01/07/2020 Mind-Body Health
In today’s world, sleep is often overlooked, undervalued, or taken for granted. Here are eight meditations and practices you can try to help you get the restful sleep your body and mind need.
“Do but consider what an excellent thing sleep is … that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.”—Thomas Dekker
Sleep is a foundational component of the human experience. Along with wakefulness and dreaming, sleep is one of the three most familiar states of consciousness you experience on a daily basis. Despite its primary importance, however, in a modern busy life, sleep is often overlooked, undervalued, or taken for granted. In truth though, the importance of quality sleep cannot be overstated.
Modern research is just beginning to probe the mystery and value of getting a good night’s sleep, and while there is much to learn about what takes place in your mind and body during this state of rest, several key benefits to quality sleep have been identified, such as:
- Enhanced concentration, productivity, and cognition
- Reduced risk of weight gain
- Lowered risk of heart disease
- Reduced inflammation
- Strengthened immune function
- Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes
Clearly, getting quality sleep is important to your long-term well-being. But sometimes falling asleep and staying asleep can be challenging. Life stresses, mental turbulence, and lifestyle choices might make getting 40 winks difficult. Fortunately, the teachings of Ayurveda, yoga, and mind-body wellness have several time-honored solutions to help you drift off to dreamland. Consider the following suggestions not as hard-and-fast rules, but as tools to keep in your good night’s sleep tool bag.
1. Redefine How You Think About Sleep
It’s common to think about sleep as simply a period of unconsciousness in which you are “switched off” to rest each night. But that definition really sells sleep short. Instead, consider redefining sleep as the following: a period of planned rest that allows your body to restore, recover energy, grow, and process the day’s activity.
In this definition, sleep goes from being something that happens to you—such as conking out at the end of the day from sheer exhaustion—to an activity that you deliberately and mindfully engage in on purpose. An especially powerful word in the new definition is planned. Making sleep something that you consciously prepare for helps you get the most of the period of rest your mind and body need.
2. Create a Sleep Routine
A sleep routine really boils down to setting yourself up as a successful sleeper. The choices you make as you’re getting ready for bed will either help or hinder your ability to sleep well each night.
Ayurveda makes several simple yet effective recommendations for establishing an evening routine that helps create the preconditions for a good night’s sleep. In addition to these recommendations, performing a series of gentle yoga poses can further prepare your mind and body for sleep.
3. Try Pre-Sleep Breathing Exercises
Your breath is not only an indicator of your state of overall mind-body balance, but also a powerful tool to enhance stillness, peace, and tranquility. Slow, deep, conscious breathing activates the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, which governs relaxation and restoration, as well as digestion and elimination.
Two breathing exercises in particular, Nadi Shodhana and Ujjayi, can have a very soothing and calming effect on your mind and body. Even simple, full, slow breaths can help to power down the stress of the day, settling you down for a good night’s rest.
4. Perform Recapitulation
Recapitulation is an exercise designed to help you unpack your mental luggage from the day’s activity. By doing this, you help your mind “close out” any pending items and detach from the past 24 hours. It allows you to settle into sleep without carrying any residual stress or mental toxins into your sleep cycle.
To perform recapitulation, try the following:
- Lie or sit comfortably in your bed.
- Close your eyes and relax your body. Have the intention to witness your day’s activity.
- Now, in your mind’s eye, go back to the first thing you remember from the day (e.g., waking up, sitting up in bed, walking to the bathroom, etc.).
- Playback your day from that point forward, watching it unfold like an impartial observer. Imagine a film reel unspooling each event, one after another until you reach the present moment. Don’t allow yourself to become stuck on any one event or period. This process should only take 3–5 minutes.
- Once complete, say to yourself, “Having witnessed this day, I release these events and images; they now exist in my memory. I can let them go and fall into a deep, peaceful sleep.”
5. Do a Body Scan
A simple pre-sleep meditation technique is a basic body scan in which you effortlessly float your awareness over your body, releasing tension and stored up stresses from the day’s activity.
To perform the body scan, try the following:
- Lie comfortably in bed with your eyes closed.
- Take several deep full breaths, consciously relaxing into each exhalation.
- Now become aware of your body. Notice the sensations, feelings, temperature, weight, and positions of your limbs, torso, head, and neck.
- Bring your attention to the crown of your head and like a slow, steady beam of awareness, draw your attention downward over your face, head, jaw, and neck. Have the intention to release any tightness, tension, or discomfort that you notice.
- Continue scanning down into your collarbones, shoulders, upper arms, chest, back, and torso. Feel free to take your awareness as deep into your body as you like.
- Exhale the beam further down through your abdomen, lower back, forearms, hands, fingers, legs, feet, and toes.
- Take a deep breath and release any remaining tightness or tension as you settle down into the stillness of sleep.
6. Try a Silent Chakra Toning
Chakras are the psycho-physiological energy centers that reside within the subtle body. Each chakra is associated with core physical and psychological needs. Seated along the spinal column, the seven primary chakras can often become imbalanced during daily events.
A simple, yet powerful chakra-balancing meditation practice can help realign the energy of the chakras, restoring mind-body harmony and paving the way for a night of restful sleep.
7. Practice an Ocean Meditation
Another simple yet soothing visualization technique is the ocean meditation. This technique aligns your breathing with flowing images of the ocean waves to lull you into a deep, restorative sleep.
To perform the ocean meditation, try the following:
- Lie comfortably in bed and close your eyes.
- Take a few deep breaths and relax your body completely.
- Now imagine a seashore on the screen of your awareness. Watch the flowing waves as they pull away from the beach and then roll back in against the sand.
- Becoming aware of your breathing, softly inhale as the wave draws out to sea.
- Then, on the exhalation, see the wave come back against the shore. In and out, the waves are aligned to your breathing.
- As you continue, feel your awareness merging into the waves themselves, creating a soothing rhythm that effortlessly rocks you to sleep.
8. Perform a Sleeping Mantra
If your mind is especially turbulent, you may wish to try a mantra meditation practice. The use of a mantra (mental instrument) helps to interrupt the mind’s perpetual thought traffic, allowing a stillness to establish itself in your awareness. As the thoughts begin to settle, stress is dissipated, allowing your mind and body to settle into sleep.
To perform the sleep mantra meditation, try the following:
- Lie comfortably in bed with your eyes closed.
- Effortlessly introduce the sleep mantra Om Agasthi Shahina (Ōm Ah-gah´-stee Shah-ee´-nah) into your awareness.
- Repeat the mantra softly and silently to yourself with no particular speed or pitch.
- Whenever you become aware that your attention has been drawn away to another thought, sound, or sensation, easily return to the mantra.
- Continue repeating the mantra for as long as comfortable or until you merge effortlessly into sleep.
Consider these tools allies on the path to a restful night’s sleep. May they unlock the healing and restorative slumber your mind and body deserve. Sweet dreams!
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; it does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs.
Ready to start flowing with the Universe, instead of against it? Learn a natural, effortless style of meditation that helps make every day feel easy, fresh, and fulfilling with Basics of Meditation, a self-paced online course guided by Deepak Chopra. Learn More.