We all need a good night’s sleep, but it’s not uncommon to struggle with getting one. It’s estimated that one in three people will suffer from insomnia at some point in their lives. Most of us will experience short-term insomnia, which is caused by stress or a short-term disruption in sleep patterns, like travel, a sick child, noisy neighbors or excitement about an upcoming event.

Long-term insomnia, which is defined as continuously broken sleep patterns lasting more than four weeks, can be a sign of clinical depression or another serious medical condition that you should discuss with your doctor.

Insomnia can manifest either through an inability to fall asleep or the inability to stay sleep through the night. Either way, normal healthy sleep patterns are altered and this has a measurable effect on health. It’s important to correct any short-term sleep disruptions as soon as possible to prevent permanent sleep pattern alterations or long-term deterioration of health.

In a previous article, we looked at the health impacts of not getting enough good quality sleep. In this article, I’ll look at what you can do to ensure you get the sleep your body needs to heal, repair, restore and grow.

Environment and Routine

Get in a routine. Just as bedtime routines are important for children, research shows that establishing a consistent bedtime routine can also help adults transition to sleep more smoothly. Going to bed at the same time every night and doing something relaxing before bed to help you release stress can help your body prepare for sleep.

Track Your Sleep Cycles. In the previous article on sleep, we saw that a typical sleep cycle is 90-110 minutes, though 90 minutes is considered a reliable number. Research shows that we awaken more refreshed and energized if we sleep in complete 90 minute cycles. In other words, if our actual sleep time is 6 hours, 7 ½ hours or 9 hours. What makes it tricky is you have to allow for time to fall asleep and if you wake up in the middle of the night for any reason such as to go to the bathroom, you won’t know if you were mid-cycle. But people have shared with me that after a couple weeks of tracking their sleep time, they have landed on the right number for them and they often awaken feeling more refreshed after 6 or 7 ½ hours than they did when they slept for 8 hours or some other amount of time that isn’t an even 90 minute multiple.

Create a comfy space. Keep your bed and your bedroom for activities that belong there: sex and sleeping. Don’t watch TV or eat snacks in bed. Create a comfortable, soothing bedroom escape with cozy blankets, soft sheets and a comfortable mattress. If your mattress is lacking, consider a memory foam mattress topper. It’s an inexpensive way to make a less than top-notch mattress incredibly comfortable and inviting.

No TV or work. Don’t watch TV, especially violent TV crime shows or the news, before you go to sleep (in bed or anywhere else). Doing this will put your mind into an agitated state and disrupt the pineal gland, which will make it harder to fall asleep. Also put away any work at least an hour or two before bed so your mind is not still thinking about work-related challenges or trying to solve problems as you head into bed.

Listen and read. Listening to relaxing music such as nature sounds, new age or soft classical music can help, as can reading something spiritual or an uncomplicated book. (My mom is an avid reader and often tackles challenging reads, but keeps a few light romance novels by her bed and reads a chapter or two of those before sleeping because they don’t stimulate her as she is trying to wind down.)

Release stress. Journal, meditate or do deep breathing before bed; if you are holding onto any tense or anxious thoughts, sleep will be difficult. Some people also find progressive muscle relaxation therapy to be helpful. (This involves lying down and tensing each muscle group for eight seconds as you inhale and then slowly relaxing the same muscle group for eight seconds as you exhale slowly and release all tightness and tension. You can hit every muscle head to toe, or pick four major areas of face, neck/shoulder/arms, abdomen and chest, and finally buttocks, legs and feet.) Some readers have told me that they struggle with meditation because they fall asleep, but this is the perfect opportunity to use your meditation techniques to help bring about sleep.

Take a bath. Build a warm bath with Epsom salts, sea salts and/or baking soda into your routine. If you dislike baths, take a hot shower or a sauna instead. When you are wound up or stressed, get a professional massage or ask your partner to give you one to relax. Use essential oils (many have medicinal purposes and some even target insomnia) or other fragrances that calm you.

Cool down and warm up. Pay attention to room temperatures and keep yours below 70 degrees. In cooler months, consider wearing socks to bed. Feet have the poorest circulation and will feel the cold first. One study showed wearing socks to bed can reduce waking at night.

