Six Ways To Improve The Quality Of Your Sleep

improve the quality of your sleepSleep disorders account for a great deal of trouble that people experience physically and emotionally. Our quality of sleep is all too often taken for granted.. At different times in life we need more or less sleep but a lack of sleep, or lack of sound sleep, can have a profoundly negative effect on our immune system and quality of life. Sleep deprivation can be connected to impaired cognitive function, depression, diabetes and obesity as well as muscle and bone issues.

Here are six tips to improve the quality of your sleep, and in some cases for those around you, which can be a boon to your own slumber—snoring partner, anyone?

1              Exercise.

The body needs to move. It doesn’t matter what exercise you choose—yoga, walking, running, crossfit—doing something phsycial every day is essential to getting a good nights rest. If you sweat and tire your body out daily, you will sleep more soundly at night.

2              What position do you sleep in?

Few people think that sleeping can cause damage. But, do you wake up with a bad back, aching hip, or numb extremities? It might well be that the position you sleep in is hurting your body.

Sleeping on your back is an excellent option. But if you are someone with very open hips, and your legs too easily turn out, there could be a downside to this position.

Sleeping on your stomach is not good for anyone and should be avoided at all costs. Sleeping on your stomach compresses your lumbar spine and is a recipe for disaster.

From my perspective, the best sleep position is on your side with a pillow between the legs. The knees should be at the exact same level, slightly bent, below the pelvis. Allowing one knee to slide up higher than the other will torque your pelvis into bad alignment.

3              Wear an eye mask.

Light interferes with sleep. Melatonin, the chemical of sleeping, is not produced during daylight hours. Any light inhibits the production of melatonin which controls your sleep cycles.

Since light affects how much melatonin your body produces the shorter days of the winter months are likely to produce less melatonin in the body. Some researchers see a correlation between this and seasonal affective disorder which plagues so many people. Melatonin levels also lower with age which might explain why people sleep less as they age.

Using an eye mask can ensure total darkness that will encourage the brain and body to rest fully and completely

4              Go to sleep early.

As a yoga teacher I have studied some Ayurveda the Indian health science. In the Ayurvedic system, due to daily cycles of energy in the body, it is recommended that we go to sleep before 11pm and wake up before 7am.

While there are problems with sleeping too little there can also be problems with sleeping too much. Every body and mind is different so it is important to listen to your own clock to see what works best for you but the age old time frame of eight hours a night does work best for a wide swath of the population. Personally I have not slept more than seven hours in a night in the last thirty years. I am up around seven am, no matter what time I go to sleep.

According to Ayurveda after 11pm the body begins to more into a more stimulated cycle to it is best to wind down before then lest you stay awake for two long. I try my darndest to be in bed by eleven pm to give myself the best chance to get to sleep before midnight.

5              Shut off your electronics.

Here we revisit the important sleep inducing melatonin, the production of which is inhibited by the brightness of computer, tablet and television screens. The bright light of any of these surfaces signal daylight to the brain and effectively shut off our sleep switch.

Serotonin, like melatonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating the mood and health of the body and mind. Positive serotonin levels contribute to feelings of well-being and wakefulness, whereas melatonin regulates our sleep cycles. Irregularities in serotonin and melatonin production can wreak havoc on the body.

Many electronic gadgets like computers and ipads emit a blue light (ereaders don’t necessarily emit this same light) that suggests the same colors as daylight and can inhibit melatonin production. The kicker is that electronic gadgets in the evening also seem to inhibit seratonin production during the day for the double whammy of poor sleep and sluggish consciousness.

Our sleep patterns are regulated by circadian rhythms, a 24 hour cycle that responds primarily to light and darkness and is important in determining the sleeping and feeding patterns of all animals, including us humans. Circadian rhythms are produced naturally within the body, but they are affected by the light and dark which send signals to our brain to help regulate the cycles of sleeping and wakefulness.

6              Tape your mouth shut at night

Not everyone is ready for this one which is why I saved it for last. Taping the mouth shut at night increases oxygen delivery to the brain which has a great deal of benefit and it can have positive effects on disorders such as asthma, sleep apnea, and to end where I began… snoring. If you have a partner who snorts through the night, tape his or her mouth shut and get better sleep yourself.


