Struggling to sleep? How to break a bad sleep cycle, without breaking the bank
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Expert comment from Nic Lenny, Studio owner and Pilates teacher
An August 2020 study from the University of Southampton showed the number of people experiencing insomnia and sleep difficulties rose from one in six to one in four during the pandemic, and identified “women with young children, key workers and people of BAME heritage” as the worst hit.
It is therefore no surprise that sleep seems to now occupy as much of the national conversations as weather - and in the past 12 months, sales of sleep-related products have soared, Holland & Barrett sales of products in the sleep and relaxation category have grown by over 30% year-on-year and it is predicted the market will be worth $163bn by 2030.
Founder of online Pilates studio, Nic Lenny (mum, business owner and previous sufferer of sleepless nights) shares her tips on how to break the bad sleep cycle, without breaking the bank as well as her favourite Pilates flow for promoting a calmer night’s sleep.
CONTROL YOUR BREATH
The para-sympathetic nervous system is the part of us that is responsible for resting and digesting (vs the sympathetic part which is responsible for fight, flight and freeze).
The only part of our para-sympathetic nervous system that we can control is via our breath. So as well as practicing good sleep hygiene (no caffeine, limited stimulating content even in books, no screen time, bed only for sex and sleep) practicing breath work so that it becomes an easy thing to tap into when you need it, will really help you to kick start your PSNS and calm your SNS. There are so many different sleep breath techniques out there, but I really like the 4, 7, 8 breath which makes my brain have to focus too so which quietens the noise of my busy chatty brain.
It’s super simple:
Breath in for 4 / Hold for 7 / Breath out for 8 and repeat
Another good tip is that the PSNS all lives in the back of your body so as you lie in bed can you focus on what your back, legs and arms are touching and let them sink a little deeper. Notice that doing this will naturally slow your breath too. Relax your jaw, focus on your breath and how it moves your body and allow yourself to slip into your body and out of your mind.
And if all else fails…GET UP!
Go into another room and do this there and when you feel sleepy, and only when you feel sleepy, go back to bed again. Otherwise you are training yourself that bed is for sleeplessness and not for rest.
I also love sleep oils such as Neon Sleep Spray. Or an Epsom Salt with Lavender bath before bed - the cooling of our hot body actually stimulates rest which is why we always bath babies before bed to help them to sleep!
READING (even on a screen!)
I know screen time is bad BUT there are times when I’ve got up with the kids and then am struggling to get off again and I’ve found reading the a BBC News long stories session is the best phone reading to do which still switches me off and doesn’t stimulate me to be more awake.
People often run to get fit, and miss the fundamental fact that running is quite hard and infant you really need to be thinking about getting fit for running. By integrating a good routine with stretching and mobility strength work BEFORE you run, you set yourself up so much stronger to be able to take on the relatively intense impact running can have on the body.
An essential part of all runners training programme, this 20 minute runners warm up will get your muscles limber, body aligned and ready to hit the park with good form and pace.
The perfect place to start at ay point in your post-natal journey but especially in the early days which are so important as the set up to your recovery from the inside out.
Hear from Mum and Founder, Nic in the first class of this series talking about Pilates for Recovery and abdominal separation.
This is part of a 4-week plan of 15 - 25 minute classes which are super easy to fit in around naps and moment you might grab in your day but which still create all the benefits your body is craving. Enjoy! and if you want to view the full programme you can purchase the full 4 week plan for £17.50 and keep your videos forever so you can watch again and again.
Simply visit https://watch.movebetter.tv/orders/customer_info?o=45139
Running is an amazing tool to get your body fit, active and healthy with a minimum of fuss. Just a pair of trainers and you're off. But why is it that 80% of runners get injured? - Because they are ONLY using running to get fit when you need to have a body that's fit to run first.
That's where this class comes in. Let MoveBetter.TV Pilates instructor Gill guide you through a short 10 minute class which will get your body stronger, more supple and ready to run or walk (because even if you never run you still need this!). Gill trains professional football and rugby players so you're in very safe hands. You can get more of Gill's classes over on www.movebetter.tv.
If you're experiencing knee, back or foot pain in your workouts then maybe your squat form is to blame. Here Pilates teacher, and MoveBetter.TV founder, Nic takes you on a a mini masterclass of how to perfect a perfect squat so that your squats don't only cause you pain but actually create more space in your back, pelvic knees and hips.
Watch the video below
HiiT has to me one of the most popular fitness classes but do you really understand why? Here's our instructor Claire talks you through the science and the history of hiit.
This video is part of our Pilates Cardio 4-week plan where we guide you on mastering hiit from a complete beginner so you can start your journey to being a hiit pro.
