was hospitalized twice in December 2012 and January 2013.

Ultimately depression is what I have to admit that I have and yet it’s an incredibly mysterious illness.  First, it’s extremely hard to understand it if you don’t have it.   If you do have it, you probably are or were in great battles against it.

The regular hospitalization did not help me.  What helped was the partial hospitalization (group therapy) program.  It gave me a support network.  I met other great people who struggle with depression and I keep in touch with them so we can check on each other.  I started buying into various CBT concepts such as vicious cycle, challenging automatic thoughts, opposite action etc.

Then I started reading the book the chemistry of calm and recently was given the book the power of now.

I made the connection earlier on how everything connect back to mindfulness.

From the book the power of now:

The mind is a superb instrument if used rightly.  Used wrongly, however, it becomes very destructive.  To put it more accurately, it is not so much that you use your mind wrongly — you usually don’t use it at all.  It uses you.  This is the disease.  You believe that you are your mind.  This is the delusion.  The instrument has taken your over.

I don’t quite agree.  It is true that I do a lot of aimless thinking, like most people, but I can still choose to use my mind to get and accomplish things, and I do that all the time.

Just because you can solve a crossword puzzle or build an atom bomb doesn’t mean that you use your mind.  Just as dogs love to chew bones, the mind loves to get its teeth into problems.  That’s why it does crossword puzzles and builds atom bombs.  You have no interest in either.  Let me ask you this: can you be free of your mind whenever you want to?  Have you found the “off” button?

This sounds like a simple concept but it remains just a concept if I don’t actually try to practice mindfulness.  There are tons of guided meditation videos on youtube, the one I’m practicing is by concentrating on my breath.  This is often taught in the yoga classes I attend.  Concentrate and imagine when you inhale, your breath the energy source is dispersed all over your body.  When you exhale, feel the breath leaving your body and your lungs empty.   I recently found it very easy to practice this technique when I’m swimming.  You generally breath in and out when you swim.  When I exhale, I feel bubbles touching my face and I focus on the bubbles.  After I focus on the breathing for a while, I will be more in touch with my observing mind.

Then when a thought arises, I can identify it.  “Oh that’s a thought” I’d say to myself and then return my focus back to my breathing.  I do this repeatedly when I swim laps.  Pretty soon I’d forget about my swimming all together, I become very relaxed even when I still move my arms and legs going through the motion of swimming.

I think from a few practices, I am able to identify thoughts.  When I try this in my daily life, it’s harder but I find myself stop and get connected with the observing mind more often.

The next baby step for me in my mindfulness practice will be learning to be non-judgmental and non-attaching toward any thought.

My ultimate goal is to find my “off” button for my mind so I can sleep without much struggle.  I’m not sure if I will ever reach the goal but without practicing, I will never get there.

Practice makes perfect. Learning to concentrate on ones breath is not too dissimilar to going to the gym to exercise your muscles. You don’t get ripped in one day or even a week of exercising. Instead you are exercising the “muscle” of your very essence. Consciousness. Keep practicing paying attention to your breath, COMPLETELY, 100%, and you WILL improve.

But you have to want it, and you have to keep practicing.

Practice makes perfect.

4 thoughts on “Sleep, depression: Mindfulness practice and swim

  1. I definitely have trouble turning my mind off. Concentrating on my breath never works for me because I’m always congested so it just makes me feel more congested and then I get anxious and it’s not relaxing at all. Instead, I usually make up a story/fantasy in my head. But there are definitely nights when I’m too excited, stressed or uncomfortable to focus and that’s when I spend half the night awake. Less frequently than it used to, but still happens a few times a month.
    My husband on the other hand can sleep wherever and whenever he wants. He sucks.

  2. Dear One,
    I have been battling the dragon called depression for 10 years now and as I read your blog I kept nodding for I know how you feel.
    Surprisingly today people still think of depression as some sort of character flaw – that we aren’t trying hard enough to cope. Few understand that it is a disease that requires cognitive therapy and meds JUST to get to the point of saying — OK I think I can control this demon …
    Of course I have days and sometimes weeks where I bottom out when my life is at risk but I have come to understand God’s love for me and that I can pass through these periods — “This too shall pass”.

    I studied Buddhism and yoga for awhile to be able to calm and finally turn off the “monkey voices” as they are called. They helped a lot. May I share one little exercise with you?

    Only read below if your answer is yes:

    Eating an orange. How often we gulp our food to get on to the next task … tsk, tsk. Take an orange and sit down at the table. Do this alone without distraction. First look at that orange that vivid colour, the perfect circle it makes. What is making those bumps in the rind? When the rind breaks open under your fingers did the rind cry? Smell that pungent aroma. Unforgettable isn’t it?

    Now peel the orange examining how it is made up and how it protects the fruit, layer upon layer … Separate a section, look at it, see the pulp inside the cellulose? Eat it slowly, does it change flavour from the first chew until the last? Find different ways to eat each section (example: unzip, peel open and suck etc.). When you finish think about how good it tasted and the whole experience. Be thankful and then gradually go back into the path of your life.

    Well we can substitute any fruit for the orange but I started at times doing this to my hot meal. What spices, why do I like a certain flavour. Eating is a very quick way to focus on the moment for it challenges every one of the senses and even can stimulate memories.

    I hope this helps, we ALL need to slow down, use our eyes to SEE and our ears to HEAR and so on. These abilities are precious gifts which we often ignore. Such a pity.

    1. Awesome! be mindful when you are eating is something the book the chemistry of calm has talked about. i know exactly what you are talking about. i find myself stop at times to be mindful of my food. it’s not often enough yet but I do try.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s