July 4, 2013


Sleeping, useful tension, and the breath

How many of you have trouble sleeping? If the reading group of this blog is in any way like the groups that I deal with on workshop all around the world the answer is, from time to time at least, not very well. I am not interested in canvassing the many possible reasons here as in relation to what I want to talk about today they are simply not relevant. Today is a quick post about solutions to poor sleeping: and when I say ‘poor sleeping’, I mean having eight or more hours in bed and waking up exhausted the next day.

I want to canvas physical approaches that are likely to be successful in moving to a good nights sleep. I’ll divide what I want to talk about today into the categories of those who have trouble sleeping with they first go to bed, and those who can’t get back to sleep after they’ve been woken by something in the middle of the night.

For the first group who have trouble getting to sleep I strongly recommend the tension– relaxation plus breathing approach. This is a two-tier method: invariably, when unable to get to sleep, you are thinking about something; the two-tier approach simply gives the mind something else that will lead to sleep for it to focus on instead.

Lie on your back, without a pillow, arms down by your sides. Begin by selecting a body part (I always begin with the right foot) and point that foot slowly and gently, in the beginning, and then increase the effort, feeling the sensations. As soon as it becomes too painful or the calf muscle actually cramps, release the effort and slowly draw the toes up to the knee: feel the muscle tension release completely and feel it replaced by the stretching sensation along the back of the leg. Immerse yourself in these sensations as deeply as you can.

Now move your awareness around the body, and repeat the tighten-then-slowly stretch regimen for all parts that lend themselves to this. You will find the hands and arms particularly sensation string, and perhaps the muscles of the jaw, too.

Once you have completed the movements around the whole body, turn your attention to your breathing. Simply become aware of the suite of sensations that accompany each breath in, and out. Feel the differences in the heat/moisture of the air on the way in compared to the way out: many things to be felt there. As you breathe in, say to yourself, “rising”; as you breathe out, say “falling”, and feel all the sensations in the abdomen and chest that are always there, but which we do not feel, because our awareness is (once again!) locked onto what the mind is saying. From time to time, try saying, “as I breathe out, I am totally relaxed, body and mind” (or, simply, “totally relaxed, body and mind”). Actually let your body ‘melt’ deeper into the mattress or futon and bring all your attention to the sensations of what relaxing feels like. As you feel all these sensations—if you can let yourself feel them—you will drift off to sleep.

If you find that you wake up in the middle of the night worrying about something, or if not perceiving the body states to be in ‘worrying mode’, nonetheless thinking about something then this is the route I recommend for you. Do not use the tension–relaxation part of the method above; simply use the breathing/feeling/talking to yourself part. The key to distracting the mind from its incessant thinking (or turning over whatever it is that is occupying it) is to give it another task, and one that’s more likely to lead to sleep. You will have little success if you try to stop your mind; you will have better luck as a professional cat herder. No, it must be distracted!

If (still talking about the awake in the middle of the night group) despite your best efforts you find yourself wide awake, do not stay in bed getting anxious. No one has ever died from insufficient sleep, not one person, believe it or not. Get up and do something; reading a book is good—and when you feel tired again, go back to bed and repeat the breathing exercise. The reason we want to get out of bed to do this is to make sure that the association between bed and sleep is reinforced instead of broken down (and this is the reason behind recommending that you do not watch TV or movies in bed, either).

I have recorded many relaxation scripts at different venues around the world and all are available free over at the Forums. The script that takes you through the tension–relaxation, then breathing, exercise can be downloaded by clicking HERE. It is in .mp3 format already, so save it and load into your iTines or MP3 player and it will be recognised as a sound file immediately.

There are many more over at the FORUMS, in the “five Rs” threads. Deep, rejuvenating, sleep is necessary for optimal health, so get cracking!

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