In a time when there is so much TV on at home. When all your previous screen time rules have gone out of the window. When you try to justify to yourself that YouTube kids is about “company for the kids” and your kids watching other kids play is ok as it’s “play inspiration”. And then we discovered Bluey on Disney+ which has not only made me feel like the TV quality has improved massively in our house, but has lifted my spirits, made me laugh out loud on many occasion all supported by a wonderful musical score which never fails to uplift the entire house (in fact we have created our own little family dance to the theme tune).
Bluey is an animation series telling the story of Bluey, a blue Australian dog, and his sister Bingo and their parents, a very loving and supportive, yet totally normal, family. Each episode is 7 minutes long and in the UK we have the first series of 52 episodes. (In Australia and America they now have a second season and a third has just been commissioned).
Each episode tells positive, uplifting and often funny stories of family life. It reminds me of times of ease, fun, friends and connection. Each episode has its own individual musical score which always helps create calm in our house and mean you never feel like you’re always hearing the same kids songs despite the amount of times this is played in our house. In fact the album of the show has just been released in Aus and it’s gone to number 1, the first children’s album to do so. And it’s number 42 in America. Much to the frustration of my husband, we cannot get the album in the UK. He’s even written to the production team to find out why!
So if you fancy a laugh while feeling like your kids are watching some more quality programming, then I highly recommend Bluey not only for its entertainment value but also for helping me and my husband understand kids play a lot more, helping us to connect with our inner child’s play a little more.
A couple of weeks ago I decided to delete Facebook and Instagram from my phone.
I’d never really thought I had an issue with social media. I never felt like it made me compare, or brought about any anxiety. But what I did recognise is that I always had my phone with me. I would mindlessly pick it up while in the middle of a TV programme, or when I got a spare couple of minutes from my children.
In the past I’ve created rules about leaving my phone in another room while watching TV which would feel really hard and would bring about a change but one which never really lasted.
So when my husband showed me the section of your phone which shows you the apps you spend the most time on and Instagram was at the top by a long way, I decided I was going to go cold turkey for a weekend. How hard could that be?
Actually once the app was gone, it wasn’t too hard. I picked my phone up a few times, and then put it down. And very quickly I pretty much never knew where my phone was. It suddenly detached itself from my soul.
And when Monday came, I reinstalled and realised I really didn’t care what was there, and didn’t feel a compulsion to post all the time.
In fact it reminded me of when I did an elimination diet some 15 years ago. After years of IBS I had gone through periods of giving up gluten and other foods for a few days only to decide I didn’t feel any better. Then after getting REALLY unwell and realising I had no choice but to work out what was wrong with me, I cut gluten out for 4 weeks and when I did introduce it it was so obvious to me how unwell it made me feel. And that’s what that first day felt like to me.
I realised I did actually compare. I did look at what others were doing and it crowded my thoughts. Despite teaching passionately about getting out of your head and into your body I realised the hours I spent mindlessly looking at other people in my industry was making my brain go into overdrive. I’d told myself this was inspiration but in fact it wasn’t. It was comparison. It stopped me from connecting to my intuition, to my soul to drive me, my family and my business forwards. It was stopping me connecting to my wisdom.
Now this is tricky when your job involves social media so I accept that I have to have some level of connection with instagram and Facebook but now 2 weeks on, I am still barely connecting to it instead only posting when it’s purely work related. I mean my kids might be cute but do you really need to see me baking or in the woods when you’re tearing your hair out just trying to get through the day? Because maybe what I was posting was bringing about the same thoughts in you?
So yes I will continue to use social media, but I hope in a more sustainable way for you and for me.
I recently began working again personally with my long term mentor Martine Moorby.
I started working with Martine in my late 20s in a midst of what I now know was a probable breakdown. I had left a boyfriend of 8 years and despite this being my decision I literally couldn’t stop crying. I first sought help with a psychotherapist, having seen a counsellor whilst at uni but without much benefit. After a few sessions he recommend Martine who he said was an expert on “emotions” and so my relationship with Martine was born.
She helped me realise that my crying was less about the break up and more about emotions I was carrying which I’d never processed. She helped me develop emotionally as I realised I literally didn’t understand how to understand my feelings and so I was often seen as “overly emotional” especially at work. She also introduced me to Reiki and spiritual health which I’d not known too much about and often dismissed as “woo woo” until her down to earth and logical approach resonated with me.
In a nutshell she helped me learn to connect to me, to my soul (there’s a reason that’s why the studio is called that) and to form better relationships with myself, my career and those around me.
Our relationship become a friendship over the years with me helping out with some marketing bits and pieces and her giving me space to talk through things like my miscarriages, feeling like I couldn’t experience joy when my daughter was born and a million other things. She regularly helps me to get out of my thinking brain (which I am always drawn to do, a perpetual over-thinker) and instead learn to feel emotions in my body. And here is where our synergy is, as this is what I love to do via my movement teaching.
