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Are you having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep? Do you wake up feeling unrefreshed? Perhaps you’ve noticed that your ability to function effectively is diminished or that you’re feeling tired and irritable a lot of the time. You may be suffering from insomnia. Short-term or transient insomnia is quite common and usually resolves by itself. However, insomnia is considered chronic if it persists beyond a few weeks.
Can meditation help in dealing with both transient and chronic insomnia? The answer is a resounding yes! There is an abundance of evidence that regular meditation can improve sleep patterns, often dramatically. Research indicates that an overly aroused sympathetic nervous system is an important causative factor in chronic insomnia. It follows that practices that reduce nervous system arousal, such as meditation, can be very effective in relieving insomnia.
Our nervous systems are usually excessively aroused by stress, tension, overindulgence in stimulants such as tea and coffee, use of drugs, habits like going to bed late, getting insufficient rest, too much stimulation in the evenings through the TV or computer, and indulgence in dietary habits that don’t suit our constitution. Usually, however, insomnia results primarily from mental and emotional stress. Meditation is particularly helpful because it directly relieves the body/mind from stress.
However, these practices are not intended as band-aid solutions for insomnia or any other problem. To deal with insomnia, we recommend undertaking self study to identify the factors that are behind the problem. Maybe you are stressed out at work, having relationship difficulties, or are worried about a sick relative. While you may not be able to change external situations in your life, you can definitely change your reaction to the stress factors. Let’s have a look at some of the things you can do.
Practice Sahaj Samadhi Meditation
Sahaj Samadhi meditation is an effortless practice using a primordial sound or mantra. This technique leads to very deep states of relaxation and is a wonderful antidote to stress, tension, fatigue, and negative emotional states.
If done for 20 minutes twice a day, morning and afternoon/early evening, it balances the nervous system and provides deeper rest than deep sleep. It is during these periods of deep rest that the body/mind is able to heal itself and reverse the physiological, biochemical, and emotional impact of stress.
If you have not learnt Sahaj Samadhi Meditation, you could register for the course
Guided meditations can also greatly help in relieving insomnia. Guided meditation CDs are available in the Art of Living Divine Shops. These include Shanti Meditation, Panchakosha Meditation, Om Meditation, and Hari Om Meditation.
Yogic sleep (also called Yoga Nidra), where we systematically take our awareness to different parts of the body while lying down, is also a great boon to insomnia sufferers, especially if practiced just before sleep. A Yoga Nidra practice guided by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is available and highly recommended.
Before embarking on a practice, please seek the help of an experienced meditation teacher, who can provide specific advice tailored to your situation.
Do Alternate-Nostril Breathing and Breath Observation Meditation
Just before sleep, sit comfortably on your bed and take some smooth breaths. Let your left hand rest palm up on your thigh and bring your right hand up to your nose. Gently rest the index and middle fingers of your right hand above and between the eyebrows. Relax your right shoulder and arm. Exhale gently through both nostrils and then inhale through the left while blocking your right nostril with your thumb. Blocking your left nostril with the ring finger gently, exhale slowly through the right nostril. Now inhale through the right and exhale through the left. This is one round. After a couple of rounds, in a very relaxed manner, measure the duration of your inhalation and exhalation. Adjust your breath so that the exhalation is about twice as long as your inhalation. To achieve this, you may need to shorten your inhalation rather than lengthening your exhalation. It is important not to strain. Let the breath be very smooth and comfortably slow. After about five minutes, finish the ongoing round and relax.
Now turn your attention to your natural breath. Give more focus to the outgoing breath. Easily and without effort, be aware of the outgoing breath and the natural pause at the end of the exhalation. Don’t deliberately attempt to change the naturally occurring pattern of the breath in any way. Whenever your mind wanders—which it will—very gently bring it back to the exhalation. Don’t try to concentrate or be concerned if your mind is quite busy. Continue for 5 minutes up to a maximum of 10 minutes and then relax. Lie down and enjoy the peaceful feeling.
You can also use alternate-nostril breathing if you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep.
Summary of tips to alleviate insomnia:
1 - Practice meditation regularly twice a day for about 20 minutes – Sahaj Samadhi Meditation or one of the guided meditations led by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Seek the guidance of an experienced meditation instructor to determine the practices that would suit you best. 2 - Practice alternate-nostril breathing with a 1:2 breath ratio and breath observation meditation or Yoga Nidra before sleeping. 3 - If you wake up in the middle of the night, practice alternate-nostril breathing with a 1:2 breath ratio. 4 - Consult a meditation expert for any specific advice tailored to your situation.
Inspired by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's wisdom Talks
Written by Chris Dale, Advance Meditation Course teacher