Block out light. Sleep in complete darkness and/or wear an eye mask. Sleeping in as close to total darkness as possible is important because darkness increases the production of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland that regulates the body’s sleep cycle. It’s believed to help people fall asleep more quickly and to sleep more soundly. Studies show that if you are exposed to light while sleeping, your melatonin level will not rise high enough to do its necessary work. Even a night-light can cause disruption. New research ties sleep disruption due to even small amounts of light resulting in increased cancer rates as well.

No more liquids. If you wake up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and you struggle to return to sleep afterward, be sure to empty your bladder before bedtime and avoid liquids for 90 minutes before bedtime to reduce the likelihood of waking to urinate.

Don’t just lie there. And lastly, if you’re tried these techniques and you still struggle with falling asleep, don’t stare at the clock and stress about what time it is! Get up and out of bed and do something to relax you: read, listen to music, clean something, tackle a project and go back to bed when you feel more relaxed, tired and ready try again.

Diet, Supplements and Exercise

Try magnesium. When I experienced sleep disruptions from hormonal imbalances many years ago, I read about magnesium as a potential solution. Magnesium and calcium need to be eaten/taken together in balance and many of us are calcium heavy and magnesium deficient, which can disrupt sleep. (In fact, new studies say 99% of Americans are magnesium deficient, a topic to be covered in a separate article.)

I bought magnesium and found it let me sleep continuously through the night. I have since recommended it to many people who have reported great success. At the time, I bought whatever I could find at the store. Now more research has been done and one doctor has achieved amazing results using a specific form of magnesium known as magnesium chloride.

Dr. W. Davis, an author and cardiologist practicing in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, reported that “sleep was induced rapidly, was uninterrupted, and that waking tiredness disappeared in 99% of the patients. In addition, anxiety and tension diminished during the day” after supplementation with magnesium chloride.

Get an adrenal function test. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism published a study connecting insomnia to adrenal stress. Your doctor should test your adrenal function if sleep is an unresolved concern. Similarly, hormonal balance can disrupt sleep patterns, so women in perimenopause or around menopause should get a hormone panel done to rule out imbalances as causes of sleep disruptors.

Identify food sensitivities. As we noted in the article on food additives, food additives, chemicals, artificial dyes and flavorings can affect sleep patterns. Many people have food sensitivities or allergies they are unaware of. Poor digestion, impaired liver detoxification and food sensitivities can keep you from a good night’s rest by causing gas, gastrointestinal distress, excess congestion, apnea, and other symptoms.

Eliminate food sensitivities. The most common food sensitivities that affect sleep are corn, wheat, dairy, caffeinated products and sugar. If you have never tried an elimination diet, you might consider one. These diets involve removing a questionable food from your diet for a week or two and then introducing it back in and seeing how your body reacts. Another option is to have a food allergy test. While you may not be allergic to a food, many of us are sensitive to it and never know it. If you are sensitive to corn or gluten or dairy, for example, eliminating or reducing these foods will help you sleep better; if you can’t eliminate them, try taking a digestive enzyme before meals.

Eat sleep-inducing foods. Eating a balanced diet with healthy fats, protein and fiber will help keep your digestive system balanced. Chlorophyll-rich foods like leafy greens and microalgaes like chlorella and spirulina are not only healthy, they are sleep inducing. Sugars, spices and stimulants will have the opposite effect.

Don’t eat before bed. Avoid eating immediately before bed, especially grains or sugars, as they raise blood sugar, and later when it crashes, you may wake up and find it difficult to return to sleep. Because digestion takes a lot of effort, avoid eating any big heavy meals later in the evening as well. Leave at least a couple hours between your last meal and bedtime.

Avoid caffeine after noontime. Caffeine isn’t metabolized well and even an afternoon cup of coffee, tea or some chocolate can disrupt nighttime sleep patterns if you are sensitive. Alcohol can also disrupt sleep patterns as we mentioned in the previous chapter; while it helps you relax and fall asleep, it often results in nocturnal awakenings that disrupt deep sleep cycles where healing occurs.

Avoid prescription medications where possible. Many have side effects that can disrupt sleep. Rather than treating the symptom, work with your doctor on changing the diet and lifestyle habits that can help get at the underlying cause.

Try melatonin. I mentioned melatonin earlier as controlling sleep schedules. Melatonin, or its precursors L-trytophan or 5-htp, may be helpful as a supplement if other underlying causes are ruled out. (Tryptophan has to be combined with carbohydrates in order to reach the brain but can be consumed through things like turkey or received as a prescription from your doctor. 5-htp seems to be more effective in those who have underlying depression as well as a sleep concern.) But consider melatonin a short term solution as you work on uncovering the true cause.

