Posts Tagged ‘Meditation’

One of my favorite yoga teachers opened class the other day with an exercise that I had never seen done before although I think it’s more common in ‘softer’ yoga practices.  She asked everyone to turn to a neighbor and share a way that they use their yoga practice outside of class.  Well, since I’m an off the charts introvert (I am going to get around to writing that post one of these days), I managed to pause just long enough that as I turned to each of the people around me, they had already engaged with someone on their other side.  So no big deal, I sat and enjoyed a few minutes of meditation.

But near the end of the sharing time the teacher looked up from her conversation and commented on how relaxed I looked sitting by myself in the middle of the chatty room.  And of course she then put me on the spot to share with the entire class.  An introvert’s nightmare.  But I sucked it up and took the opportunity to very briefly share that I was volunteering to teach High School students Computer Science and since Yoga was one of the skills that was newest to me, I frequently took things I learned in Yoga to help me teach in that entirely different environment.

And this is why I find Yoga so much fun.  The response wasn’t a blank stare or a nervous laugh (either of which would be completely reasonable and somewhat expected when I allow myself to geek out in public), it was “Oh yeah, I use a programming example to help teach yoga sometimes.”  And went on to describe how she talks about how computer code reduces down to a series of zeroes and ones, each of which has meaning.  Which means that if one of those bits gets flipped for whatever reason your program may do something entirely different than what you expected.   And doing yoga is kind of like this kind of program – every instruction you send to your body is important at the most exacting level – crossing wires or flipping one bit can make your program crash or do something different than you wanted.  I particularly take this to heart in things like Chataranga (Yoga Pushups) where a very healthy exercise can quickly degrade into a shoulder injuring anti-exercise.

In any case, you should all be proud of me.  I  did not respond by breaking down the argument on the spot and trying to open a discussion about how this analogy may or may not be applicable and where it might break down.  I answered with something that I hope came out as a slightly more engaged version of “Thank You” and we went on with the class.

But since you’re here, let’s break this down a little bit.  Especially because I just reviewed binary numbers with my class and we’re going to do a check on error detection soon.  With my old Apple II which had no parity bit for its memory and had a dense enough instruction set that flipping a bit in an instruction almost certainly did something valid but different than intended I think the analogy is pretty accurate.  Especially because it wasn’t uncommon to have an occasion to program directly in machine code.  In the current world almost no-one including the deepest level system programmers write machine code directly (and yes, I know quite a few such creatures, was one myself not too long ago).  Further, with a modern computer almost all memory is error checked in some way or another so a single ‘bad bit’ will either be automatically corrected or something will error out rather than continuing to execute the error.

And now I am thinking about exceptions like Black Hat Hackers that probably do write machine code directly and certainly look for places where changing a single bit will make a program behave differently than intended.  But of course I could get myself stuck in an infinite loop here so I will stop and allow you to get back to something more important.  Like going to a good yoga class of participating in your favorite form of healthy exercise.

Or take a moment to add your thoughts on why programming and yoga (or your favorite form of exercise) are related. I bet my yoga teacher and I don’t have a corner on that market…

A few months into my sabbatical, I found that I was struggling to stay alert in the afternoon.  Now fighting with drowsiness isn’t anything new to me.  I am reasonably certain that I’ve lived most of my adult life in a state of fairly extreme sleep deprivation.  But at this point I was getting a strong seven and a half to eight hours of sleep every night, maybe even a bit more on weekends.  And my activities were all things that I wasn’t only happy to do, but that I was chomping at the bit to do, so any possibility of apathy based lethargy seemed quite remote.

So I went to my doctor, who referred me to a sleep specialist.  Who signed me up for an in home sleep study.  So I played cyborg for one night strapped into a bunch of equipment, and a month or so later got a call from the specialist with the results.  Everything was perfectly normal.  No sleep apnea, normal sleep cycles, normal number of wake up events per hour, etc.  So what the heck?  The doctor’s recommendation was to sleep more, that it’s perfectly within ‘normal’ range to need to sleep eight and a half or even nine hours a night.

Well crap, I don’t want to have to sleep more at night.  I already resent the bulk of the time I spend sleeping anyway.  But if I’m less effective during the day due to sleep debt, it makes sense to give it a shot.  So what better time than during my sabbatical, where one of my goals is to optimize my general effectiveness, to give a bit more sleep a shot.  So I started trying to get eight and a half to nine hours of sleep a night.  And lo and behold, I have been less sleepy.  Crazy.  On top of that, I am starting to remember my dreams which hasn’t happened for a very long time.  (Hopefully I won’t go the next step and have Hamlet style nightmares).

But of course, I couldn’t just leave it at a doctor’s recommendation, I had to geek out about sleep science.  The first thing I did was to read Dr. Dement’s book The Promise of Sleep: A Pioneer in Sleep Medicine Explores the Vital Connection Between Health, Happiness, and a Good Night’s Sleep.  And now I’m most of the way through a series of lectures on the science of sleep.

The first thing I learned from this is that the doctor didn’t lie to me. The vast majority if adult humans require 7-9 hours of sleep a night.  Some people just need more sleep than others.   And in a closely related factoid, sleep researchers actually have a pretty neat way to measure sleep debt scientifically.  It’s called the Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT) – basically they take patients and put them in a dark quiet room a specific times of the day and monitor them to see how long it takes them to go to sleep.   If it takes 0-5 minutes they label you as having ‘severe’ sleep debt, 5-10 minutes is ‘troublesome.’  If you don’t drop off in 20 minutes you’re sleep debt free.  I’ve got to say that during most of my working life I’ve been able to drop off during the day somewhere in the 5 minutes +/- a bit range in a much less comfortable environment than a bed in a dark room as described by the MSLT procedure.

