The Right Way to Sleep

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Trent asks:

I stretch my calves a few times daily for 30 second intervals, but they still seem very tight, as well the ankles. Can you give me any advice?

Trent, calves stretches are something almost all of us learn at a very young age, and we usually do them before running, and people will lean against the wall and they’ll stretch their calves that way, or they’ll stretch their calves on stairs or off the edge of a curb. There’s different types of stretching.

A lot of stretching is what I would really call warm-up stretching, which isn’t really meant to develop flexibility. And with calf stretching, that’s what it usually is, is warm-up stretching. So, those pre-running stretches that people do with their calves, whether it’s leaning against the wall or off the edge of a curb, those are really, really great stretches and they’re great for warming up, but you’re never going to increase your flexibility that way.

A much better pose for increasing the flexibility of your calves, one of the better ones, and your ankles, is downward facing dog and all its variations. Asymmetrical downward dogs are really great, particularly for calf flexibility. So, asymmetrical would be using one leg at a time, so a one-legged downward dog, so a downward dog with one leg in the air, alternatively, a one-legged downward dog with one of your ankles wrapped around the ankle of the other leg. So you kind of alternate feet, one leg at a time.

Now, the 30 second thing is a problem. It’s too short, and again, it’s great for warming up, but if you’re trying to increase flexibility, you need to hold it a lot longer, Trent. Go for like three minutes and maybe even work up to a five-minute hold, and that’s when you’ll start to see some big breakthroughs.

Tajana asks:

Maybe two weeks ago, I started using your exercises regularly. My problem is an old hamstring injury, in my left hamstring, from my dancing days. When I was doing a forward bend — I almost don’t feel it in a forward bend, but if I try to side bend like in triangle pose on the left side or the forward bend with my legs spread, leaning to my left, then it becomes painful. She went to some doctors and their advice was to stop doing abnormal stretches.

I’m not sure what abnormal stretches are, but this is interesting, Tajana, because what you’re noticing is that when you do symmetrical stretching, meaning forward bend where the weight is equally distributed on your legs, your right leg is kind of making up for that left leg, but when you’re doing asymmetrical stretches, like you mentioned, like a triangle pose where if your left leg is the extended leg, it’s going to take the majority of the pressure in that hamstring. That’s when you start to feel it. The bad news about hamstring injuries, is you need to take them very, very seriously. They can last a really, really long time, like 12 to 18 months is very, very common, so that’s the bad news.

The good news is they can heal, and they will heal if you treat them right, and they can heal just as strong, if not stronger than before. And the recommendation, if you go to doctors or physios, whoever, often they’ll tell you to stop using it and just kind of accept the fact that you have a weaker hamstring.

From personal experience, and from experience with working with hundreds and hundreds of students, I don’t believe that at all. I know that you can heal, and you can actually heal stronger than before. But, it takes a really long time and that’s why they give that advice, because people tend to re-injure, re-injure and re-injure. So, it’s something you have to be extremely cautious with, Tajana.

What you want to do, is first of all, never go to your maximum flexibility on that weak side. I recommend staying at about 80 percent of your full flexibility on that weak side. Engage your quads, the top part of your leg, as hard as you can when you’re doing any kind of forward bend. That will help to support and protect the back of the leg. And thirdly, you always just want to check in and see how you’re doing in that left hamstring, if it’s giving you troubles, meaning certain styles of yoga, certain approaches might inflame it more than others. And a little bit of inflammation is okay, but you don’t want to keep re-injuring, or you’re never going to heal. Take it slow, take it easy, give yourself some time. It can take a long time. I know it’s frustrating. Do your best not to re-injure it.

Ammi asks:

I am 58 years old, and I am practicing hatha yoga. I have 2 discs in my back and I’m overweight. My knees hurt when I do the knee-related poses. Can you recommend any detox to lose weight, and what poses should I do to lose weight?

In terms of the discs, I think you mean two slipped discs in your back. It sounds like you’ve got a lot of body aches, carrying a little extra weight, and Ammi’s asking what detox program can you do to lose weight.

The thing about detoxification, is it can help with weight loss in that your body will use fat to protect you, it kind of uses fat like a toxic waste dump in your body. So, let’s say you have an excess of mercury that’s coming from your mercury fillings or from your silver amalgam fillings. Let’s say that you have a really high pesticide exposure in your body, because maybe you live in an agricultural region and your water’s contaminated, or maybe you’re just used to eating lots of conventional pesticide-laden produce, things like this. Your body can actually hold onto fat, because fat cells kind of act as a buffer between your bloodstream.

So, in that way, excess toxins can lead to weight gain, among other things. They can do other things as well. But, I would not say that a detox diet is the best approach to losing weight. If you’re talking about losing weight, there’s lots of things you can do to starve yourself in the short term, but that just ends up creating a yo-yo effect. So really, if you’re carrying a lot of extra weight, if it’s affecting your back like it sounds like it is, if it’s affecting your knees and your mobility and you really want to lose it and keep it off, which it sounds like that’s what you’re looking to do, you really need to address the problem holistically.

If you need to lose let’s say 10 or 20 pounds, there’s some probably pretty minor shifts you can make in your life that will make that happen. If you need to lose 20 pounds plus, there’s probably some pretty major lifestyle changes that need to happen, and a lot of those have nothing to do with food and exercise. It probably has to do with some lifestyle choices, some stress, maybe your sleep patterns and a number of other things.

So, the biggest advice that I’d have for you, Ammi, is take a look at your life holistically. There’s a colleague of mine named Jon Gabriel, and if you go to TheGabrielMethod.com, you can learn about his method. It’s a mind/body approach to weight loss, not about diet and exercise. And detoxification, again, is a really, really great thing and I’m a huge advocate of it, but in your case, it doesn’t sound like that’s going to be exactly what you’re going to need.