Get some exercise. Exercise has been shown to be one of the most effective means of combating insomnia, so if you struggle to sleep at night, be sure you get out and get active for at least 30 minutes during the day. A Stanford University study showed that after 16 weeks of moderate exercise, participants fell asleep 15 minutes earlier and slept 45 minutes longer than they had before.

I hope there are some easy changes on this list that you can try making to help bring about sleep with greater ease. If you suffer from bigger sleep troubles, work with your doctor to discover the cause and the best relief. Whatever you do, don’t ignore your sleep troubles, as sleep deprivation over time will prevent your body from performing its necessary healing functions and will subtract years and quality from your life.

To your wellness and health: your true wealth!


Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal at www.IngerPols.com

Photo Source: Microsoft Clip Art


What is Stress?

Just Breathe

Not long ago, we had a severe storm in New England that knocked out power lines across the region. I lost my power on a Thursday evening and the kids and I did homework by candlelight. It was kind of fun sitting together in the dark without the normal daily distractions. We talked about a lot of things, including what it must have been like for kids years ago to eat and do homework by candlelight with no TV, radio, Nintendo DS or Wii.

While some in the area began to get their power back on Friday, we remained without power until late Sunday afternoon. Over the weekend, I had planned to write this section about managing stress and some other pieces as well. Instead, I dealt with water in my basement and no heat, electricity or water where I needed it! So this week, as we talk about managing stress, I can assure you I have practiced what I will preach in this newsletter.

It has been estimated that 75%-90% of visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related concerns. Stress was called the “Epidemic of the Eighties” by Time Magazine and was referred to as our leading health problem at that time. But many studies confirm that Americans today believe they are under even more stress now than they were a decade or more ago. Stress is pervasive in our busy lives and stress definitely affects our health.

But it doesn’t have to. There are simple techniques I will explore in this newsletter that you can use to release stress in order to find peace in the moment — and to restore balance to your body over time. Bear with me because this will be a little longer than usual because I want to make sure you have some solid action steps you can take to manage stress in your life.

So many of my friends tell me they are stressed out: no time, running around in circles, feeling they are always behind, feeling like there is no time for themselves. One friend told me she got a gift certificate to a spa from her partner for Valentine’s Day, a break she sorely needs. But she was certain it would remain unused — at least until summer — because she simply had no time to fit in such an indulgence.

We want to be super moms and amazing dads while still holding down our jobs and fulfilling all of our commitments and obligations. But as the flight attendant on the airplane instructs you, in case of an emergency situation, you should put the oxygen mask on yourself first before assisting any other passengers. And that is equally true in life.

If you are run down and exhausted, stressed and tired, you cannot truly give ofyourself until you re-charge and re-fill your own gas tank.

According to Brian Luke Seaward, a leading expert in managing stress, “In Eastern philosophies, stress is considered to be an absence of inner peace. In Western culture, stress can be described as a loss of control. Noted healer Serge Kahili King has defined stress as any change experienced by the individual. This definition may be rather general, but it is quite correct.”

I am not sure which of the definitions I like best.  While they are all accurate, and perhaps in the end, all the same, the way each is expressed evokes different thoughts and responses in me. And the reality is that stress itself manifests differently in each of us.

For some people, stress makes them irritable, tense, and full of worry. For others, it manifests as low energy, fatigue, “burnout,” or disinterest or lack of motivation. And then there are those who don’t even know that they are stressed, because they go-go-go until they finally become overwhelmed. Until that moment, they never realize that being unable to slow down and just “BE”, being a workaholic or an adrenaline junkie is a way of avoiding an inner calm that would be stressful for them in a very different way.

What is Stress?

The actual term for stress came from endocrinologist Hans Selye. He found that all animals undergo a similar series of reactions to stimuli. It begins with alarm, during which adrenaline will flow to try to generate what has come to be termed as the “fight or flight response.”

Resistance comes next, as the body tries to find a way to cope with the stressor. At first the body adapts, but then over time, resources are depleted. The final stage is exhaustion, wherein the body is no longer able to maintain normal function. If the final stage is extended, long-term damage can be done to systems and glands, particularly the adrenal gland and the immune system.

Extended periods of stress wreak havoc on our bodies. But so does the repetition of moving through these phases over and over again.

