Sleepless nights do not discriminate. And if you've ever lain awake thinking about commitments to work, school, family and friends, you're familiar with what a challenge it can be to turn all those thoughts off at the end of the day and relax, let alone fall asleep.
Enter meditation. Research indicates that practicing meditation may result in a slew of health benefits, from lowering blood pressure to easing the symptoms of anxiety and insomnia.
If you've never tried meditation, or think it sounds intimidating, the good news is that it's easy to get started. We've partnered with Sleep Number to present a beginner's guide to relaxing, meditative practices ― and you can start tonight.
“During meditation the brain emits alpha waveforms, and these are associated with relaxation,” says Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist and sleep specialist. “We also see things like a slowness in both breath and heart rate, which contribute to a more relaxed physical state.”
While there are many types of meditation practices, most of them call for the same four general elements: a quiet place to practice with limited distraction; a comfortable posture (sitting, lying or even walking are typical); focused attention on an object, your breath or a specific word or phrase; and, lastly, an open attitude.
Engage In Deep Breathing
“Simple breathing meditations are a nice way to start,” says Kelsang Dechok, a senior ordained teacher of Modern Buddhism at Chittamani Kadampa Meditation Center in Austin, Texas. Focus on taking slow, deep and even breaths. This should help produce the body's relaxation response (think slower breathing, lower blood pressure, and a sense of calm and well-being).
“The natural byproduct of meditating is that our stress and tension fall away and our racing thoughts that may often keep us awake will gradually subside,” says Dechok.
Do A Full 'Body Scan' (No Equipment Required)
As its name suggests, body scan meditation brings attention to different parts of the body and can help you locate and relieve areas of tension. This meditation can be practiced with the help of a guide (there are audio versions available online).
One study found that participants who practiced eight weekly at-home sessions of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program (which included body scan meditation) saw an increase in mindfulness and well-being, as well as a decrease in stress.
Practice Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This relaxation technique focuses on tensing and then releasing each muscle group. Tense each set of muscles for at least five seconds, relax for 30 seconds and then repeat.
“I really like progressive muscle relaxation,” says Breus. “It is a focused technique that causes a relaxation response and it can be done in bed.”
Repeat A Mantra
A mantra is a sound or vibration that can be repeatedly spoken, whispered or used silently to enter a state of meditation and prevent distracting thoughts. “Om” is a mantra that is commonly chanted during yoga (but there are many others).
“From a psychology viewpoint, when you are meditating you will have a focus” ― such as a mantra ― “and this presumably prevents you from thinking about other life aspects, many of which could be stressful,” says Breus. “This 'break' from reality can be very relaxing.”
Find Relaxation In Yoga
The health benefits of yoga have been touted for some time. Research shows that practicing yoga promotes recovery from anxiety and stress and improves sleep patterns. Hatha yoga combines poses with breathing techniques, meditation and relaxation, and is considered an excellent choice for those looking to manage stress. And there are no shortage of online resources that beginner yogis can use to get started.
Practice Tai Chi
Tai chi is an ancient Chinese tradition that has evolved into a form of exercise and meditative movement used to reduce stress and aid in other health issues. With its slow and gentle movement and focus on deep breathing, the practice is often referred to as “meditation in motion.” Research has also demonstrated tai chi's effectiveness in the reduction of insomnia.
There are plenty of online resources where beginners can learn the basics of tai chi. The Mayo Clinic offers a video on the basics of the practice as well. (Those with existing health conditions should consult their doctor before beginning any sort of new exercise regime.)
Another meditation perk: It's both inexpensive and as informal (or formal) as you'd like. If you want to go the formal route, consider taking a class at a local meditation center. “The talks and guided meditations offered at a class provide a foundation for developing a powerful meditation practice,” says Dechok.
Whether it's spending a quiet moment in lotus pose or taking 10 minutes to focus on deep breathing, meditative practices will have your mind quieted and you snoozing in no time.
“Meditation helps to overcome negative states of mind such as anger and jealousy, and to cultivate positive minds such as patience and love,” says Dechok. “When our mind is peaceful, calm and relaxed, it is easier to fall asleep.”
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