Lucretia asks:

I am still exploring at this point, how yoga can help relieve the constant neck and shoulder aches, and at times, full body aches every morning when I wake up. It would be great if you could shed some light on this common problem.

Okay, so waking up with pain is a terrible, terrible feeling. What happens when we lay down in bed all night, a couple things happen. Our body heals, but also they call it the fuzz. In your connective tissues, literally get kind of glued together, so things can ache in the morning. Sometimes pains can be acute in the morning, and when you get up and move around, you start to warm up and some of that fuzz, your connective tissues loosen up and they start to feel less pain. But, nobody wants to wake up with neck and shoulder pain, and so how can you deal with this.

The key things, Lucretia, is to look at this holistically and try to figure out a way that you can solve this by understanding what are the real causes. Now, neck and shoulder pain, I wonder if that isn’t coming from some kind of repetitive motion at work, whether it’s working on a keyboard, whether that’s some kind of work where you’re carrying things around with your arms, whether that’s – I’m not really sure what’s happening, but I would definitely take a look at your work station. Take a look at your work life, and try to treat it holistically from there.

And then, the next best thing, the next really important thing is to figure out some kind of exercise you can do that’s going to help you to relieve that pain, something holistic like a yoga. Something where you’re developing functional flexibility and functional strength, like a yoga or a Thai Chi or even a palates might be really, really helpful for you. I can’t give you specific stretches without knowing more, but hopefully that will get you on the right track.

Steve asks:

I’d like to know how much MSM to take for therapeutic benefits.

MSM is methylsulfonylmethane. It’s one of the key ingredients in YOGABODY Stretch, our most popular yoga nutritional supplement for yoga students. MSM is a really unique and powerful supplement. It’s as exciting as Vitamin C was 30 years ago. In terms of how much you should take, it really depends. Anywhere from one to three grams is what I would recommend, but that depends on your body size and it depends on your level of activity.

Like Vitamin C, it’s water soluble, so you don’t have to be extremely cautious with it. You’ll urinate out the excess, but it is important to remember that you never want to tax your body. So, just because you can urinate the excess out of Vitamin C, doesn’t mean you should run around taking 10 grams a day of Vitamin C, and the same is true with MSM.

So if you have, let’s say you have some arthritic conditions or let’s say you have a torn muscle or you have some kind of joint problem. I’d recommend starting with two to three grams of MSM per day, or if you’re taking Yoga Body Stretch, that’s anywhere from four to six capsules of YOGABODY Stretch per day.

Raymond asks:

What is the ‘right’ way to sleep?

This is a great question, Raymond. There’s a lot of discussion about this, but the general consensus is sleeping on your side and generally sleeping on your right side, in the yoga tradition, is considered best, though some people will tell you to sleep on your left side. More important than anything is sleep on your side.

Now, what happens is, if you sleep on your back, you tend to do mouth breathing, which is where your mouth drops open, you breath your mouth. Energetically, oxygen-wise, it’s really not a healthy thing, and I’d love to do a whole session where we talk about why mouth breathing is a problem. But basically, when you lay on your side, first of all, it encourages nose breathing, and nose breathing is ideal for rest. It’s going to give you a deeper sleep, it’s going to give you a more restorative sleep, it’s going to aid in helping you fall asleep and stay asleep, and so that’s the best way.

Again, the right side, in yoga, is encouraged, because when you sleep on your right side, you tend to have left nostril dominance when you’re sleeping. Again, this gets a little bit complicated, but basically, when you’re breathing through your left nostril, you tend to be more sleepy than when you’re breathing in your right nostril. In the yoga tradition, whichever nostril in your nose is dominant, the preference side, corresponds directly with energetic states.

So for example, if you’re starving right before a meal, take a look at your nose and you’ll notice that you’re breathing more heavily out your right nostril. When you’re extremely sleepy and tired, take a notice and you’ll notice you’re breathing more deeply through your left nostril. If you’ve never noticed this before, it’s really, really interesting to check it out. So, when we sleep on our right side, it encourages left nostril breathing. Left nostril breathing is correlated with deep sleep, meditation, relaxation.

Ana asks:

How do you feel about chiropractors?

I’ve met some really, really, really smart chiropractors who knew so much about the spine, especially these days. A lot of chiropractors have really become holistic health counselors and coaches and practitioners, and many of them know just as much as a naturopathic doctor, and so there are fantastic chiropractors out there. Unfortunately, there are slews and slews of “crack ‘em and rack ‘em” chiropractors, who all they really do is crack your back. I am not a huge advocate of that. I find that a lot of body work, it’s really counterproductive.

A lot of people think that they need to go to somebody else to solve their, whatever it is, their back pain or their hip problem or the misalignment of whatever it is, and I just find that the only way you really get solutions is to take control and take the power back, and a good chiropractor will tell you that as well. A good chiropractor will tell you that you can come in and get your back cracked as many times as you want, but nothing is going to change until you really take responsibility and start doing your exercises, your stretches, your strength practices at home.

So, just like a yoga teacher, just like anybody else, there’s really good ones and there’s really bad ones. So, with chiropractors, just take it with a grain and salt, and I would definitely only go to one you have a personal recommendation for, and you might even go to a couple and find somebody that resonates with you, but there’s some really, really smart chiropractors out there. Every year, that whole industry, I feel like, just has really taken a big step forward, as long as you stay away from the “crack ‘em and rack ‘em” guys. Yoga trapeze