Finding it difficult to drift off at night? It can be really frustrating when you are desperate to sleep, yet your mind keeps racing, or your body feels restless. Though as children we were advised to ‘count sheep’ to help us drift off, this doesn’t really work for everyone. Interestingly enough though, it uses a very simple technique to help settle a busy mind, one that is also often used in relaxation meditations.
There are countless variations when it comes to relaxation meditation, and finding one that suits you best, will depend on your preferences, situation and mood at the time. However, there are some very simple ‘meditative techniques’ that you can practice yourself as you lie in bed, that will both help calm your chattering mind, and relax your restless muscles.
There are three in particular that I like to practice, and I always find that they help me drift off into a peaceful and relaxed sleep.
I hope they work for you too!
Internalise - Distractions can keep us from surrendering to sleep, especially noises. However, you cannot just turn off your sense of hearing. Instead, practice a simple internalising technique.
- Become aware of the different sounds that you can hear off in the distance. Without trying to identify the sounds, simply listen to each sound for a moment then move on to listen for a different sound. Listening to as many different sounds as you can hear. Practice this for a minute or two.
- Then bring your awareness of sounds closer and become aware of the sounds happening close by, listening for the more subtle sounds. Again, don’t focus on identifying the sounds, simply listen and then move on to seek out different sounds.
- Bring your awareness of sounds closer and listen to the sounds of your own body, noticing sounds of digestion, perhaps the sound of your heart beating or pulse and the sound of your breathing.
Body rotation - Tension is often stored in muscles without us even realising it. By systematically running your awareness over your different body parts you can consciously relax any tension that may be held there.
- Start with the right-hand side of your body, and work your way around. For example, I like to start with the fingers of my right hand, I focus here and visualise all the tension easing out of my hands with each exhalation. Then I do the same with my left hand. Then I move to my right arm, feeling the muscles of my forearm and upper arm ease and relax that little bit more each time I breathe out, then do the same on my left. I continue this until I have covered my whole body including the muscles of my face.
- Take your time doing this and use your breathing as a way of consciously easing away any tension.
Breath awareness - After I have rotated my awareness around my body, helping to relax all of my muscles, I focus my awareness on the flow of my breathing.
- Become aware of the natural rhythm of your breathing, without trying to alter or change it. Just feel the natural rise and fall of your chest and belly with each inhalation and each exhalation.
- Begin to imagine that with each exhalation your body is becoming heavier and heavier, sinking and relaxing into your bed. Imagining as though your body is melting, like chocolate in the warm sunshine (I find this really relaxing!). Some people prefer to imagine their body is becoming lighter with each inhalation instead. As though with each inhalation their body is slowly filling up with air and becoming lighter and lighter until it feels as though you are floating. I sometimes start with exhalation/feeling heavier, then change to inhalation/feeling lighter, so find works best for you!
- I often find I am ready to drift off after this, however, if your mind is still racing, focus your attention on your breathing and begin to mentally follow each breath “Breathing in….. Breathing out”. You can even count your breathing backwards from 100. This is a similar technique to counting sheep and it works by focusing your mind on a specific task until it becomes bored and starts to shut off. You may notice that your mind wanders off from counting, this is normal, just keep bringing it back to counting your breathing and you will be drifting off before you know it!