Our ancestors knew no real stress other than the occasional wild animal chase, whether they were the hunter or hunted. We seem to experience it on a daily or weekly basis. The challenges of the daily commute, work deadlines and family responsibilities did not exist in the way they do now. The human body is experiencing something very new in our lifetimes, and we may not have the physiology to support it.

Stress and Wellness

Stress results in inflammation in the body. Inflammation is only just beginning to get the medical recognition it deserves, but many experts already believe that inflammation is the underlying cause of many chronic illnesses.

While many people can be confronted with stress and remain healthy, extensive research shows that stress contributes to disease. Stress has been shown to contribute to cancer, suppression of the immune system, heart disease, flu and viruses, colds, allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcers and colitis, asthma, tension and migraine headaches, temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJD), irritable bowel syndrome, metabolic syndrome, type II diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, obesity and myriad other medical issues.

While we may be able to remove some, we cannot eliminate all of the stressors in our lives. But what we can do is change the way we react to them and how we deal with their effect on our bodies.


It is generally recognized that we do not breathe as we should. We take short shallow gulps from our lungs instead of long deep inhales and exhales emanating from our diaphragms. While some modern Western physicians, among them Dr. Andrew Weill, have written extensively about breathing, many ancient cultures recognized proper breathing as an essential component of a healthy life.

These cultures not only believed in the importance of proper breathing, they have structured rituals and physical exercise programs around the power of the breath. Yoga and tai chi are two effective ways to integrate physical movement with breath, and as a result, to combat stress. Integrating physical exercise with breathing is especially helpful for stress release, since it combines two powerful stress release tools – breathing and exercise – into one activity.

However, simply taking a few moments to take a deep breath, or two or three, can be a quick de-stressor. I was taught a method years ago as a means of bringing heart rates down rapidly after exercise. But I found it has the same beneficial effect when a driver cuts you off or your boss says he needs that report today.

Close your mouth and breathe in through your nose slowly for a full count of four seconds. Hold the air for another full count of four seconds. Then slowly release the air out through your mouth for a full count of eight seconds, trying to ensure that you have enough air to get all the way to eight. It may take some practice! Doing that three times in a row will bring a rapidly racing heart down 10-15 beats per minute, so it’s an immediate coping strategy for a stressful situation.


I probably will write an entire book on the health benefits of meditation, but for now, I’ll give a basic overview. Meditation has been shown to improve a very long list of conditions and concerns and bring more peace and joy into your life. But despite the volumes of evidence on its behalf, many people tell me they struggle with it.

I think that’s because they have ideas about what it means or how it should be done that might get in the way. Some tell me they can’t quiet their mind or they fall asleep and that makes them even more stressed because they feel like they are doing it wrong!

But there is no wrong when it comes to meditation.

Meditation is about taking time to just be. Time to focus on your breathing and to quiet your mind.

Have you ever noticed how sometimes when you have a quiet moment, whether it’s in the shower or in the car, that an idea comes through or you suddenly remember something you’d forgotten? That quiet space in between is where we release stress and heal, where we find ourselves again, where we touch base with our inner dreams and yearnings, and get great ideas about everything from what to make for dinner to how to solve a problem that has been perplexing us.

And we usually emerge from that moment inspired, peaceful and happy.  How do you meditate?

How to Meditate

There are so many different practices and there are different forms of meditation depending on what you want to achieve. But when I teach people to meditate, I tell them to forget about all of that and not to worry about what they think or heard it should be.

Start by sitting or lying down and getting really comfortable. If it’s possible, wear loose clothing and take off your shoes. Close your eyes and just focus on your breath going in and out. Hear it, feel your abdomen rise and fall as the air moves through. Try to block out everything else around you except your breath.

If being this still just isn’t working for you, try adding some music to help calm and focus you. I’ll be writing more about this type of music therapy at the end of this newsletter.

If thoughts come into your head, that’s fine. Allow them in; they want to be heard. But don’t follow them or attach to them. I like to use the analogy of each thought being a red balloon. As thoughts come into your head, assign them a red balloon and then set that balloon free. Thank the balloon if you want to. But let it go and watch it float away.

At first the thoughts may be very mundane, such as I have to pick up milk. Over time, the thoughts will be deeper and more insightful, such as I have to forgive my mother. Or I want to take up painting to express myself.

