It’s Sunday night, and you’re tossing and turning restlessly as the hours tick by on your clock. No matter what you do, you cannot sleep. Over-stimulation, stress, and insomnia plague all of us occasionally, and some of us relentlessly. If you’ve tried counting sheep, drinking warm milk, and many other recipes for sleep to no avail, here are a few unusual methods that are helpful in turning off your mind, and turning on your slumber.
Use breath to move energy from your parasympathetic nervous system, to your sympathetic system
The automatic nervous system is made up of two parts: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic systems. The sympathetic system, which runs its main channel of energy along the right side of the spine up through the body, can be thought of as the motor for the outward movement of energy in the nervous system, as it is responsible for any increase in energy that triggers the nerves into action. However, over-stimulation of the sympathetic system will result in stress, increased blood pressure, anxiety and insomnia. It is the activity of the sympathetic system that keeps you up at night. In contrast, the parasympathetic nervous system, which travels up the left side of the spine through the body, has a slowing effect on the body’s energies. Its function is to calm the nerves, slow the heart rate, breath, and relax the body. This is the system you need to activate when you want to induce rest.
To balance an overworked sympathetic system, you can use left nostril breathing to initiate the parasympathetic system. To do it, simply close off your right nostril with the fingers of your right hand, and gently breathe long, slow, and deep through the left nostril only. Remain still as you notice the cooling energy that circulates through your body as you breathe in this way. Practice until you feel yourself sufficiently relaxed.
This technique does more than help you sleep; it also has a positive effect on the nervous, endocrine and immune systems. You can use it any time you need to calm, center, relax and cool yourself.
Dr. Weil’s 4 -7 -8 technique
This is a simple, yet effective, breathing technique popularized by Dr. Andrew Weil. According to Dr. Weil, if you do this twice a day for about four to six weeks, you will see wonderful changes in your body.
To do it, follow these steps:
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
- This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths
Notice that the inhale is always through the nose, and the exhale is always through the mouth. This exercise is said to increase the amount of oxygen in your body, which has a relaxing effect on your parasympathetic nervous system. The result is a calm, relaxed body and mind.
Shakti mudra for sleep
A mudra is a hand posture, or body position, that specifically connects the energy centers in the body, or nadis, in various ways in order to influence a desired effect. There are countless mudras you can use for any benefit imaginable. They are easy, simple, and can be performed by anyone. Here is one to try, called the Shakti mudra, to help you relax in order to get to sleep at night:
Using both hands, the pinky and ring fingers of each hand are touching. Thumbs are bent into the palms, and the other two fingers (index and middle) are wrapped over the thumbs. Hold the position for at least 15 minutes. Breathing should be calm, long and deep.
This mudra increases the impulse for respiration in the lower chest, which has a calming effect on the body. It also relieves tension, relaxes the pelvic area, and is even said to help ease the pain of intestinal discomfort or menstrual cramping. You can practice this 2-3 times a day. However, if you practice during waking hours take caution, for if it is held for too long it may leave you feeling overly sluggish. You might also consider holding this position while you meditate at the end of your day.
Stimulate the pineal gland
The backs of your knees is said to have a direct connection to the pineal gland, which is responsible for the production of the melatonin hormone in the body. To stimulate this center, gently rub and hold the backs of your knees for a minute or two. This simple movement will induce the feeling of sleepiness in short amount of time.
You can also try shining a light on the backs of the knees to stimulate this center. While there are no specific criteria for length of time for this, a minute or two should suffice – as any more than that may not be restful. This is a great one to use for small children to help them to settle and rest.
Another way to stimulate the pineal is simply to close your eyes and focus them up toward the point between your eyebrows, where your pineal gland is physically located. Gently furrow your brow as you do this. This action puts pressure on the pineal to produce melatonin. Practice with a gentle breath for two or three minutes, or while you meditate.
Crown to Brown
This is a personal favorite of mine for its simplicity and effectiveness. To do it, focus your awareness on the area on top of your head. This is the point of the crown chakra, a main gateway for life force energy to enter your body. Imagine this area to be brown in color, like the color of chocolate. Brown is an earth color, and its properties have a grounding effect on the energies of the body. When you imagine brown at the crown center, it works to ground all of the stuck mental energies that tend to collect there. This releases the energy and thus clears up space for you to relax and let go of the physical world for the day.
This one is so easy that you may think you are doing it wrong, but it truly only take a split second of thought. If you have trouble imagining the color brown on top of your head, instead try to imagine putting on a brown hat. This one simple thought will likely be the last one you have for the day.
Try these techniques in any combination or duration you choose. Every one of them is safe, easy to do, and do not require you to buy anything. Try one tonight for a restful and restorative slumber.
Sweet dreams to you!