Many students come to me with an ache or pain and want to know what they can do about it. My first question is always: Do you sleep on your back?
If you're not sleeping on your back, then no amount of massage or physical therapy or chiropractic work will make your pain go away.
This is because sleeping on your stomach and your side pulls the body out of optimal alignment, sometimes for 8 hours at a time, every day, all year, for your whole life, and creates patterns in your muscles.
Even if these patterns get released through bodywork, you’re simply throwing your body out of alignment again the next time you sleep.
The Anatomy of Stomach Sleeping
There is a huge group of muscles that connect your skull to your sacrum, called the paraspinals.
So, when you sleep with your head turned to one side and your knee out (or any other prone position you can imagine), some of your muscles are being used more than others. That's why, even though your neck is turned to one side all night, you may not have neck pain, but instead you have hip or knee pain.
It’s all connected.
The Emotional Side of Stomach Sleeping
Sleeping on our stomach is soothing. It’s our way of protecting ourselves. All of our sense organs are in front of our body, and if somebody were to attack you, the front is what you would try to protect. Sleeping on your back leaves all those things vulnerable.
Emotionally, sleeping on your stomach could mean that there is something in your life that needs to be resolved. If you’ve been sleeping on your stomach all your life, it may be something you don’t even remember anymore! It’s still there, because our bodies remember all of our emotions. If you try sleeping on your back and find that you just can’t get comfortable, you are harboring something that needs to be released.
How To Become A Back Sleeper
Here is an exercise that my teacher, Gina Schatz, taught me. Choose three or four consecutive nights that you can do without getting a full night’s sleep. (A weekend could work great for this.)
Go to sleep with a notebook and try to fall asleep on your back. If you have trouble sleeping, write down everything that's on your mind, from your grocery list to your worry about paying the bills on time.
The practice of writing everything down is a way to sift through all the chatter going on in your mind that might be covering up the real issue. It helps you cut through the proverbial bull-sh*t and get to the real source of your emotional stress.
When you get to that point, release whatever it is you are holding onto. You may find that to do this, you’ll have to have a serious talk with your child, or you have to cancel a few of your credit cards, or get back in touch with an estranged relative, or visit a parent’s grave.
Whatever it is, find a way to let it go.
After doing this exercise, you'll probably find that it’s not as difficult to sleep on your back comfortably anymore. You’ll repattern your body so that the muscles and bones are in optimal alignment, and then your doctor, massage therapist, or chiropractor will really be able to address any pain without it recurring.