I’LL SLEEP WHEN I DIE – How Do You Know That?

The Uncool Importance of Rest

Photo: Marc Chen

Recently I’ve been on an enforced downtime period. Having worked for a school on a sessional basis I was facing an unpaid summer break. A new job lined up and the start date kept getting delayed. Despite many efforts to find a replacement job, days slipped into weeks and before I knew it I had spent eight weeks ‘in between jobs’.

The old me would never have been able to tolerate this. I would have been ridden with guilt, an inner voice nagging at me saying, “you should be working like everyone else”. The inner critic ranting on his soap box about my ‘laziness’. However this time I didn’t feel guilty.

I chose to listen to my instinct, my body. I found I only had a certain amount of energy for a new job search. So I behaved in a new way by trusting the wisdom of my body and that  lack of energy. I have been experimenting with this as a result of my training in gestalt therapy. Gestalt theory, with some of its roots in Taoism, postulates that anything and everything of importance to you is incorporated in the present moment. Therefore what you have energy for in the moment is what is most helpful to you in your life.

Gestalt theory talks of the embodied self. Our experience of our body is our experience of ourself. The embodied self knows best what is the best action and non-action to meet our needs, regardless of whether this seems like the conventional, logical, practical thing that we ‘should be’ doing. Gestaltist Kepner says:

 “When we make our body experience an “It” instead of “I”, we make ourselves less than we are”

I’m not saying that trusting in my embodied self was easy and at times there would be an episode of “sh**, what am I going to do?”, however mainly I did.

So why did I need eight weeks off?

A Lesson in Trust

I  imagine that part of the reason was a lesson I had to learn about trusting in life and its abundance. It was also about trusting in myself. The image that comes to mind is of having to jump off a cliff and trust that there will be a rock pool underneath to catch me. It did. A tax return came in, some other lucky financial breaks, and the universe rewarded my trust by giving me just enough to make it through the jobless period.

Organic Need

Before the summer break whilst still working hard, I had fantasised about a proper eight week summer holiday. I had dreams of French villas, long balmy evenings eating al fresco with a large group of friends, a white sand beach, lounging, reading, taking siestas. My financial constraints did not permit this but perhaps the universe had granted me its version of my wish.

The message my fantasy was giving me was, “I need a proper rest”. Not a weekend, not a week, a proper break.

A Period To Re-Orientate  My Life Path

During my break I paid attention to my energy, doing activities that I had enthusiasm for, resting when I felt to rest and pausing when I did not know. Then I would ask myself:

“What is important for me in this moment? What do I have energy for?”

Often an answer would come. I also became more aware that when I force myself to do something because I should, the work is not as high quality as if I had waited till I felt like doing it.

There is of course a fear that if I wait till I have energy for some things then I would never do them. Gestalt theory might counter this fear by arguing that if you do not have energy for something then it is not important for you. In a 9 – 5 job it is not possible to fully embrace this strategy however part of my inquiry over this period was into what I wanted be doing in my working life and how I could adapt it to make it more congruent with my passions. If I never have energy for doing company accounts then perhaps that job is not the job I need.

Yin Time/Soul Time

During this resting period I also felt quite happy to be at home alone, even for extended periods. Due to financial constraints I did not have much choice but one could argue that this constraint was in place precisely so I did spend time alone, at home.

‘Do you not get lonely if you spend the weekend alone?’ a friend asked. No. This is a new aspect of me. In the past, after a couple of days alone I would start to feel down. Now I am able to entertain myself, whether it be going for a run, earthing in the park, taking a salt water bath, reading, writing or working on a creative project.

The same friend, a shiatsu master then understood me more and explained about yin and the soul. I have covered yin energy in a separate article. This is the feminine energy which is associated with the earth and is passive and yielding and cooling. It exists in relationship to yang, masculine energy which is active and creative and warming.

During this period I became aware that my yin energy was depleted. I have covered some of this in another article. Many people have depleted kidney yin energy from pressing the ‘override’ switch too many times: too much partying, working, alcohol, coffee and other types of stress. The symptoms of depleted kidney yin energy are the classic symptoms of burnout: looking older than your age, hair loss, feeling tired the whole time.

