Generally speaking sleeplessness is caused by over activity of one or all of three things:
- The mind – worrying about the future or mulling over regrets
- Overactive emotions
- Overactive muscular tension
To exit the cycle of these over-activities, we need to recognise that we are no longer able to let go of our daily activities enough to rest. The mind is wired up due to stress and or the muscles are over fatigued due to carrying chronic patterns of tension, often very linked to the over-worked mind! Our response to stresses in daily life is to either feel anxious and afraid or to endlessly try to control circumstances, developing a ‘ready for anything’ control freak stance toward life. Sometimes both happen one after another in a never ending cycle! Endless thinking, troubled remembering and fearful imagining wind us up – our idling speed is too high – it’s like we are driving with the breaks on. The brain then requires a de-bugging programme to allow us to sleep naturally and soundly.
Each of the stress responses correspond to the physical reflex patterns I have previously highlighted – the Green and Red Light Reflexes. For those of us who live with a sense of urgency, sensing a driveness every day to get things, often too many things done; the back part of the body becomes tense. As long as we are up tight, these muscles stay tight and we are stuck in the Green Light Reflex. For those where the Red Light reflex has become more dominant, the tendency to curl up in a ball and toward self protection causes the muscles in the front of the body to tense and shorten.
We need a certain amount of this Green Light reflex to get us up in the morning. The spine must go from being soft and flexible to strong and able to hold us upright and the shoulders must gently tighten backward to counterbalance the rest of our posture. This is the Landau reflex, which we have discussed before and strarts around 6-9 months of age. In the healthy state, the Landau or Green Light Reflex comes and goes throughout the day as we require the spine to bend backward and a state of energy and alertness to be dominant. In a less healthy state, we become stuck in the posture and we become permanently ‘ready for anything’ or ‘desperate to control’ everyone and everything. We become the sort of person that everyone says ‘ask a busy person’ about. They know we are alert and overly responsible and they lean on us more heavily.
The more you become addicted to the heightened state of activity, the more the Green Light Reflex gets set in stone in your thinking and posture. The back becomes permanently arched, the pelvis tilted too far forward (Lordotic low back) and our weight is too far forward. We are literally ‘ on our toes’. The shoulders are pulled back; the ribs lifted and the knees are permanently locked back, giving us tight buttocks and hamstrings. The more time we spend in Green Light Reflex mode – in traffic – at work – as head of the household, in competitive activities etc, the more stuck this muscular and mental programming becomes until eventually we forget how to release from it both mentally and physically. Eventually we are in perpetual readiness and now, in our culture, this posture has become very attractive (overly arched spines are considered sexy and buns of steel are to be aimed for).
The Red Light Reflex also has an unhealthy form, just as the Green Light Reflex does. We become stuck in this posture as we experience chronic states of anxiety. Instead of being able to go in and out of the posture and mind set without lasting effect, we become chronically stuck through repetition in thinking and in withdrawing from anything outside of our comfort zone. Physically, the Startle or Red Light Reflex causes the abdomen to tighten, the chest to cave inward and therefore the breathing becomes shallow, the pulse rate speeds up and we want to bring our head down, to cower and to mirror the foetal position. This curling inward reduces our height to less than our full stature, literally physically and also mentally as we cower away from anything that might increase fear. Even our gait becomes shortened we are quite literally a lesser form or ourselves. Soldiers are taught to crouch as they run from gun fire in a taught hunched position. The Red Light Reflex has been heavily associate with heart attacks.
Stretching is not the way to de-bug your mind. Neither is Hatha Yoga or breathing exercises, Tempur Matresses or Nytol. None of these are deep enough to get to the control level where the Startle (Red Light) and Landau (Green Light) reflexes live. You need to unlearn how to unwind yourself by understanding how to release the muscles that keep you wound up. You learn to relax a clenched fist by your mind allowing the fingers to gradually uncurl – it won’t work to stretch it open by force using the other hand. The trouble is that we have unlearned the natural method of allowing the brain to relax both the thought patterns and the tight muscles that go with them so that the Red or Green Light Reflexes become set into our body’s make up.
This type of release is known as Pandiculation. It’s like yawning. Bears, Dogs, Cat and all animals do this delicious release activity at the end of rest and upon finishing an activity (and also at random throughout the day) and so we need too also but we have forgotten how. This is the foundation of Hanna Somatics, Feldenkrais and of course, Somatic Yoga. Pandiculation feels good. It is the natural way to feel release. Unfortunately it is now very culturally accepted to do things to achieve the same result that are most unnatural and end up having just the opposite effect, such as going for a cup of coffee or a sugary snack to get energised and of course drinking alcohol and watching TV to get unwired. The result is the accumulation of unmanageable stress.
Pandiculation is good to do after long periods stuck in a particular posture or doing repetitive movements such as sitting in front of the computer or gardening. What it does is refresh and relax us. It starts by moving into a particular body pattern or shape that deliberately tightens and contracts the muscles followed by a leisurely release into activity. Just like yawning. Each way of pandiculation works on releasing a particular pattern of releasing muscles. For instance, if you are stuck in the curved position of the Red light reflex, it is the front of the body that has become contracted and needs release. For instance, I’m sat at my computer writing this and my instinct is to lift my chest from it’s slumped position, arch my back, bring my shoulders and neck backward, looking up, to reset my position which is very forward slumped as I write to you all. Instantly I feel more alert and freed up and my back feels good and upright again. My thinking can now quieten down as I realise it’s time to move around and take a walk with the doggies.
It can be particularly useful, if you’ve become particularly wired up, to use pandiculation before sleep and if you wake up in the night. The effect of the body yawn is restfulness and a natural slowing of thought patterns which gets you ready to drift off. We need to get out of the big squeeze of the mind-body states that get stuck on (running on automatic) by unlearning patterns and disarm these reflexes of stress from running on automatic. We can learn to voluntarily tense our muscles in order to lengthen and release them through soft slow and smooth control using our mind. We can also let go of shortened breathing patterns and learn to rest our body. The voluntary control replaces automatic habit. We are back in control (but not in the Green Light dominant way) and the stress is more tolerable. We are then able to be more graceful in life, able to go with the flow and say no to the pressure to be continually active and to go beyond the limiting beliefs that fear and anxiety have placed so firmly in our consciousness.