Improve the quality of your sleep and the payoff lasts the rest of your life.

Sunday Morning Music: Neil Young

I set out to put up a video from the new box set of Crosy, Stills, Nash and Young, CSNY 1974. It’s pretty great stuff though it is not called the Doomed Tour for nothing.

They rock though listening to Graham Nash’s usually beautiful voice is painful. His voice is not really meant for that stage.

There is a lot of stuff from Neil Young’s solo career, including a sick version of Revolution Blues that I couldn’t find on YouTube. So I abandoned CSNY and here is the studio version of one wild and crazy song.

Valparaiso, Chile. Start with the feet.

Bones first: both feet on the ground. 18 de julio, 2014.

Blog:  DayBooks


In Chile: Valparaiso, the trip we thought we might not get to take because of the stupid heart anomoly that showed up this winter.  But determination has won out and we are here — way up here: on one of the hills (Cerro Bellavista) looking down (way down) at the harbor.


The hills are beautiful and crazy in their cohesive chaos.  The ascents and descents are almost straight up and down.  So you start with your feet — really, with the bone. Lose track and there’s definitely a sense you might find yourself tumbling down to the harbor.  And balance has never been one of my strengths.  I can waver on the straightaways.  I have a clear sense that if I lose touch with my feet right now it’ll be all over.


Concentration is not a bad thing.  And it’s  not a bad thing to feel yourself frequently reconfiguring your skeleton as gravity loses connection with visual reference points.


I always have a hard time doing handstands outside.  Something moving outdoors makes me feel groundless when I try to go upside down.  However, in all this perspective-lines-gone-crazy I went out on the deck, overlooking the harbor, and kicked up.  It took a few days but I made it.  Wowie zowie!  King of the mountain.  It’s all in the feet (and the core — they are absolutely linked): whether the feet are supporting you or are pathfinders.


Do you know where your feet are?  It’s better if you do.  So many bones, so many possibilities.  But though only one way is up, there are many ways to get there,  Whether your center is your brain or your skeleton, or some combination or manifestation of both — keep track of it.  Don’t go all amoeba in that dark world out there.  Just kick up, with purpose and committment.

Maybe I Am Wrong About This Posture Stuff?

superhero posture gone bad    bad superhero posture

I am trying to fight the good fight against bad posture around the globe but what am I supposed to do when all of the world’s superheroes conspire against me.

There I was, on a mild summer’s day, minding my own business in the Union Square Barnes and Noble.

My children were in search of Encyclopedia Brown and Harry Potter, and I was contemplating what to cook for dinner, when I ran into an acquaintance with back pain. Innocently enough I began talking to him about posture when out of the corner of my eye I saw the do-gooders assembled in a line.

I turned slowly to confront them. They stared me down. I glared back.

“You are all leaning backwards!” I yelled

They mocked me with their silent stares.

bad superhero posture   bad superhero posture

“Look at your hyperextension.” I implored.

They refused to budge. Oh those compressed lumbars!

“Don’t you know what you are doing to yourselves and all the young people that look up to you?”

I showed them my best posture and dared them to try and take me down. I thought I heard the Batman laugh but maybe I was mistaken. I contemplated my next move.

What is a posture teacher to do when most cultural norms reinforce negative patterns that fail to serve us?

Oh the humanity!

What is Frozen Shoulder?

frozen shoulder

Frozen shoulder is also known by the technical name adhesive capsulitis.  This means what it says—in times of trouble a capsule that surrounds the shoulder joint will bind all of its parts together limiting the range of motion.

Within the shoulder capsule, there are a number of bursa in between bones to encourage mobility. The tendon of the long head of the biceps brachii muscle also travels inside the capsule which is why pain in the biceps tendon is almost always present in cases of frozen shoulder.

The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint made up of three bones: the arm bone (humerus) and the shoulder blade (scapula) and collarbone (clavicle), which make up the shoulder girdle. I have written before how the shoulder joint is unique in that it has muscle tendons working as ligaments. The ligaments of the shoulder joint are lax by design to allow for greater range of motion.