The only way to change this imbalance is by resting, cutting back on artificial stimulants and listening to your body’s needs. Most importantly, there is no quick fix. We cannot simply pop another pill to get a magical recovery – although there are Chinese herbal remedies. An attempt to override this condition is to have completely missed the message which is:

You Need To Rest !

Not for one day, not for one weekend or even one week, but proper rest, proportionate to the amount of time you have been pressing override and certainly long enough for your body to rebalance itself. Think how many months a year we spend in winter  – yin time, as opposed to summer – yang time. As well as resting you can eat yin balancing foods like kidney beans, blueberries, Spirulina, seafood and others.

And Spend Time With Yourself !

The friend explained that yin is associated with the soul whereas yang is associated with the spirit in traditional Chinese medicine. When there is a need for yin time then spirit activities associated with yang like being the life and soul of the party, are not nourishing. During yin time what is nourishing are activities associated with the soul like being by nature, meditation and spending time alone.

 But these are such uncool words…..

Even as write I have the echoes of whispers in my head saying,‘’this is so not cool”. So much more cool are the slogans saying, “I’ll sleep when I die”. Or complaining to friends about having so much to do, being so overworked but then carrying on regardless and throwing in a  couple of wild nights or hardcore early morning yoga classes to boot.

Addicted to Yang

It’s as if we are caught up in a race, trying to outdo ourselves in how busy and active and yang we are. Being busy, being overworked, being hung over is cool. But according to the Tao, yang cannot exist without yin just as yin cannot exist without yang.

Stepping Out of  the Race

What does it take? It takes faith in oneself and in life. It takes the willingness to learn to be by yourself. It takes the willingness to listen to your self and ask  “What do I need, what is important to me in this moment”.  It takes the willingness to embrace whatever feelings come up when we are not getting our sense of identity bolstered by our work, our friends, our routine.

Rest and then ……

I am experiencing more inner peace and self acceptance as well as more trust in my instincts. I have also been more in touch with inner joy, smiling in the street for no apparent reason. I also have more energy to re-enter working life, with the adjustments I’ve made, so that the activities I do to pay the bills hold more of my interest and enthusiasm.

I’m not saying we should all be on yin time, after all yin needs yang. We each go through cycles of rest and activity and what is right for me might not be right for you. All I ask is that you give Yin a chance. You might see just how cool she really is!


Hello Fear!

In my quest to ‘unstick’ myself and my life the emotion of fear has been in my mind. In my mind you ask and not in my heart? Yes, a little in my heart but I also suspect that I’m one of those people who is habitually quick to suppress their fear. Over the years this means I haven’t really been in touch with my fear, I’ve made it ‘not real’ by pretending it is not there until I actually wasn’t aware of it anymore. Fear isn’t always tangible. It is evident in your negative thoughts, behind your ‘I can’t be bothered to go to another job interview’  refrain, behind getting angry with someone for running into you. It can also be behind “ I don’t want to be in a relationship” and a slightly aloof and cool persona. Behind all this can lurk cold fear however in my case my mind will do an amazing job of convincing me otherwise. “Actually you don’t want to go to the job interview because it’s obvious you won’t get the job…….” or “ I really am justified to be over the top angry  at this person that I don’t know because they bumped into me”. Really ?? It’s only through becoming acquainted with the feeling of fear in my body: in my case cold feet, cold hands, a sense of hollowness/lack of substance in my chest, that I am able to recognise it. I am also able to recognise it when sitting in meditation. It’s a small wave of emotion to-ing and fro-ing around my heart like the waves lapping on the shore of a lake. I can get a sense of it as being the driver behind my constant, grasping, compulsive thoughts, all trying to make things certain, trying to make solidity out of the uncertainty of life.

Why this fear then? Well we could give lots of psychological theories and explanations which would be particular to the individual but according to the existential philosophers, anxiety is part of life. It is the existential angst about the fact that there is no certainty in this life and that we are, essentially on our own. We come into and depart from our life on our own. There are no guarantees about what happens after we die and there are no guarantees about when we or our loved ones will die. Depressing perhaps? Well it depends on how you look at it. It also means that if you accept this then it is up to you to make the most of your life in the present.

