The yoga practice I use to fall asleep!
I wish I could tell you that every night I have a perfectly curated wellness wind-down routine, complete with baths and all the herbal teas and essential oils and restorative yoga and nighttime meditation routines.
But truth is I’m a mom of a toddler and Sam and I are each often working late a few nights a week.
So, it’s more likely a late dinner, crash on the couch with something random on netflix and a glass of wine (which in the moment is often so satisfying, but often feels like a waste when it’s all said and done).
When I was single, stressed out lawyer, my evening habits were even sillier (chips and salsa counted as a well-rounded dinner…) and I remember dragging myself out of bed to the blinking red of my blackberry (remember those days!) each morning, far from well-rested.
When Sam and I first got together, I luxuriously slept in while he got up early for his quiet pranayama, meditation, and yoga practice, happily awakened after the fact to a smiling Sam, with coffee in hand.
When I was pregnant, thank goodness, I stocked up on sleep, whenever I could. Which was intuitive (and necessary!) planning, since at about 36 weeks, I stopped sleeping all the way through the night, which lasted until about the time my son was 18-months, when I could finally anticipate that he’d likely sleep through the night. (Note, just two nights ago, he was up in the middle of the night, so no story is ever truly finished, it seems).
All of this to say, no matter the life moment or circumstance. Whether I’m sharing my bed with someone or not. Whether I’ve had a glass of wine or a cup of chamomile tea before bed. Whether I did a 20-minute restorative practice or took a bath or worked on my computer till I rolled into bed. Whether I’m free to sleep in (hah!) or up at the crack of dawn and the sound of a baby’s cry.
One thing remains the same.
Anxiety runs deep for me.
Which means my number one sleep issue is waking up in the middle of the night, mind racing, thoughts unceasing, worries abounding.
This can hit me any time, no matter the practices I use to stave it off and keep it in check.
So when it does, I turn without fail to my trusty yoga practice that always helps me fall back asleep (albeit, sometimes, … eventually).
Mantra is a concentration practice, on the path toward meditation, practiced by the repetition of a sacred sound, syllable, word, or phrase. "Man” means “mind” and “tra” is like a vehicle or a tool or an instrument - a means by which the mind is transported or transformed into a stiller state (or in my case, a sleepier one).
Mantra Japa or formal ritual recitation for a set number of times (often an auspicious number like 108) and sometimes counted by the beads on a mala can be part of a formal, seated meditation practice, to be sure. Mantras can be chanted out loud, in a quiet whisper, or even silently.
Mantras are often given or passed along in the language from which they come (for yoga practitioners, that’s often Sanskrit). You can also practice with a mantra in your native tongue, so for example, something like “I am calm” if you speak English.
For me, my spontaneous, middle-of-the-night mantra practice comes with no formal, upright, cross-legged seat (simply the most comfortable and still position I can make in my bed). I repeat the mantra silently (so as not to wake up already slumbering members of my family).
My most common mantra in this middle-of-the-night moment is the Kundalini Yoga mantra “Sa Ta Na Ma” (which you can see me practicing out loud and (barely!) awake here in this video).
In short, the seeds of each of these sounds represents the cyclical nature of all things:
Sa - infinity
Ta - life
Na - death
Ma - rebirth
A sure-fire way to jolt me out of the kind of every-day worries and anxieties and plans for success and fears of failures and doubts of the unknown and attempts to be with uncertainties that keep my mind ablaze some nights.
Also the sounds, even chanted silently, are undeniably melodic, like the seeds of a lullaby eventually lulling me to sleep too.
So the next time you lie awake in the middle of the night or find yourself tossing and turning instead of sleeping, practice wrapping your attention (a diffuse focus, since the desired outcome here is sleep after all!) on the silent recitation of a few soft syllabus — whatever it is you might choose.
I’d love to hear other ways you use yoga to fall or stay asleep in the comments below.
In any event, sleep well tonight!
p.s. If you know someone who struggles with sleep sometimes, please pass this practice along :)