's books, audio programs, webinars, and workshops have allowed thousands to access the physical, psychological, and spiritual benefits of meditation. In Opening to Meditation
, Diana has drawn on her wide experience studying spiritual teachings from around the world and put together a gentle, guided approach to meditation that is very easy to implement. We hope you’ll enjoy this article in which Diana offers four helpful tips for using meditation to relax the mind and get back to sleep.
There are times in life when we just cannot sleep. We roll over and toss and turn, coming wide awake and hoping to fall back to sleep again. Whether it be for short, intermittent periods during stressed and challenging times or long years of sleeplessness caused by chronic tension, insomnia can be like the quiet beast in the dead of night that slowly drains our energy, making us vulnerable and weary, tired and depressed.
If insomnia becomes chronic, we may find ourselves taking natural remedies like melatonin or magnesium, but if those don’t work we could end up reaching for alcohol or other kinds of drugs, including stronger, pharmaceutical medications, in our basic biological need to fall asleep.
Most of what keeps us awake is stress. And meditation can be just the thing to relax the mind to let ourselves deeply rest and sleep.
When we worry, we create stress hormones and chemistry that tell the body that something is wrong. This can trigger the sympathetic nervous system, which is the part of the autonomic nervous system that is responsible for producing the fight-or-flight response. When this occurs, these stress hormones can elevate, causing the heart rate to increase and blood pressure to rise. To us, this feels like nervousness, worry, or anxiety — and this tension can literally keep us up all night.
When the body is tense, the sympathetic nervous system is telling the body there is danger and to be ready. Anything as ordinary as watching the news before you go to sleep or playing a game on your smartphone can create stress chemistry in the body that affects your entire body and your sleep pattern.
So how do we get back to sleep? For thousands of years, meditation breathing techniques have helped people get back to sleep by inducing a biology of relaxation. This is good news because breathing isn’t something we need to buy or go to a doctor for. We can simply breathe!
When we feel safe, when we are relaxed, the body begins to quickly counter the fight-or-flight response that originates from stress. We can easily replicate the relaxation response by changing our breath patterns. The breath is the governor that both responds to and controls the stress reaction.
But, believe it or not, there is a correct way to breathe to induce relaxation, and many of us are not doing this. So here are the things to remember:
1. Don’t hold your breath.
This is probably the most important thing I could tell you about breathing. When the breath is stressed, the body is stressed, and when the breath is held, it very quickly affects the autonomic nervous system, which starts the neural/chemical chain of response that can eventually trigger fight-or-flight. Just by remembering to breathe, you can induce relaxation throughout your whole physiology.
2. Breathe deeply.
Start to take deeper breaths — always through the nose — on both the inhalation and exhalation. Try inhaling for three to five seconds, then exhaling for the same. When you can’t sleep, try doing ten of these deep breaths in a row. This will start to change your physiology and create a calm, meditational state that will help you sleep.
3. Make sure your breath is not “reversed.”
This is less known but very, very important in terms of your mental state and also your physical one. When the breath is natural, the belly gently expands as you inhale and contracts as you exhale. When this breathing pattern is reversed because of mental or physical tension, the whole body begins to react in a series of autonomic responses like dominos that can trigger a stressed state. You can’t meditate if you are stressed. And you definitely can’t sleep.
You can check your breathing now. Put your hand on your belly. As you inhale, your belly should gently expand. When you exhale, your belly should gently contract. If it’s not doing that, the body is stressed and in a reversed pattern. Changing this one aspect can help you get back to sleep and also improve your immune system and overall health.
4. Finally, add a phrase or a meditation affirmation. As you are breathing in this natural and healthy way, repeat something like this to yourself:
I am relaxed and at ease.
I breathe out tension with every exhalation.
All is well with me.
This will further deepen your state of relaxation. In doing it, you are actually performing a mini-meditation. You are teaching yourself to relax on demand. You will begin to realize that you have control over your body and emotions in ways you hadn’t realized, and finally, finally, get back to sleep.
is the author of Opening to Meditation
and the owner and director of the LifeWorks Center for Growth in Los Angeles, where she lives. She is also active in a variety of nonprofit international efforts to teach meditation and yoga. Visit her online at www.dianalang.com.
Based on the book Opening to Meditation: A Gentle, Guided Approach. Copyright © 2004, 2015 by Diana Lang.