Meditation for Sleep, Release, and Relaxation with Anne Douglas

Anne is a Life-coach and Yoga Therapist. She travels internationally to teach meditation and yoga trainings, retreats and workshops and is the Director of Trainers for the Integrative Restoration Institute.

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With over 30 years of experience in education, health and corporate settings, Anne offers a rich variety of tools for well being. Anne lives in the Rocky Mountain town of Banff, Alberta, Canada.– a place of beauty that is often reflected in her work.

How did you find yoga/meditation? How did it change the way you move in the world?

I found meditation in my teens and at first used it periodically, only when I needed it. Such as in relationship challenges with my family or friends. It helped me find myself and come back to my centre.

I feel that meditation saved my life many times. Because I’m a particularly sensitive person, and tend to pick up a lot of what’s around me – whether I like it or not. I was challenged by my sensitivity and really needed coping tools.

For those of us who are sensitive, it can feel as though every event in daily life, such as  honking horns, multiple conversations, back ground music, stressful events, and so on, leaves an impression on our nervous system. I liken it to the impressions created on an Etch A Sketch (child’s toy), by turning the dials to create squiggly lines on the screen. Meditation helps us to clear our screen, and all of the impressions of the day, so that our nervous system is soothed and relaxed.

My father died of cancer in my early 20s. I adored him, and couldn’t imagine life without him. There were moments in the wee hours of the night where I was despairing so deeply and imagining myself, in some ways, going off the deep end. Meditation was my primary resource – more than talking to family because they were going through their own grieving periods and my friends hadn’t experienced anything like that at the time. So meditation was this profound friend that held me in a way that nothing else could.

At a really simple level, as a recreational athlete, meditation has helped with my capacity in each sport – being present, and having a quick response time. It also increases my pleasure because I’m present to and feeling the visceral joy of the moment. It’s also really deepened my ability to be in healthy relationships – to speak an honest yes or no, to be able to listen and try to connect with what my friends and family are sharing, and allow them to be who they are.

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What type of meditation did you start off with?

Back in the 70’s and 80’s the only way to access meditation was to go to a meditation center and drop-in or sign-up for a series of classes. For me, it was a Dharmadhatu center. These centers were started in Boulder, Colorado and proliferated throughout North America. They took the Buddhist teachings and developed them into a secular model called Shambala. It took the gems of the essential Buddha Dharma and put it into everyday language that the average person could understand without the spiritual components that some people might get turned off by. This offering was one of the first in the West.

Beautiful! I did some Google searching to find the most searched for meditations and found that it was for sleep. Since you are the curator of the Deep Sleep series on Simple Habit, I wanted to ask you about this correlation of release and relaxation before bed.

If you think about the metaphor I use of the Etch A Sketch, we can use it on how we move around during the 15 hour waking period. Each event can leave a sensory impression on our nervous system and we think it’s just here in our brain. But humans are a brain AND a body and the brain is in the body through the nervous system. Every perception, every nuance that comes across our field, whether we register it consciously or not, imprints on our system.

Sleep is the most Googled inquiry because we’re in this 24/7 model of living. This is very, very recent. It’s only in the last 20 years that technology has infiltrated every house and every person so that we’re living in this 24/7 model of living.

Prior to that, we had a different, more balanced sense of how to move through each day. It’s in this 24/7 model where we’re being pinged, prodded, “poked”, and agitated all day long so our nervous system is having to deal with a lot of stimulation. We need to release and relax because we are over loading our nervous system.

Consider University students, for example, who are young and resilient, but  often have very high expectations of what they should be able to deal with on a daily basis. Many are having to create a livelihood for themselves on top of getting a degree or a masters or a PhD. Most are enduring stressful social and family settings. It’s a recipe for malaise for even the most resilient of us.

Sleep is the most Googled inquiry because we’re in this 24/7 model of living.

If we’re all accumulating physical, mental, emotional stress, we need some tools to shed that. This is why various forms of release are so important for healthy sleep hygiene. I believe this is why yoga has come on so fully in the West because as a culture, we tend to default to our thinking capacity and override our feeling capacity. We can forget that we are as much animals of all the senses as we are cognitive beings. So we can wander around, thinking ourselves through life and forgetting that we also have our body to deal with, that’s being impacted by every event in our day – positive or negative.

What I know, after 30 years of doing this work, is that if we don’t deal with our experiences in the day time, our body-mind complex may keep us awake at night so that we can deal with it when we are undistracted. So if we’re suffering from temporary or chronic sleep problems, it’s often because we’re not dealing effectively with what’s happening during the day time. Our body can keep us in wakefulness as if to say “Pay attention. Something’s up, you’ve got to deal with this.”

