Sweet Dreams with Ayurveda
Sleep is a way to nourish our body, mind and spirit and is an essential component of good health and peace of mind. Experiencing a deep sleep is when little or no energy is consumed. This quiet state gives the body and mind a chance to renew, refresh and restore themselves.
Today's over-stimulating lifestyle often keeps our minds and bodies tense throughout the day. Many people, despite spending 8-12 hours in bed, wake up feeling exhausted. Without the practice of relaxation, the person may only experience light sleep or a dream state where energy is still being expended. The restful state of deep sleep may never be reached.
Without proper sleep, our bodies have no energy and our minds are inefficient. Loss of sleep, or insomnia, interferes with our ability to work and think clearly. Our bodies feel heavy, lethargic and sometimes achy. The appetite is weakened and digestion is impaired.
Some common causes of insomnia are:
- Fear & Insecurity
- Work pressures
- Excessive exercise or travel
Ayurveda offers ancient advice including dietary guidelines, herbal remedies, yoga and meditation to help alleviate the cause of insomnia and ensure a restful night's sleep.
Make sure that you are setting aside enough time for sleep. Some people do not need as much sleep as others, but generally six to seven hours of sleep is sufficient for most. People with a predominately Vata constitution may benefit from more hours of sleep, while Kaphas benefit from less. If you are not getting enough sleep, go to bed earlier. Generally, it is not recommended to sleep during the day.
According to Ayurveda, it is not just what you eat, but bringing awareness to when, where and how you eat that ensures good digestion. Good digestion is essential for a relaxed body and mind. Here are some simple tips for stress-free eating:
- Eat slowly, in a relaxed manner.
- Keep your diet simple, fresh and nutrious, preferably organic and vegetarian.
- Eat only when you are hungry.
- Eat in a pleasant and calm environment.
- Do not overeat or drink in excess.
- Take a deep breath after finishing a meal and before your next activity.
- Do not eat right before bed.
Ashwagandha, brahmi and bhringaraj are all excellent Ayurvedic herbs used to ease anxiety and promote sleep. Banyan's Tranquil Mind is formulated to soothe and calm the nerves without creating dullness or lethargy. This synergistic blend of herbs balances mental activity, releases excess vata and promotes sound, restful sleep.
Many of us feel like we are on the go all day long. Every action of the body and mind uses energy. It is easy to see how a work environment creates stress, but what most people do not realize is that various forms of entertainment and even maintaining a social life can leave the body more tense than relaxed. One of the keys to relaxation is to reduce the number of stimuli to which we are subjected. Find some down time during the day to relax. This can make the body and mind's transition to sleep easier when it's time for bed.
- Take a walk in nature.
- Listen to music. Sing along.
- Try aromatherapy or have fresh flowers around.
- Massage the soles of your feet and crown of your head with brahmi oil.
- Sip and enjoy a cup of warm milk before bed.
It is important to realize that the stresses in our lives come not from outside situations, but our own mental and emotional reactions to them. Keeping peace of mind involves a positive mental attitude. Meditation is an effective way to reduce stress, dissolve anxieties and invite a sense of calm to your mind.
- Sit quietly, firmly rooted, focusing on the crown of your head and your breath.
- Bring your awareness to the natural rhythm of your breath.
- Notice the gentle inhalation, exhalation and the short pause of retention in between.
- If the mind begins to wander, invite it back to the breath.
- Allow thoughts to ebb and flow with the breath, staying perfectly present to each moment.
- Practice meditating 10-20 minutes every day.
Practicing yoga is very therapeutic for the body. One of the most calming and soothing postures or asanas for the entire nervous system is Savasana or Corpse Pose. This pose gives total relaxation to the body reducing physical, mental and emotional stress and strain and fatigue of all kinds.
Follow these simple steps for Savasana and practice before bedtime:
- Lie on back, gently tucking chin and extending through the crown of the head.
- Allow arms to rest slightly away from the sides of the body, palms facing upwards.
- Relax the legs, allowing them to roll naturally open from the hip joint. Toes will be pointing away from each other.
- Draw an imaginary line down the center of the body, noticing the symmetry of shoulders and hips.
- Close the eyes and allow the eyeballs to sink back in their sockets.
- Breathe normally with full awareness. Make the breath soft and effortless.
- Allow the mind to descend toward the heart, passively watching each inhalation and exhalation.
- Remain in this pose for 5-30 minutes.
- Slowly and gently bring awareness back to all parts of the body. Gradually transition to a seated position.
Yogic breathing exercises or pranayama is an excellent way to revitalize prana within the body. Pranayama is a practice in controlling the breath. The breath is a bridge linking the body and mind. Pranayama cleanses and strengthens the physical body while calming and clearing the mind.
During deep abdominal breathing or full yogic breathing, inhalation happens in three stages. Firstly, the diaphragm moves downward into the abdomen, drawing air into the lowest part of the lungs. Then the intercostal muscles expand the rib cage moving air into the middle part of the lungs. Lastly, air comes into the upper part of the chest causing the clavicles to gently rise.
Try this practice before bed to promote relaxation:
- Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position or in a chair or lay on the floor.
- Keep the spine long and relaxed, with chin slightly tucked towards the chest.
- Place one hand on the abdomen and the other over the heart.
- Inhaling slowly, feel the belly expand first. Then, the rib cage. Finally, allow the breath to fill the upper chest, all the way up to the clavicles
- Exhale slowly from the top down, gently pressing the naval towards the spine at the end of the exhalation to fully expel the breath from the lower lobes of the lungs.
- Continue steadily and rhythmically for 5 minutes.
Following the simple wisdom of Ayurveda, we can experience more relaxation in the body, helping us to ease into deep, restful sleep and wake with energy and vitality to meet the day.
The divine fire blazes forth in full splendor when the mind is drawn to concentrate on meditation.