Then 2020 happened and despite this being a year when I probably needed the most support: pandemic, new baby, new business and everything that goes with all of this, I did what I always did. I went numb emotionally and my thinking brain did a lot of overthinking - the strategy that has served me whenever survival has been called for over the years. But in January 2021, just as my son approached his first birthday I realised I needed to switch tracks again and begin to connect and to feel.
I also recognised that as a mum of two and with everything that we’re all experiencing right now I literally never have time for myself and that the way I was living just wasn’t sustainable. I was irritable and I didn’t like the kind of mum I was becoming. Plus I never had time to think about what I wanted. What MY goals were for the future and how to feel comfortable with uncertainty.
So I decided to book an online session and have since committed to a 90 minute session ever 2/3 weeks. Because having a space for me to talk, not about anything difficult I’ve really dealt with that stuff, but rather as a way to have space for me. To understand who I am and what brings me joy. And in fact that’s what I’ve been working on: joy.
To really spend time thinking about what makes me feel joyful. And let that feeling drive me, my business and my goals rather than my over thinking brain which mostly likes to tie me up in knots and burn me out.
And I’ve realised this is easier than it sounds. That it’s a practice. I’ve started using Reiki again, on myself, the children and my husband’s tennis elbow (!) which has helped me start to feel connected again. In a world where we’ve lost so much connection, to feel the wonder of the universe, the energy that’s around us and within us has felt really powerful and I can already begin to feel a shift. More of a sense of ease and space.
I’ve been working on really understanding things that make me feel “expansive” and things that make me feel “contracted”. To tune into the bodily feelings of the things that are joyful both in work and in life and also the things which I really don’t like to do. Not in a thinking head way but in a bodily energetic way. I’ve realised it’s a practice to really understand and trust a “gut feeling”. I don’t have any magical solutions to the challenges that face me and all of us collectively right now but I’m not sure anyone can actually have any real answer right now, but this approach has left me feeling much more positive. Much more connected to my family, to myself, to my own health. In short, cultivating living in a feeling of joy.
This experience is what led me to creating our newest challenge "A Moment for Me”. For you to find 10 minutes a day to move, breathe and connect each day for 10 minutes.
To see if 10 minutes can provide a positive shift in your energy, your mood, your body and you life.
We begin this challenge on 7th February (although you can start later!) and end it with a morning retreat on Saturday 20th February with a little movement from me and then a workshop from Martine taking your practice to a deeper, energetic and maybe spiritual level.
The humble squat. The king (or queen) of many a fitness class and for good reason. It’s functional and it packs a punch when toning those big leg muscles.
Are you noticing knee pain or back pain recently?
Maybe your workout technique is to blame and in particular, your squat technique.
I have been working with a number of clients on a 1:1 basis recently who have really embraced lockdown fitness getting into more upbeat workouts such as Les Mills, HiiT and running. But all were now experiencing pain in their body.
Two had knee pain.
One had planter fasciitis.
And one had lower back pain.
Working online with them meant I could see them in their home environment, with their home equipment and really see their form. And each was showcasing the same faulty pattern in their squat.
Because while a squat is a fantastic functional exercise, it’s also a movement that most western adults have lost the form of.
Because 80% of those in the east can do a full squat. Whereas 80% of us in the west cannot. WHY? Because we literally don’t squat in life, only possibly in an exercise class.
Just look at any child under 7 and they squat beautifully all the time. While watching TV, while playing a game, while eating a snack. But then, around the time we go to school and get put in a chair, we lose the ability to squat fully.
Then many years pass and we feel the need to get fit (which is great) and we’re back to squatting, often with weights to load our system. But what happens when you load a system which is faulty? Or simply not efficient?
Pain is what happens.
Maybe it’s a niggle, maybe it’s just an awareness or maybe it’s shouty pain. Your body is telling you something is not quite right. So maybe you think you need to battle on? Push through pain. This is part of the process.
You will simply end up having to give up the exercise you love. You need to listen to your body and address the imbalances. And that’s what Pilates is all about.
If this is you, then spend some time working on the basics for a functional squat. In particular working on maintaining your naturally spinal curves when squatting (in particular your lumber curves). This is a little video I did as part of one of our movement plans for those of you, like me, who struggle with the squat, especially a full squat.
Because while Pilates is a fanatic way to tone your body. I believe that its real power lies in how Pilates keeps your body strong, balance and with increased mobility so you can continue to do all the things you love to do. Running, hiking, climbing, surfing, hit, weight lifting, squash, golf, tennis. They all put demands on your body. They all ask for your body to be efficient.
So begin to add efficiency training into your routine and your body will seriously thank you.