So the release is like shaking the Etch A Sketch, which clears the screen of your mind.  Now the nervous system is calm and you can go to sleep. The body-mind complex can go to sleep. We have to shut off the whole complex, not just one part. Which is why, in my Deep Sleep practices, there’s lots of breathing and letting go techniques because the breath impacts the whole body-mind complex.

I would love to hear more about this idea of “logging off”. This is the day and age of constant emails, messages, and texts. It’s getting harder and harder to log yourself out because of the fear of missing out and not being productive. I wanted to hear your thoughts on this and any tips you might have.

My parents generation didn’t have to deal with this issue of overwhelm and imbalance in the way that we do in our modern culture. Down time, family time, rest time – it was all built into their lifestyle. All of us had regular holidays, we didn’t have the 24/7 model. We had an 8-hour work day. The end. It’s because of this 24/7 technology era where we can be pinged at 3am because somebody wants to get something off of their plate.

The first of 4 Noble Truths in Buddhist teachings is “In life, there is suffering.” We can’t escape it. And this noble truth can create the impetus or motivation to “log out” with meditation. So that when suffering comes, we have greater potential to meet it with equanimity and insight. Suffering can come with the accumulation of physical or emotional stress and tension, the pressure that comes with time constraints, or the overwhelm that comes with a heavy workload, all of which could impact the quality of your sleep. Our suffering then becomes a messenger that says “Something has to change here.”

When you start to learn the early warning signs of overwhelm and stress, you can catch them as whispers, instead of waiting for the internal scream. The whisper might be a little tension in your shoulders, or your jaw, or you notice yourself sighing a lot. Those can be the early warning signs that say “Heads up, you need to deepen your practice” Then, you add into your schedule designated logout times.

What’s awesome about Simple Habit is that we’ve got very efficient 5 minute hits to logout where you can go to the bathroom, shut the door, disappear for 5 minutes, do the practice, walk-out and be more refreshed, productive, and centred.

It doesn’t actually take a lot. What we’re finding through these 5 minute meditations that can be done mid-morning, lunch, on the way home, before sleep – is how do-able they are.  Nobody can honestly say they don’t have 5-minutes.

For many years, a lot of people believed that a meditation practice required to sit cross-legged, be in the lotus pose, sit on a zafu cushion. It’s just not the truth. You can do meditation walking, dancing, singing, climbing, hiking, biking. Everything you do can be a meditation if your attention is held here in the present moment. The beautiful thing about Simple Habit is that we’ve got all of these different flavours that can speak to all the different tastes.

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How would you describe “wholeness”?

For the average person, wholeness is simply the integration of body, mind, emotion and for those that are so inclined, spirit.

At a deeper level, what that means to me is we’ve integrated all of the experiences and wounds of our past, the major life events that really changed or challenged us. We haven’t left them behind; rather, we’ve turned towards them and said “Okay, how can I have learned from that? How am I a better human being from that?” It’s not some isolated moment from our past, it’s a part of who we are – nothing gets left behind. No moment, no emotion, no thought, no experience gets left behind. Everything is integrated. Integrated means met, felt, understood to the best of our ability. Nothing is refused, even past events that come back to haunt us.

Our body symptoms are messengers – malaise and sickness are messengers for us. If we have a backache, it could be the message is simply that we’re spending too much time in a chair. In body-centered therapy, the spine represents the issue of support. When somebody comes to me with a back issue, I know that they’re having issues with support in their lives – typically self-support.

Each part of the body conveys a particular message. Just on a general level, all symptomology is our bodies way of communicating to us that something is off and it’s time to stop and listen. I offer this in the Pain and Illness meditations in Simple Habit in which you are guided through a simple dialogue to learn what message your body is trying to convey. As a result, we become more whole again.

There is a deeper aspect of wholeness at a spiritual level. Every single human being knows at some level that there is a profundity to life. For most of us, it comes through experiencing various levels of love, kindness, compassion, empathy, inter-connectedness. And so, meditation practices all have their foundation in bringing us to this direct experience of the profundity and beauty of our wholeness. Not just as inter-connected, but as one.