It doesn’t matter what the thoughts are or how many there are: just accept what comes, assign it a red balloon, and set it free. The goal over time will be – with practice – to see if you can expand the space in between the thoughts. To slow down the rate at which those thoughts come popping in and leave more stillness in between them.

While many people extol the praises of meditation for an hour or more in the morning and an hour or more at night, that is not realistic for – and would be challenging for – most of us. If you can do that, great! Otherwise, start with what’s manageable. Can you take a minute for yourself? Are you worth that? Remember the oxygen mask!

Could you take 10 minutes before the kids get up or after the alarm goes off before you get in the shower? Could you find time during lunch or in between meetings? While you wait to pick up your kids at soccer practice? Instead of listening to the radio or doing work, take a few quiet moments for yourself and close your eyes and breathe. Even one minute will make a difference, and with practice, as with everything, you get better.

If possible, try to find even just a few moments before you start your day and somewhere near the end.  If you finish your quiet time with a moment of gratitude, finding a way to give thanks for the good things in your life – even if you have to really stretch to find them in that moment – your life will become more peaceful and more joyful over time.

Music Therapy

For some people, no matter how much they practice or how hard they try, they are so in their heads that they just cannot seem to escape. Forcefully trying ends up causing them more stress instead of alleviating it. If you struggle with meditation for that or any other reason, or if you want to try something different every once in awhile, music can be a great way to relax and de-stress. While singing and dancing can be a fun way to let go, in this case, I am talking about a form of meditation to music.

Some people find classical music very relaxing, for others, its new age or jazz or their favorite soul or folk singer. The key is to find music that does not draw you in and engage your mind, but rather, lets you recede and experience the music without that mental or physical stimulation.

Usually when I usually listen to music, words engage me. So when I meditate to music, I need to have music without words so as not to focus on the music but rather to just relax with the music as a backdrop. I have been surprised that some of my favorite meditation music is not music I would typically listen to; certain music just takes me to another place when I meditate to it.

While a symphony works for some, for many, the simplicity of a soloist is more effective. Other options include Steven Halpern’s new age music, Yanni, Deuter, sounds of nature like waves or rain set to music, or perhaps Native American Indian or Tibetan flutes, which surprisingly seem to resonate with many. You may need to experiment to find what relaxes you but keeps you present, versus what puts you to sleep or sends your thoughts racing.

Just as with meditation, relax and sit or lie down and just listen. If thoughts come through, honor them, assign them a balloon, and set them free. Most of the time, we listen to music while we are doing something else. You will experience the music very differently in the stillness.

And if you do fall asleep, that’s ok. It means you needed it and you were relaxed enough to get there and that is also an important part of releasing stress: getting rest and listening to your body.

Other Options

There are many other stress management therapies, including humor and art therapy, behavior modification, progressive muscular relaxation, exercise, nutrition, visualization, resource management, communication skills, creative problem solving, massage, and journaling. If they resonate with you, definitely do some research or take a class and explore them.

I personally love free-form journaling where you carry a notebook or keep one by your bed. When you are stressed, or at the end of your day, you just write, without stopping, whatever comes into your head. Don’t analyze it: just let it all flow. It is amazingly cathartic! If you want to take it further, once a week, go back and re-read what you wrote. Use a red pen and circle repetitive themes or words or comments that surprise you or resonate with you. If you go back and do that several weeks in a row, you will begin to see patterns in your red-circled words that can help you determine areas of your life you want to change, people who stress you or who you need to forgive, or judgments you make about yourself that you need to heal and release.

At a minimum, I encourage you to try breathing and meditation. It takes practice, so don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t come easily at first. If one technique doesn’t work for you after several tries, try another one. Your physical body deserves a few moments of peaceful rest and your soul is craving a quiet moment to reconnect with you. They will both thank you.

To your wellness and health: your true wealth!



Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal at www.IngerPols.com

Photo Source: Microsoft Clip Art


I spent a couple of fabulous weeks in India. Talk about life changing!

Many people have asked me about my trip and truly, it is hard to articulate how incredible the journey was. The first week was in and around Delhi, including Agra and the Taj Mahal and Vrindhaven, somewhat of a spiritual Disneyland filled with temples and spiritual masters and lots of devotees who gather to sing and dance. (The Hare Krishna Temple was a crazy dance party of love and joy that was a site to see!)