Grounding/Self Support

The terms ‘frozen with fear’ or paralysed with fear are good  as it seems to me that if one is not aware of the fear lurking then one can become frozen or stuck in how one thinks or behaves. This was behind my quest to become more acquainted with my fear. According to gestalt therapy theory, by being fully aware and in contact, change is possible. Certainly in some aspects of my life I have been feeling stuck and so I have had a lot of energy around getting better acquainted with my fear. Another emotion which I personally link to my fear is impatience. An example would be my impatience to skip two years into the future with my MA course completed, or being impatient in a relationship for things to progress fast. Impatient for what ?  What happens if I sit with this impatience? What’s behind it? Often it is fear. This time I can identify it as a curdling in my guts. Fear of what? Fear that I cannot trust this present moment to give me what I need  therefore I need to rush to the next present moment where the same fear reappears.

Why have I been so avoidant of my fear up till now and how do I deal with it ? I think the answer to both of these questions is the same. If I did not feel strong or supported enough in the past to feel the fear  then I would have preferred not to feel it. So the first thing to do now is to find ways to feel more solid and strong in myself so that I am able to feel my emotions but not be overwhelmed by them. This has been my motivation for some of the body work and body meditations I have done, experimenting with finding my core and feeling more grounded. Examples are the Soft Belly Meditation, the Laban/Bartenieff classes, the Transformational Breathing.


If you have a wider base in place in terms of how rooted you are to the ground then you are more able to be in contact with your fear without it overwhelming you. This is another principle of gestalt therapy, first thing to address is how a person self supports. However being the impatient person that I am I decided to experiment with some more direct approaches around fear. This interest was sparked by a visit to a Thai massage therapist. She manipulated some points on my lower back that were very tender and this reminded me of a friend, a Shiatsu teacher, who had massaged the same points a few weeks earlier and there had been the same soreness. Those points relate to the kidneys which according to Chinese traditional medicine are linked to the emotion of  fear. A-ha! Another clue. It made perfect sense with the lower back ache that I sometimes feel. So I have been reading up on and working with pressure points which regulate the kidney yin and yang energy. There are specific points on the back which, if you work on are supposed to ‘de-ice’ stagnant fear . I work on the kidney points three times a day for no more than two minutes. I have also given up coffee which apparently is big reason for kidney yin energy to be weakened. Interestingly and as a side note, the kidneys are linked with the sign of libra and that is precisely where Saturn, the planet of fear, has been sitting on my Libran moon for the last two years.

Flower Essences

In addition I decided to experiment with some flower essences. I decided to try one for getting rid of old emotions. Indeed I started taking this before I discovered the Shiatsu points and wonder if in fact it somehow opened me up to getting interested in the acupressure.

Well, it is too early to say what the outcome of all this will be. Certainly my aim is not to become fearless, that is not possible. My desire is to be on better terms with my fear so that it no longer ‘sticks’ my life. Just being aware of fear and learning to recognise it in its many disguises is a start. As I mull over this I realise that this is the way to reclaim power. By coming to nose to nose with my fear I have taken the power away from the situation, person or object that ’causes’ me to feel fear. It is more about me and less about them or that and as a result I feel more powerful.

MORE CORE ME! – Experiments In Alignment

Recently I was at a 5 day psychotherapy conference. Milling around and getting to know 400 hundred other people was both enjoyable (when I made a good connection with a stranger) but also fraught with moments of self doubt. How am I being experienced by others? How come I am not being seen as I thought I came across? Damm, I thought I had overcome this shyness? Why does my friend seem to get more positive attention than me?  What is this discrepancy between the down-to-earth, warm, fun-loving person I am perceived as by my friends as opposed to the slightly aloof and shy person I may come across as to strangers?

Since it was a psychotherapy conference and being a trainee therapist I made good use of the situation to learn something by raising this issue with others in a group session. Feedback I got from an experienced therapist who works with the body was that I gave off mixed signals. Whilst the vocal part of me expresses the desire to connect with people, my core is collapsed and part of my body is holding back. With him I practiced a core lift where I really felt my sitting bones making contact with the chair and felt my upper half/chest area rise up and out as I pushed up from my sitting bones. I was supporting myself more from the core. It felt unfamiliar and so a little scary but observers said they felt closer to me as I looked at them from this stance.