The one hand of consciousness that animates you and me and birds and bees and dogs and trees – it’s all the same consciousness. The animating force is the same for everything. Ultimately, meditation is designed to bring us to that understanding. And when we come to that, it’s the end of all true suffering. Yes, the day-to-day challenges and aches and pains still come and go but when we know this home ground of oneness, we are no longer at war with ourselves or anybody else. We know that we are this profound awareness that is ever at peace, ever calm, ever still, ever whole, ever undisturbed.

Beautiful! I would love to hear more about your Anahata Yoga Therapy work.

Anahata is a Sanskrit word for the name of the heart chakra. It means “unstruck” – like a bell that rings out without being struck. So the heart chakra is this resonating sense of consciousness that resounds in love, kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity.

After studying yoga and meditation for a period, I decided to call my work Anahata Yoga Therapy because I came to see that love and our capacity for kindness is the bottom line. It’s the one harmonizing, connecting characteristic of our human experience. Now, there’s all sorts of research that shows how feeling the emotions of love and kindness elicit the youth-inducing, life-enhancing, sleep-promoting, pain-reducing hormones that keep us healthy. Anahata Yoga and Meditation is designed to bring ourselves to the inter-state of equanimity and self-kindness because that’s the healing place. As much as that sounds trite, it is true. Love is the answer.

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In unconditional love, we recognize that there is no need to change or fix anybody and that there is a perfection unfolding. When someone comes to me, I’m seeing them for their wholeness and perfection. I’m not looking for what’s wrong. And for some people, that might be the first time in their lives that this has happened to them. The idea is to welcome a student or client and to see them in their perfection already. To see that underlying essence that is in every single one of us that is already perfect and whole.

And then, whatever symptoms are presenting themselves, whether it’s stress or anxiety, we welcome that. We don’t want to get rid of it because that’ll chase away the messenger. I say “Welcome, I’m so glad you’re here. You’re going to show my client how they can live a more authentic, rewarding life.” It’s the perfect messenger for this particular individual for this particular moment – all we have to do is listen.

The term of ‘messenger’ makes it seem less daunting and negative. I’m interested in hearing more about your personal messengers.

Well, I’m very human and have had a full array of messengers. Probably one of my incessant visitors or messengers is “frustration”. What I’ve learned by welcoming it, is that frustration for me is generally an unmet boundary. If I’m feeling frustration, it’s when I’ve said ‘yes’ to something or someone whenI should’ve said ‘no’. That’s my most dominant messenger.

I also remember in a past relationship, I had chronic lower back issues. In my heart of hearts, I knew I had to leave the relationship and everyone around me knew it too. But I just never left because it wasn’t convenient. Long story short, the back pain immediately left as soon as I made the decision to leave. Immediately.

The trick is that you have to act on the messenger and follow through – if you don’t, there’s a really good chance that the symptoms will return.  Of course each situation is unique, and it maybe be weeks or years or a lifetime of working with specific messengers.  In doing so, symptoms may decrease or disappear or remain as an ever present reminder in our lives.

What do you think makes a good meditation/yoga teacher or instructor? What are some qualities?

I would say a good meditation teacher is one who is well practiced. They know the follies, the blind spots, the hazards. Someone that can be unconditionally present in their listening. And one that is curious. Because what works for one person might not work for another.

I’ve heard people say so many times “I can’t meditate because I can’t sit still. My mind is too busy.” Not everyone is cut out for sitting meditation.  It’s important to hear what each person needs and what’s going to work for them. That requires unconditional, curious listening.

You want to find a meditation teaching or teacher that really rocks your world, that inspires you to do your practice so much so that you can’t wait to do it. Meditation has the potential to be revolutionary.

You want to find the right meditation that is so nourishing that you have little challenge bringing yourself to it.

What books are you currently reading? What’s on your night stand?

The first one I’m reading is called “Conscious Breathing” by Gay Hendricks. It’s been around forever and it’s one of the first books I used for breath as a tool for health. I like to dip into it once a year because it’s has some really helpful tools. The other one is one of my most favourite books and I’ve given it to all my friends. It’s called “True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart” by Thich Naht Hanh. It’s tender, sweet, practical, informing and inspiring.

What advice do you have for Simple Habit users or people curious about meditation?

I would say find the meditations on Simple Habit that you really enjoy. When you listen to it, you feel refreshed those are the ones for you. Find the ones that give you a sense of peace,  pleasure or nourishment. Simple Habit has a great menu of practices, similar to that of a restaurant. You can have your usual favourites, and some days you can go in and intuitively pick something new.

Find the ones that give you a sense of peace, pleasure or nourishment.

Anne has curated the popular Deep Sleep series on Simple Habit, along with Illness and Pain meditations.

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