Learning to relax effectively, and when you want to, should have a dramatic effect on your ability to go to sleep, stay asleep and generally get more from your waking hours. After activating our stress responses, we need effective ways to rebalance, this is where relaxation exercises like meditation, muscle relaxation and yoga can help.
Here are some very immediate ideas that you can try when you are lying in your bed. First, prepare your environment to ensure it is conducive to relaxation. The checklist below may be helpful when setting the scene.
- When you are relaxed your body temperature drops, so make sure the room is warm enough to accommodate this change, but not too stuffy.
- Dress in your sleepwear, and then you won’t have to disrupt your mood by changing before bed.
- Use a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign to ensure peace and quiet; you may also want to put on low music to drown out background noise.
As well as unwinding tight muscles, which can mean an uncomfortable and unrefreshing rest, meditation can calm an anxious mind and keep us from lying awake until the small hours fretting needlessly over small worries.
The classic image is of someone sitting cross legged with their eyes closed, quietly chanting. This, of course, is just one way of approaching meditation.
If you are pressured for time and feel pulled in several directions, the mere thought of meditation may seem impossible, so give yourself permission to take time out from your stressful environment. Sit in a quiet space, on a straight back chair (the support will help open up the lungs), and place a hand on your stomach.
Consciously try to fill your lungs with slow, long breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth. It may take a little practice, but you will know it is working if you feel your stomach rise and fall under your hand. Repeat this until you feel calm again.
Once you have mastered the practice, you can use it anywhere – in your own living room or even in the office.
Those who find it hard to attain the requisite discipline for meditation could benefit from focusing on an object, such as a candle or flower. An initial worry when people begin meditating or the first time is the way that many thoughts start crowding into your mind, just as you are trying to escape from them.
This is a natural process and with time and practice you will find it much easier to leave those thoughts to one side. To block these thoughts out, try to concentrate instead on your object or your breathing.
Sometimes, no matter how much you need it, sleep just won’t seem to come. Learning simple breathing exercises can help. In yoga this is called diaphragmatic breathing, and is profoundly relaxing.
Using your abdomen, not your chest, breathes through your nose for three seconds, then breathe out through your mouth for three seconds.
Pause for three seconds before repeating. Practice for ten minutes each night and you may find that you don’t remember doing the last few exercises!
Research has shown that imagining a place of calm, like a favorite holiday destination, can also help speed the onset of sleep – it has even been shown to be more effective than counting sheep. This method, called creative visualization, is a very simple process to learn.
Lie in your bed (try the ‘Corpse’ yoga position) and visualize a serene place. Imagine all the sensations that come with this place – the warmth of the sun on your skin, the babbling sound of a mountain stream and even the sweet scent of the grass.
This process can be used in conjunction with progressive muscular relaxation. Once relaxed, you can start focusing on your breathing, and imagining the stresses and tensions of your muscles, as a color or sensation, leaving your body as you breathe out.
Progressive Muscular Relaxation
This systematic relaxation of the muscle groups is a useful technique for anyone who finds themselves tense and agitated at the end of the day. It is a widely acknowledged fact that anxiety, stress, depression and emotional distress can all cause muscle fatigue and tightness.
Working on these muscle groups and releasing contractions can therefore help ease the problems that put the tension there in the first place. A physiologist called Dr Jacobson devised PMR to achieve this state of relaxation.
Concentrate on tightening a specific group of muscles, hold the contraction and then slowly release the tension, breathing out, with a sigh through the mouth as the tension ebbs away.
Visualizing this outward flow of stressful energy will enhance the effect. Repeat on various other muscle groups. As with any form of relaxation, the effectiveness of the technique and your sensitivity to it will improve with practice and you will soon be able to relax at will.
Designed to unify the body and mind, yoga promotes strength, good health and inner peace. It has many separate disciplines and can be invaluable in combating insomnia – even a beginner can reap the benefits.
Central to effective yoga practice is learning to understand and gain control of your breathing. This can be of great help, even when we don’t combine it with the specific poses.
Breathing helps us to calm anxieties and clear our mind when we find ourselves under pressure.
Although there are many yoga books and videos available, it is useful to attend a class while you are getting to grips with the basics. Once these basics are mastered, you can then do them pretty much wherever you like.
If practiced regularly, stamina, flexibility, muscle tone, strength and energy levels will all improve. The ability to calm the mind, enter a relaxed state and improve your mood and sense of well-being will also be in your grasp.
Choosing the right class and exploring new forms are vital for anyone hoping to get the most from yoga. The main types are explained below.
Hatha yoga is the most accessible type for a beginner to take up and you will find that many classes practice this form. ‘Ha’, meaning sun, and ‘tha’, meaning moon, join to mean ‘union’, and the practice is designed to unite physical and spiritual harmony, and promote good physical health.
Yoga sequences, such as Sun Salutations, can help you to stretch and wind down for bed – and exercise performed throughout the day aids bedtime rest, too.