While in Delhi, we also had the opportunity to have dinner with the former head of India’s CBI, their version of the U.S.’s Federal Bureau of Investigation, Dr. Kaarthikeyan. (Dr. Kaarthikeyan also wrote a bestselling book on the investigation following the Rajiv Gandhi Assassination.) Dr. Kaarthikeyan was a fascinating man: a cross between Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln, who exuded compassion, charisma, leadership, and deep intellect combined with gentle grace.

The night we had dinner at his home, an Indian television network was coming to interview him to hear his perspective on the recent bombing in Hyderabad. (Because of his stature, the TV channels come to him instead of his having to go into the station). We were invited to sit on the couch and be “flies on the wall” while he was interviewed for the network.

While we were waiting for them to set up, two other guests arrived. They worked for an American spiritual leader, Andrew Cohen, who would be speaking at the International Yoga Festival which we would also be attending the following week.

They were, like my traveling partner Janet Attwood, NYT bestselling author of The Passion Test, enamored with India and had been there numerous times. So Janet asked them to share why they loved India so much. The response was simple but profound: “everything that we in the West think is a little ‘woo woo’ is commonplace and universally accepted in India.”

They went on to share that meditation is practiced by almost everyone; people believe in karma which means they believe that their actions will come back to them, good or bad; and Indians know that happiness comes from within, not from outside of us. I thought of the contrast in the West and how many times I’ve tried to teach meditation to stressed out people back home. Despite the fact that the research on its benefits, both physically and emotionally, is vast, we still resist making meditation a habit. Even though we know that a new house or a new car or more money in our account doesn’t make us happy, we still chase “things.” And while the golden rule is ingrained upon us as children, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” we still forget that rule at times.

Their words stayed with me as we travelled through India and saw the extreme poverty: families living under a tarp strung between two trees along the side of the road as their only shelter. No food, no water, no electricity or clean clothes. But everywhere I went, people were happy. On paper, they might not seem to have any reason to be so, but the smiles on their faces and the light in their eyes remained.

It reminded me of a conversation I’d had with another NYT bestselling author, Marci Shimoff, who wrote “Happy For No Reason.” Marci interviewed the happiest people around the world and came up with a Happy 100 list. The Happy 100 had two things in common: every one of them said that they were living their passions and every one of them had some kind of meditation process they practiced daily.

The people in India had mastered at least one of these, despite their limited means, while we in the West, with much more food on our plates and money in our accounts, cannot seem to find the time or the motivation to meditate. Our meditation practice (for many, but admittedly not all) of us is not ingrained, despite the reams of evidence that meditation heals our bodies and our minds and even helps us find happiness!

Often when I talk to people about meditation, I hear two excuses: I don’t have time or I’m not good at it/I can’t do it because I can’t quiet my mind. I’m going to counter both of those objections with stories from my trip. But first, if you have read my prior article on meditation, you may remember one of the techniques I recommend for people who find too many thoughts come jumping in whenever they try to quiet the mind: tying a red balloon.

When you sit or lie still, focus on your breath slowly going in and out. As thoughts come through, take a red balloon and visualize yourself tying the string around that thought, and then release it and let it go. (I like to thank the thought for coming in but if that feels odd, you can skip that step). Watch the balloon float away and just be still, returning to your breath, until another thought comes in and then repeat the process.

People sometimes say that it’s like a traffic jam of red and they never get still because the thoughts keep coming! To which I say, that’s absolutely OK! Don’t stress about it: just keep typing balloons and letting them go. Over time, I promise, the thoughts will slow down and there will be less and less red and more and more space in between. But don’t beat yourself up, feel like you’re doing something wrong or feel that it should be happening faster than it is.

If you have not been giving your mind enough space for thoughts to come through, it’s like coming out of the desert: you’re going to be very thirsty and need to drink a lot of water. And so those thoughts are going to come rushing through because you’ve finally given them some space and room to come through! And that is totally ok and nothing to be discouraged about. (You wouldn’t be disappointed in yourself for being thirsty after you emerged from that desert, would you? You’d expect that.)

Many of the yogis I met in India said that it’s extremely difficult to completely quiet the mind and that that is not their goal. I’ve heard said that even the Dalai Lama will occasionally have thoughts wander in, even after years of practice. Whether that’s true or not, the point is we in the West expect perfection and in India, not having thoughts come through is not the goal. The key is that it’s a practice.