As opposed to the hip socket that is an actual cup, or socket, for the ball to fit in, the ball at the top of the arm bone fits into a much less finished or more shallow socket formed by bones of the shoulder girdle— the acromion and coracoid processes and the glenoid cavity (fossa) of the scapula which is a depression on the head of the scapula, between the acromion and coracoid processes. The ball at of the humerus sits into the glenoid cavity.

The shoulder capsule surrounds the shoulder joint and rotator cuff tendons and when someone moves into the frozen shoulder stage of an injury the capsule thickens and becomes tight. Literal adhesions develop. This is going to affect the bursas within the joint as well as the bicep tendon that is also inside the capsule.

Frozen shoulder causes pain and stiffness in the shoulder. Over time, the shoulder becomes very hard to move. The tissues around the joint literally harden, scar tissue forms, and shoulder movements become limited and painful.

While anyone can get frozen shoulder most incidences occur with women. And oddly, it is thought that it will simple go away in many cases, though it can take up to a year to work through its stages (which I will cover next). In my wife’s case, it took some rather intense physical therapy to solve the problem but who is to say that it wouldn’t have eventually cleared of its own accord?

My Wife’s Rotator Cuff Injury

rotator cuff injuryMy lovely wife Caitlin is finally getting over a rotator cuff injury that took seven months to develop and one year to heal. Adhesive capsulitis, while being accurately descriptive is easier to remember by its lay name, frozen shoulder.

Frozen shoulder can develop from a rotator cuff injury as well as any number of shoulder issues that lead to a restricted range of motion. Caitlin’s injury never quite reached a completely immobile stage, but got pretty darned close and caused her immense pain.

It all started with kickboxing. My wife signed up for a year of kickboxing and to her enormous credit rarely missed a day. Workouts that kicked her butt for the first couple of months became effortless and actually not quite enough.

After seven months of kickboxing though, she began feeling the pain in daily activities such as putting on and taking off a jacket or a shirt. A sports bra was her hell. 

She gradually lost range of motion suffering most of her pain in the biceps tendon at the top of the inner arm leading down toward the elbow. There was also pain on the top of the shoulder likley related to the supraspinatus muscle of the rotator cuff. 

The pain reached its worst in October when range of motion became extremely limited in all of the rotator cuff muscles (infraspinatus and subscapularis and teres minor in addition to supraspinatus)as well as the deltoids.

The kickboxing school was downstairs from our apartment making it extremely convienent, though it turns out no one really taught my wife how to punch. And as with everything, there is a correct way to punch, that doesn’t lead to injury.

Life abounds with spirals. They begin with our DNA, continue through our bones and are found everywhere in existence. The straight line is an awful thing not truly found in nature. Punching is about spirals as well. A well executed punch follows a corkscrew like twisting motion that comes from the core and articulates through every joint on the journey.

They did a lot of punching in her classes and it is my belief that her punching tended to move forward through a fairly stiff wrist and elbow that pulled on, rather then incorporated, the shoulder joint.

In the next few days I’ll write more about frozen shoulder, my wife’s injury and her healing.

Hip Replacement Surgery and a Heel Lift

heel liftI am no big fan of orthotics and/or a heel lift. From my perspective they imprint a body’s imbalance and report to the brain that this is the new you. Which isn’t to suggest that no one needs to undertake such measures, some few people do,  but not nearly as many as are currently wearing some sort of shoe insert.

The most common reason why someone would need to wear some sort of heel lift is due to a surgery that altered the length of the leg for one reason or another. Beyond that most leg length discrepancy is due to muscular imbalances that affect the bones and can be changed.

My sister recently (less than a month ago) had her hip replaced. Bizarrely, even though the left hip was shorter and the one that was replaced, post-surgery the right leg is now shorter. By about two inches!  I don’t really understand why this is and I couldn’t find anything on line that talked about this type of thing happening while doing some research on the internets.

After the surgery the doctor told my sister that the two legs would adjust and end up being fractionally different. But then, the first physical therapist my sister saw suggested that she was going to need a heel lift going forward which reasonably upset my sister.