The ‘core’, the ‘core’…….I started chewing on this cud that has come up again and again and I still feel like I don’t really know exactly what is meant by the word ‘core’. Is this indicative of the problem?  So back home again I decided to investigate some more and found a movement practitioner that works with alignment, focusing on the Bartenieff principles and Laban. I attended a couple of sessions.

In one we focussed on shape-flow and moving from a horizontal, vertical and sagittal perspective. As I lay on my back on the floor with my knees bent and feet planted firmly on the floor, I breathed in and paid attention to my chest and stomach as well as upper back and lower back expanding, my spine elongating from lower back to head and my pelvis and shoulder area moving out sideways. I became aware of the 3D effect of my breathing.

I then used this shape-flow awareness when I focussed on a technique to ensure the pelvis is aligned and directed down and forward rather than hanging back. As I lay on my back and breathed out I very slightly shifted my pelvis forward and down. This is a subtle movement and not at all like a yoga pose where you curl your pelvis up and in. When I first stood up and walked after practicing this I was pleasantly surprised. I felt  like at the same time my legs were pushing down and I was being pushed up Definitely more grounded but also more bouncy.

I have been practicing this pelvic alignment at home every day for the last couple of months. People that know me well say I am coming across as more ‘available’. I feel more solid and like I have a wider base. This allows me to take more emotional risks in interpersonal situations without feeling like my world will cave in if the other person does not support me. This is probably what people mean by my being more available. No doubt I have further to travel on this path towards inner security and I am in no way an expert on the subject. Alexander technique, somatic movement……so much more to experiment with and yet I wanted to share what I had learned so far dear reader as maybe it will help you too.

Soft Belly Meditation

I’ve been practising this now for about two months. It came as a natural extension to the transformational breathing that I have been doing for around three months (I’ll tell you about this in another post).  As you may have seen from my bio, I am training as a psychotherapist and taking part in regular group process and personal therapy makes me very aware of my blockages. Some, Reich for example, say that the physical blockages in the body, the body armour,  relate to issues we have on an emotional level. Certainly when I went to the transformational breathing course, attention was drawn to my ‘out breath’. Apparently on breathing out I did not fully let go, my ‘out breath’ is a little rigid, or rather the muscles and tissue in that area, the diaphragm area are rigid. The more I do the soft belly meditation, the more the words ‘surrender’ resonate with me and I find myself approaching other areas of my life for example difficult relationships with the attitude of surrender. Too early to say if this is the key to happiness but it certainly makes sense to me.

I did some research online and learned that Stephen and Ondrea Levine first mention Soft Belly in their book, “Embracing The Beloved”. They say that we hold a lot of deep seated and old emotions in our bellies like fear, anger. As a result if we ‘sense’ into our bellies they can feel hard and ‘armoured’.  The meditation (published below) consists of focusing softly on the belly area, being aware of the sensations and having the intention to let go.

Another reason I was interested in my belly is because I know it is considered to be the place where we get centred. I’d been invited many times by therapists, facilitators to centre myself and had always struggled thinking ‘how do I know when I’ve found my centre?”. Well becoming aware of the belly is a good way to centre myself, I found.

I did struggle a little, as Noah Levine says in one of his soft belly meditation talks, with the conflict of softening and letting go of my belly and the image in society of having a taut, washboard stomach. That does take a bit of mental readjustment to be ok with letting it all hang out, at least for the meditation ! The way I am becoming ok with it is thinking that i’d much rather be centred and feel whole and in touch with my emotions, than running around like a headless chicken.

So the effects? I think they are subtle and I am not going to start making huge claims. I also think that the benefits are incremental. I don’t think that you can go straight from  B (feeling less than great) to (feeling amazing) if you are after sustainable growth. Sometimes to get to B you have to go to A first. After all if you are releasing old stuff then you can’t avoid feeling it. So I would say that I have been feeling more: good and bad, but also getting really grounded and  more in touch with reality about certain things, for example how I am or how other people are, deluding myself less. This means I can move on from certain ways of being or situations rather being stuck in a delusional time warp.  I state however that this practice and I are a work in progress.