Another thing I learned (and this seems to be emphasized by everyone who devotes their life to studying or treating sleep issues) is that sleep debt is extremely dangerous.   The statistics on the number of car accidents attributed to sleep debt are scary, and possibly higher than the alcohol related accidents.  Although since there is a great deal of overlap between the two causes, it’s unclear which is the ‘winner.’   But the point is that driving around on extreme sleep debt is irresponsible, so if for no other reason than that, I want to try to live my life in less debt than I have in the past.

However, I think I’ve already mentioned that I really resent spending time sleeping when I could be doing something productive.  And even the way I state that is a bit crazy because if I reduce the amount of sleep I get significantly enough I’m almost certainly being less than optimally productive with the time that I’m awake (assuming an inverse relationship between the amount of sleep per night and sleep debt).

So what can I do?  Are there ways to sleep more efficiently?  I’m not quite ready to try some of the more extreme suggestions on the internets, such as the four hours awake, 20 minute nap around the clock everyday (apparently this is called the uberman cycle).  From what I’ve read from the much more conventional sleep scientists, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of hope.  There was some discussion of carrying enough sleep debt so that you fall asleep quickly at night and possibly have a more ‘efficient’ first deep sleep cycle.  And of course the whole list of general sleep hygiene tips, most of which I’m at least attempting.

Has anyone out there have success with practices to reduce the amount of sleep required without walking around like a zombie?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Smiling into 2013

Posted: February 6, 2013 in Exercise, Physical Reboot
Tags: , , ,

First a small procedural note (and large personal note) since I suspect the bulk of the people that actually read this blog are also people I know in real life and the remaining three may be curious as to why I went silent for a month after posting weekly for some time.  The lovely Alicia and I were married on January 11th and flew off to New Zealand for our honeymoon!  No blogging on the honeymoon.  It’s a rule. Really.

And now onto our regularly scheduled programming.

I’ve been doing yoga for about five years now.  One of the pieces of advice that I have heard from several teachers is to set an intention at the beginning of each class to concentrate on a particular aspect of your practice.  This can something as general as trying to relax into poses to something as specific as thinking about how each pose affects a particular muscle.   Last year around about the new year I decided to choose a couple of fairly broad things to use as a backstop on intention setting, since when practicing even a couple of times a week trying something new each time was a bit much for my poor tired brain.   I landed on concentrating on my breathing and thinking about how each exercise affected my core which I think helped my practice over the course of the year.

This year, I am going to continue concentrating on breathings because (a) it’s the hardest part of the practice for me and (b) I’m pretty sure it’s the central part of this whole standing meditation thing.

However, I have decided to do something a bit different for my other intention.  You see, I have this issue that I have no ability to consciously control the difference between a smile a smirk and a grimace.  I try for one and one of the others pops onto my face.  I don’t think I’m particularly unique in this sense.  I even know someone who spent some time as an actress who hates having her picture taken for similar reasons.

This was top of mind at the beginning of the year since we hired a photographer for our wedding day and we were about to embark on a honeymoon which would involve a few pictures.  But I can’t bring myself to spend time in front of a mirror to practice smiling.  I don’t know why.  I just can’t.  So sorry.  So when in the middle of the second set of Dandayamana-Dhanurasana (Standing Bow Pose) I heard the teacher say “relax, look like you’re enjoying this, smile” I fell over.  But after I got back up it occurred to me that I spend a decent amount of time in front of a mirror in a context where smiling is encouraged although not often seen.  So I am going to try to smile in yoga more and perhaps I’ll occasional end up smiling for the camera rather than smirking or grimacing or otherwise contorting my face in an unpleasant way.

Unfortunately, this whole revelation was too late for the wedding and honeymoon photos, but luckily the joy of the occasion skewed the odds in favor of the smile.  Hopefully the intention will still help my yoga practice and I imagine there will be some future occasion that requires me to mug for a camera (hopefully not soon though).


Posted: October 24, 2012 in Exercise, Mental Reboot, Writing
Tags: , , ,

This is slightly off topic, but I’m planning on bringing my physical fitness routine into this discussion at some point and a thought occurred to me during yoga this morning that I’d like to share.  I’ve been practicing Bikram Yoga and other hot hatha yoga for nearly five years now and have probably averaged a little under twice a week during that time.  It has rarely been my core practice, but more on that later.

Generally I’ve been very good at doing the mind-blank thing in Yoga where the only thing that is going through my head is concentrating on the poses.  I am wondering now though if part of the reason that this came ‘naturally’ to me was that I was stressed enough by work that I had to shut it out in order to function in class at all.  Because I’ve noticed over the last month or so that my mind is wandering more to things like future plans or composing blog entries.

For now I’m going to take that as validation that I made the right decision to undertake this adventure in rebooting myself.  But over the longer term I think I need to figure out how to block out the good thoughts as well as the bad when doing meditation-like activities.  If for no other reason than the idea that I happened upon when I read Stumbling on Happiness that the only scientifically proven  way to increase one’s base level of happiness is to mediate.

Anyone have any suggestions?  Success with meditation in general?  I’ve heard good things about both mindfulness meditation and heartbeat meditation, but haven’t managed to achieve success with either (although I also haven’t spent a lot of time trying).