You know how important a good night of sleep is: research has shown over and over that lack of sleep leads not only to impaired mental function, but physical ailments such as:
- Lowered libido
- Impaired immune function
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
But even with all of that, occasional trouble falling asleep strikes everyone at one time or another. While persistent insomnia can have many causes, some of which need to be treated by your doctor, meditation and yoga are both quite effective in relieving mental or physical stress that makes it hard to fall asleep.
Strike a Pose
A yoga pose, that is. Many traditional yoga poses help calm the mind and settle the body enough for sleep. On nights when you feel stressed, or keep tossing and turning instead of sleeping, slip out of bed and try some simple poses. Hold each pose for a few minutes, or until you feel relaxed, keeping your breathing slow and steady and your eyes closed. You don’t need to be a yogi for easy basics like:
Child’s pose: Sit on the floor with your legs folded underneath you, then bend forward until your forehead rests on the floor. You can either stretch your arms out straight beyond your head or keep them tucked in against your sides, whichever is most comfortable for you.
Knee hug: Lie on your back on your bed or a soft surface on the floor, then bend your knees up against your body, hugging them gently. Slowly rock from side to side.
Legs up the wall: Sit in front of an open stretch of wall, then lie back. Gently raise one leg straight up against the wall, and then the other.
Stretch both arms straight out from your body with palms upwards.
Reclining butterfly: Lie on your back in bed or on the floor. Bring the soles of your feet together, so that your knees open outward and your legs form a diamond shape. Gently rest one hand over your heart and the other hand over your belly.
Plow pose: Lie on your back on the floor. Bring your legs up and over your head until your toes touch the ground behind you. Use your hands to support your hips, or stretch them out straight along the floor.
Standing forward: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, then lean forward to touch your toes. Bend your knees if necessary to relieve strain and bring your fingers down to the ground.
To really reap the many benefits of yoga – which include not only better sleep and relaxation, but also increased balance and flexibility, relief of pain and stronger muscles – consider starting a regular yoga practice. Just about every city has a yoga studio or an athletic center that offers yoga classes, or try one of the many yoga-for-beginners DVDs that are available.
Think about It
Or rather, meditate your cares away. A brief before-bed meditation is a great way to quiet your mind enough to sleep.
Don’t think meditation is only beneficial if you spend hours cross-legged on the floor – even five or ten minutes can be very effective. There are several easy meditation techniques you can try.
Count your breath: One of the easiest methods of mindfulness meditation is to simply count your breaths. Lie comfortably in bed, and breath in slowly, counting “one” silently. Exhale slowly, counting “two.” Breathe in again for “three” and exhale for “four.” Now start over again at one. As you find other thoughts drifting into your mind, simply notice that you are thinking, then let the thought go.
Mantra: Meditating with a mantra is similar to counting your breaths. Instead of counting, however, silently repeat a chosen word or short phrase – it can be anything meaningful to you, or even a simple sound such as “Om” – on each inhale and exhale.
Sanctuary: Close your eyes and picture a place that feels calm and safe. It might be the ocean, a meadow filled with flowers, your backyard or even your childhood bedroom. Breathe slowly and evenly as you “explore” your place – imagine the sounds, the sights, the smells and the feel of your private sanctuary.
Progressive relaxation: Lie comfortably flat in bed. Focus on your toes, and imagine them relaxing and releasing any tension or stress. Now move up to your ankles, again focusing on releasing tension. Continue to move up your body, focusing on each body part in turn, and allowing that area to relax and release tightness or stress. Once you have reached your head, picture your entire body relaxed, peaceful and without tension.
Like yoga, meditation is a very beneficial routine to add to your day, with health benefits going far beyond the reduction of mental stress to include lowered blood pressure, relief of pain, help for depression and improvement in chronic health conditions. To deepen your meditation practice, try a local class, download a beginning meditation MP3 or check out YouTube for videos of basic techniques.