Iyengar yoga is very precise, with 12 tightly controlled postures. It can appear slow and seemingly straight forward to the untrained eye, but it takes time to master and to find the correct balance. It is excellent for muscle tone, posture and peace of mind.
Kundalini yoga includes chanting and breath work as well as postures. It is said to be the best form for those looking for a spiritual element. It is also good for prenatal women and those after a youthful appearance.
Sivananda and Jivamukti yoga are more meditative forms, and include an incense-scented ritual. Clearing the mind of stress is integral to these forms of yoga, so it is good for those hoping to alleviate worries and negative thought cycles.
The most athletic form of yoga is Astanga yoga, which offers a cardiovascular workout. It has fat-burning and toning results, but is very demanding and not always ideal for a beginner. lt is, however, excellent for those with experience and who are looking for a bigger challenge.
Bikram yoga uses the principle that heat will help aid movement and flexibility. The room is heated to around 38″C (100′F), and you sweat out all your toxins while getting your body into some amazing positions.
Unwinding the body is essential if you want to get a good night sleep, so the following basic yoga posture for relaxation should help free up your mind and body.
In yoga this pose is often practiced between especially difficult poses and used to take the muscles and mind into a place of deep relaxation. Lie on the floor with your legs slightly apart and your arms slightly outstretched. You should feel utterly natural, as if you have just flopped down on the grass in the sunshine.
Avoid pointing your toes or clenching your fists. The back of your hands should be touching the floor and your palms should point skyward. You may find that your muscles twitch or you want to stretch out your limbs, and this is the tension in your muscles making itself known.
To combat this, try to imagine that you are extremely heavy and that the floor is supporting you. You can lie for as long as you like, but stay for at least five minutes. This is also a useful pose for meditation.
INVITING PARTNERS TO THE SANCTUARY ADVICE FOR LOVERS
Around two-thirds of us do not regularly sleep alone. Sometimes, however, our sleep problems mean we don’t sleep together at all – in all senses of the word. Sleep problems are infectious; lying next to someone with sleep difficulties can mean that we soon end up sleepless, too. One of the first areas to suffer when we are overtired is our sex life.
Physical exhaustion and emotional hurt from unpleasant exchanges as a result of short fuses may leave us defensive and shaken. These upsets are just some of the reasons intimacy is neglected. The benefits of physical intimacy and an active sex life are well documented.
Sex relieves stress and boosts our immune systems. By making it a rewarding part of our lives again, we can experience a renewal in our physical energy and our relationships.
We are often so busy trying to make the most of our free time, because of demanding schedules, that time alone together becomes low on our list of priorities.
Refusing a dinner invitation to stay in together alone, not always eating in front of the TV in a distracted daze after a long day, and asking the simple question, ‘How was your day?’, are all ways of getting your relationship back on track’ Take advantage of our 24-hour society and get your groceries delivered so that you can spend Saturday morning in bed, instead of trailing round the supermarket.
You have to put time and talking back at the top of your list in order to rediscover the desired level of intimacy. Bed is a naturally intimate place that can also be used as a private retreat for couples where they can connect emotionally as well as physically.
Deploy the Aphrodisiacs
Assuming you have followed the earlier advice on making your bedroom a serene and sensuous space, you are now ready to use the rest of the tactics in the lover’s campaign.
Before They Got Home
Take a relaxing bath with 3-5 drops of oils of lavender or mandarin oil in it before your lover gets home. Then put on something you know they like and that you feel good wearing.
Essential rose mixed as body oil is said to heal matters of the heart and release anger at the self and others, including the feeling of betrayal or resentment. It replaces those negative feelings with ones of love and affection – great if you have been arguing.
On The Table
A dinner away from the clamor of a restaurant is a clear sign that you have something special in mind, and anticipation is wonderfully arousing. Try serving aphrodisiac foods, such as asparagus, oysters, celery or parsnips, ginger or cinnamon. Even if your loved one isn’t sensitive to them, the message you send by serving them can be an aphrodisiac in itself.
Burning oils is a subtle way of changing the mood. Your partner will also start to associate the scent with your romantic intentions. Use musky, heady scents, such as cedar, sandalwood and ylang ylang, to create a sensual and relaxed atmosphere in the bedroom.
As smell is the most evocative of all the senses, aromatic oils, candles and incense can be very effective in initiating a mood for romance and intimacy. Jasmine rose, patchouli, orange, sandalwood, rosewood and ylang ylang are an ideal accompaniment to seduction. Use oils in a burner or make up a massage blend for you both.
Massage is a great way to make each other feel valued and central to each other’s world and can be an effective prelude to lovemaking. The more you use it, the more your mind will associate it with romance. Try this blend of essential oils to promote tenderness and connection:
- 2 drops of geranium
- 2 drops of cedarwood
- 3 drops of ylang ylang
- 3 drops of lavender
- 10 drops of a carrier oil of your choice, such as olive, sunflower or almond oil.
Hopefully this tips can give you a better techniques and steps to get a good sleep at night.