Upon returning to the doctor he implored her to resist any temptation to put in a heel lift because if she simply allows the healing to occur post-surgery, the legs would eventually find their way towards a relative balance. Putting a heel lift would interrupt this process and essentially tell the brain and body that the work is done and this is who I am now.

Most people who undergo surgery aren’t all that aware of what their bodies are capable of, or how they heal, and tend to take the words of doctors and PT’s to heart. If my sister didn’t have me whispering in her ear about these things, I wonder whose word she would follow, the surgeon who says no heel lift or the PT who suggest that a heel lift will be necessary for the rest of her life. Very interesting stuff.

I don’t encourage people to simply throw away their heel lift and orthotics immediately. It needs to be a gradual process where you end up not needing them anymore. But it can be an interesting and worthwhile process.

Sunday Morning Music: Elvis Presely

This is Vegas period Elvis which tends towards the shlocky and while Suspicious Minds fits that bill completely, I love this song for the memories of riding around in a friends car singing together at the top of our lungs. Elvis ruled!

And here is something old as well…

And I can’t help it, here’s another (the 68 special)

Weekend Mashup: July 12th

Here comes the weekend mashup, links from the past week or two that won’t get a post of their own.

Let’s start with a laproscopic journey through the abdomen. If that is your thing of course.


weekend mashup

Here is a video about a natural swimming pool. Very cool stuff.


weekend mashup

I have never been a fan of sunscreen and don’t use it much. Here is an article on its possible dangers.


weekend mashup

I am a fan. I remember a girlfriend who was repulsed by it– cilantro!


Finally. I found this to be a powerful project.Artist Rebecca Brown photographed herself over a six year period.


Spread Your Fingers Evenly on the Floor

                              pinky1a          pinky2a

Teaching yoga is an interesting practice. While it is my job to notice and correct the imbalances of students there are sometimes imbalances that are so ubiquitous that I don’t even notice them.

It took a number of years before I noticed that almost everybody, including myself, spreads the fingers of the hand disproportionately. Forgetting about the thumb for a moment, the pinky finger usually has more space between it and the fourth, or ring, finger.

The way the hand usually lays out is the thumb as far away from the index finger as possible, with the index, middle and ring fingers evenly spaced, and the pinky further apart than the other three fingers and the thumb.

So it has been a couple of years already that I have been instructing people to spread the fingers equally. Only recently though have a begun to look at how students and myself are finding that equality.

It is usually by moving the pinky finger as far out as possible and then spreading the three middle fingers (index, middle, and ring) more, taking the middle and ring fingers out towards the pinky.

In the foot there is a way of looking at the toes in three sections, the big toe and the pinky toe are distinct and the middle three toes are like one toe because they are bound fascially.  This is why it is difficult for most people to move the middle three toes of the foot independently.

I’m not sure if this is also the case with the hand, but it sure seems that way when I look at my hand and spread my fingers apart. The pinky seems in a world of its own working independently of the middle three fingers.

What I began to realize was that when I was telling people to spread the fingers their pinkies were moving much more than the other fingers and that the spreading actually took the pinky finger out of a natural alignment with the outer edge of the palm.

This has been one of those eureka type moments for me as I realize the implications of overspreading the pinky finger while thinking I was spreading all of the fingers.

One of the things I endlessly teach is to bear weight through the inner hand and inner foot. When I spread my pinky finger wider than the outer edge of my palm I am essentially pulling the weight to the outer edge of the hand.

The over spread pinky also messes with the wrist shortening the outer edge of the hand and wrist which can affect the carpal tunnel in a negative way kind of crunching it in.

And here is a simple way to feel how the type of alignment works its way up the arm as well:

  • Place one hand on a desk or the floor and place the other hand around your upper arm touching the triceps muscle.
  • Align the pinky finger with the outer edge of the palm and make it evenly spaced with the ringer, middle and index fingers.
  • Press down evenly through the whole hand and lengthen through the pinky. You should feel your triceps engage.
  • Now move the pinky to the outside of the edge of the palm and press through the hand. I don’t think you will find the same sort of engagement from the triceps. It might react to the work of the hand but not in the most supportive way.

Give that simple test a try and let me know what you think? I have been focusing on this when I practice and have found it to be very helpful.