I guess the main reason I was interested in the soft belly meditation was because by softening the belly it is supposed to help open the passage to the heart. I was interested in a practice which would help me to open my heart. I had tried other heart opening meditations but I think this one is the most effective. By softening the belly you create a sense of spaciousness where other emotions such as anxiety can float, it’s supposed to be a way to tap into the power of the universe. All a reason to keep going as far as I’m concerned. I’ll update you along the way.

Here it is:

Soft Belly Meditation by Stephen and Ondrea Levine (from Embracing the beloved) but actually found on Dr Rufus May’s website.

Find a comfortable place to sit and settle in there.  And bring your attention into this body in which you sit.

Feel this body.  Let awareness come to the level of sensation in the body.

Feel the breath breathing itself in the body.  Sensations of body breathing.  And gradually focus awareness in the abdomen.  Sensations of the breath.  Feel the breath breathing itself in the belly.

Sensations of breath coming and going.  Each inhalation the belly fills.  Each exhalation the belly empties.  The belly rising and falling with each breath.  Sensation arising with each breath.

And begin to soften the belly.  Softening the belly to receive the sensations of the breath.  Softening to receive life in the belly.  Breath.  Sensation in the belly.  Received in a new softness.

Softening.  Softening the hardness, the holding in the belly that resists the breath, that resists sensation, that resists life.  Softening that hardness.

Sensation floating in mercy and awareness.  Softening.  Let the breath breathe itself in the softness.

Letting go of the resistance, of the fear, of the holding of hard belly.  Letting go of the grief and distrust.  Meeting them with mercy.  With loving kindness in soft belly.  Letting go.  Letting go of the hardness, breathing it out.

Letting in the mercy, the patience, the kindness, with each inhalation.  Soft belly.  Merciful belly.

Have mercy on you.  Softening to the pain.  Softening the holding.  Breathing it out.  Breathing in mercy.  Breathing in healing.  In soft belly.  In merciful belly.

Softening.  Letting go of years of posturing and hiding.  So much holding in the belly.  So much fear.  So much grief.  Softening.

Levels and levels of letting go.  Levels and levels of softening.  Levels and levels of letting go.  Levels and levels of healing.

Softening the muscles.  Softening the flesh.  Softening the holding that resists, that limits life so.

The armouring of the heart is discovered in the hardness of the belly.  Meet this pain with mercy, not fear.  Meet this grief in softness.   In loving kindness.

In soft belly, we have room for it all.  Room to be born at last.  Room to heal, to be.  Room even to die in soft belly.

All the fear, all the anger, all the distrust held so long in the belly.  Have mercy on you.  Let it go.  Let it just be.  Gently, in the softness.  Met by mercy and awareness moment  to moment.  Breath to breath.

Softening.  Softening.

Even a single thought can tighten the belly, can re-establish separation and fear.  Let thoughts come.  Let thoughts go in soft belly.

Expectation, doubt, confusion, harden the belly.


Thoughts arise uninvited.  Let them float like bubbles in the vast spaciousness of soft belly.  Moment to moment letting go.  Moment to moment being in soft belly.  In merciful belly.

Softening.  Making room for the heart.  For mercy and compassion in the body, in the mind – for soft belly.

Nothing to hold to.  Just the vast spaciousness.  Just the mercy.  Just the letting go of soft belly.  In soft belly we have room for our pain and room for our healing.  Soften.  Letting go of the holding, or the mercilessness.

Letting the universe be our body.  Vast spaciousness of soft belly.  There’s room for it all.

There’s room for it all.  Let it all float in soft belly.

Breathing in the mercy.  Breathing out the holding.

Levels and levels of being in soft belly.  Even if some hardness is discovered in the midst of this softness, no resistance.  No hardening to  the hardness.  Soften.  Rest in being.

Let the hardness float in the softness.  Nothing to change, no urgency in soft belly.  Just trusting the process.   Just being.

Let the sound of these words pass right through you.  No holding anywhere.  Even to understanding.  No grasping at more.  No tightening.  Just a gentle letting go of the pain moment to moment.  Letting it float in soft belly.  Letting the spaciousness of being receive it all in mercy.  In loving kindness.

Let the sound of these words pass right through you.

Let all that arises pass through the spaciousness of soft belly, touched by mercy and awareness.  Floating in the spaciousness of being.