Meditation is something you do without passing judgment on yourself and just experience however it comes to you. Trust that whatever occurs is what you need most. It may be those thoughts just need to come through because you’ve been shutting them out too long. Maybe your mind needs to clear out all those little to- dos and details, or maybe it’s aching to release those brilliant creative thoughts and solutions at last!

It may be that you fall asleep and that is ok too because if that happens, then that is what your body needs most in that moment. (Though if it happens every time for an extended period, you are probably sleep-deprived and you may want to look into that!) You may also need to choose a different time of day or another position to be in when you meditate; if you fall asleep, lying down at the end of the day may not be the best choice!

Over time, your meditation practice will evolve and you may feel that you ‘get better’ at having more space in between your thoughts. Regardless, over time you will find deeper peace, more clarity, greater energy, improved health, and even more happiness and joy from this simple habit.

And yes, like all habits, it’s something you need to build into your life. None of this can happen unless you get started! And none of the benefits will happen if you stop yourself from continuing because you are stressed out about having too many thoughts or not doing it ‘right.’ There is no wrong way to meditate: just carve out the time and sit or lie still for the duration. Let the thoughts come as they will, release them as they do, and come back to your center to refocus on your breath going in and going out.

At the International Yoga Festival, in between every kind of yoga class imaginable, offered by the greatest teachers and masters from around the world, there were also meditations and lectures from great yogis and spiritual leaders. Many of these were held under a big tent. Rishikesh is a beautiful town along the banks of the Ganges River, at the edge of the Himalayas, and one of the things you’ll see everywhere in Rishikesh is wild monkeys. They run and scamper on the roofs, in the streets and in the fields.

While we would sit and listen to a lecture or meditation under the tent, monkeys would scamper across the top of the tent. You could hear them running and so in the interest of minimizing the disruption to the festival participants, guards would also come up onto the tarp and shake sticks at the monkeys to drive them away.

A brilliant analogy came from one of the lecturers who commented that the monkeys running across the tarp during our meditation were like our thoughts, running across our mind. The guards with the sticks were like our own judgment, thinking they were bad and chasing them away, getting angry and upset that they were infiltrating our quiet time.

We all immediately made the connection because while the monkeys were distracting, they weren’t so bad. We were aware of them on some level but they didn’t impede our journey inward. And in the end, they were a distraction that made you smile.

But the guards shaking sticks at them made more noise, were more distracting and disruptive and pulled us away from our internal journey out into the external world around us. We all realized in that moment the power of that metaphor because we don’t need to be like the guards chasing away our thoughts; the guards actually pull us out of our stillness back into the world. Instead, we can let the thoughts be and smile at their presence; we can let our monkeys run free!

For those who say they don’t have time, one of the yogis we met with was about to go into silence for five years. Yes, that’s right: five years! Two weeks after we left, he would be returning to a silent retreat and would not speak again for five years. His impassioned plea to us before then, knowing we were from the West, was to find a way to create a daily meditation practice. His solution, for those who say they have no time, was a 3-minute meditation.

Just three minutes he said would bring a myriad of benefits, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Yes, over time, you could add more than one three minute block or try to go longer than 3 minutes but to start, just try for three minutes.

And it reminded me of the research we all see about exercise. We need to get to 30- 60 minutes a day, but the benefits begin in small blocks. So ten three-minute sets can deliver comparable benefits to one thirty-minute block. No one can tell me they do not have three minutes a day!

Here’s a secret I’ve learned from my research for my upcoming new book, Effortless Lasting Change. When you want to create a new habit and you’re not sure how to establish it and make it routine, try to anchor it to something you already do. For example, could you take three minutes to meditate right after you brush your teeth? Set your timer and just sit on your bed.

Could you take three minutes when you pull your car in the garage at the end of the day? Before you get out, just sit quietly for three minutes. Could you find three minutes after you eat your lunch to sit on a bench or in a conference room with the door closed so no one bothers you?

If there isn’t a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed, go into a bathroom stall, lock the door and sit on the toilet for three minutes. No one will bother you there, I promise! Just three minutes a day can start you down a path to a new habit you will not want to live without. Your body and your mind will thank you for finally letting your monkeys run free!

The yogi who spoke of the three-minute meditation gave me a three-minute meditation on a CD and if you would like to have a copy, please just email me back and I will send you a copy.

To your wellness and health: your true wealth!


Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal at www.IngerPols.com

Photo Source: Microsoft Clip Art

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