And gently let your eyes open.  Let them open now.

And as your eyes open, notice at what point the belly tightens once again.  Even trying to understand can tighten the belly.  Being anything but our own great nature tightens us, removes us for the joy of our essential nature.  Fills us with mind and confusion tightening the body.  Limiting the senses.

Soften with the eyes wide open to the world.  Notice at what point that someoneness reasserts itself and you feel a need to protect.  Send mercy.  Send a blessing to that someoneness so in pain.  Soften to it.  Let it float in who you really are.

Softening to the pain we all share.  And the legacy of healing exposed in this deep softness.

Transformational Breathing

I mentioned this in my post on Soft Belly Meditation.  Transformational breathing started me off on the path. I was interested in ways of feeling more centred as I was aware from my psychotherapy training that when I could access and speak from my centre then what I said was more congruent and I felt more grounded and empowered. However the location of my centre, somewhere in the space from my rib cage  to my lower belly, was a little intangible. I realised however that by taking deep belly breaths I was more able to access it.

Then a friend mentioned the Transformation Breathing workshops run by Alan Dolan, also known as the Breath Guru. I stress here that I am not gaining in any way by mentioning him. On his website and from articles I read about him on the Internet, it is claimed that this type of breathing is as good as  therapy in terms of effects. Well, I decided instantly, I want to try this!

I went along to a three-hour workshop in London. There were around sixteen of us and we lay on the floor of a pleasant studio on yoga mats. We had cushions to prop up our heads and some people were given back supports to prop them up even higher. We were shown the basic technique which consists of taking deep belly breaths so that the rising of your belly is visible, and then letting go, expiring. The most important thing is that the breaths are continuous, that there is a smooth transition between in and out breath. Another important thing is that the expiration is gentle. It should be a soft letting go rather than a forced pushing out of air. A final important point is that the breathing is done through the mouth and the mouth must be kept  widely open. Some people were given cut-off plastic bottle tops ( a bit like dummies for grown-ups) as they had difficulty  keeping their mouths open for a prolonged period.

So we breathed like this for about twenty minutes whilst Alan and his experienced helpers came around to observe us, giving us hints like “softer inhale’, ‘breathe further down into your belly’. They also lightly manipulated certain accupressure points around the diaphragm and belly area. I got the impression that I was having issues with letting go as the acupressure attention seemed to be going to my diaphragm and I imagined my exhale was not as spontaneous as it could be.

As well as the manipulations we were given affirmations, for example, “I am letting go”, “I forgive myself”. It is possible to have one-to-one sessions with Alan and with others and this is when they do a more in-depth analysis of your body. Apparently the different sides relate to how you view yourself and how you view the world.

So how was the experience? After about twenty minutes I was concerned that I was hyperventilating. I started to feel like it was all a bit too much effort and my mouth was dry. That’s when they invited us to stop breathing and make lots of noise and bang our arms and feet on the ground. It felt good to mix things up and quite liberating to bellow with fifteen others on the floor of a yoga studio on a Sunday morning. When we returned to the breathing I felt invigorated and warm and my mood was definitely elevated.

After doing this breathing for an hour with around 4 noise-making intervals, I was in a different space . I think everyone was. Some had experienced emotional releases which is quite common and a sign of cleansing. I felt a similar kind of buzz as if I had climbed the Matterhorn (not that I have) but without the physical tiredness. Just an amazing sense of space, floating but very grounded at the same time, clear, energised, good !

More of this I thought. We were advised to do just ten minutes a day by ourselves at home. It’s been over three months now since I have been doing this before getting up in the morning. It is easier to set the alarm early for this than it is for yoga or meditation, where I actually would have to get out of bed! The beauty of this practice is that even if I start the breathing still half asleep, by the end of the ten minutes I am awake and ready to get up.

Long lasting results ? More energy…at least for getting up in the mornings ! More grounded. More focused. More able to access my emotions, positive and negative. Increased ability to approach other aspects of my life with an attitude of ‘surrender’.

Each session is different, sometimes fast and flowing, other times less so. Am I there yet in terms of expert transformational breathing? No. Still working on that ‘out breath’.  And with that in mind, dear reader, I’m  letting  you go for today………