I Tried It: If You’re Looking for a Way to Doze Off, Meditation May Be the Key

This could be me meditating. But it’s not me because I don’t sit half this still. (iStock)
This could be me meditating. But it’s not me because I don’t sit half this still. (iStock)

I’m a wannabe yogi. I’m working on myself as a human being, and yoga calls to me more than anything else ever has. I love yoga, I practice yoga at minimum three times a week, I teach yoga a few times a week and I read all the yoga books.

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In my few years of consistent practice, I’ve noticed long-standing benefits, not only physically but mentally. I’m less anxious; I’m more mellowed out; I’m more patient … the list goes on and on.

But I’m nowhere near perfect. And this past year alone is testing the very limits of my already extensive practice. So after a lot of reading and enjoying my brief meditations in savasana (corpse pose) at the end of my yoga classes, I decided to take the next obvious step in this journey: daily meditations.

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And boy, do I use the word “daily” loosely.

I took my first stab at meditation a few months back and quickly learned that unguided, the just-me-sitting-down-and-meditating type of vibe wasn’t going to work, at least not just yet. My mind would not settle for the life of me. I just ended up creating to-do lists in my brain for the remainder of the day or daydreaming or something or other.

It didn’t work out. I gave up for a while but then came crawling back because 2017 is a flaming dump truck of trash.

And because this is 2017, the year of the smartphone and all the apps, I Googled a few meditation options and gave them a shot. They were all right. But nothing really held my attention or spoke to me until a little earlier this month, when a yogi co-worker told me about Insight Timer (not sponsored, I promise). I really enjoyed how all-encompassing it was, and it being a free app didn’t hurt, either. Whatever your interests were, whatever type of guided meditation or music you were looking for, you could search by religion, by topic, by feelings, by the time of day.

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So far, using this app, I’ve managed to meditate for the past 11 consecutive days. Sometimes it’s once a day. Sometimes I manage twice per day, right when I get up and right when I’m about to go to bed.

In the span of those 11 days, I’ve learned a lot about myself.

The first thing that struck me was: Holy shit am I a fidgeter.

I’ve never thought of myself as someone who has tics or can’t sit still for extended periods of time. After 11 days of meditation, I have now learned that this is simply not true. I cannot sit still for the life of me. The longest I’ve ever managed to meditate (guided, mind you) is 15 minutes, and even then, every few minutes I have to scratch something or adjust my seat or wiggle my fingers or my toes or roll out my neck. It’s almost comical. But like I said, work in progress. And would you know, since observing this in myself through meditation, I’ve been more aware of my fidgets when I’m working at my day job?

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The second thing I noticed was how well I was sleeping at night.

This probably surprised me the most.

I’m nowhere near a good or efficient sleeper. My sleep schedule is crap and inconsistent (I can sleep anywhere between four and seven hours, depending), which is a recipe for disaster for anyone’s circadian rhythm. And so even when I do sleep for a good amount of time, it never feels restful.

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I’m also one of the many people on this planet who is bombarded by their brain when they’re trying to fall asleep. So there I would be, lying in bed, thinking of a thousand different scenarios where “x” and “y” equal “z” while plotting out the rest of my week or thinking of things that happened in high school.

Lying in bed at 3 a.m., contemplating the universe (Giphy)
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And then I started doing these meditations, and one of two things started happening. Either a) I fall asleep mid meditation, missing out on the whole experience, but that’s fine because I’m out like a light; or b) I’m not that tired, so I make it through a fidgety session but then drop right off and sleep peacefully throughout the night.

It has seriously been magical. I can’t tell the last time I’ve felt this well-rested in my life. Part of me would like to think that through meditation, I compartmentalize and start to let go of the thoughts that plague me during the day. I start to disassociate myself from what has happened or will happen (cue hippie, yoga voice here), draw my attention inward, and by the time I’m ready for bed, I’m soothed and settled and my mind isn’t racing at 500 mph, making it easier not only to fall asleep but also to stay that way.

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Turns out for me, meditating and sorting through my head is better than ZzzQuil. Who’d have thunk?

That being said, some people may find meditation absolutely boring. And I get that. I’ve been there. Done that. For others, it may not be their cup of tea for varying reasons. I also get that.

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To be quite honest, I’m skeptical myself as to how long I’ll be able to keep it up, even with my trusty app to help guide my thoughts to some semblance of peace and equanimity. But for now, I’m gonna enjoy my extra hours of restful sleep and watch my skin flourish, particularly in my under-eye region, without them bags they were carrying, while I also watch my mood prosper because I’m actually resting.

Do any of you folks happen to meditate? What are some of the benefits you’ve noticed? Sound off and be a hippie with me.

News Editor at The Root, animation nerd, soca junkie, yogi

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DISCUSSION

iniquitydenmother
IniquityDenMother

Did you meditate to get through the non-concert parts of Purple Rain? ;)

Seriously - meditation is hard for me, because my pattern-seeking brain never, ever shuts the fuck up, and I’ve got a solid amount of chronic pain and limited range of movement from joint injuries. (Under control, but sitting still can be hard for me as a result.) Throw in my natural need for a lot less sleep than most people - my Mom would tell stories about finding me wide awake and just chilling while in the cradle, and apparently, it’s a thing on one side of my Dad’s family - and it’s just not a good thing.

So I’m well aware there is huge value to working to achieve a “no-mind” state, even if you can’t get there. It’s all about the stuff you mentioned - feeling more rested, more calm, and generally being able to function better. My joints hurt a lot less with a good night’s sleep as well. (For me, it’s a combo of both chronic tendinitis and bursitis in both hips and shoulders, so YMMV on rest vs joint pain.)

There are two techniques that work for me (both of which involve patterns, so I’m working with my brain instead of against it):

  1. I visualize a white field that is filled with a number - I usually go for 1,000. Then I start a countdown, forcing myself to change the number slowly (usually via some slow mechanical method, like the numbers are rotating on a dial like this clock). Depending on how my day has gone, I commit myself to counting down at least a certain amount (i.e. - “you need to reach 750 before you stop”)
  2. I visualize an empty, clear-walled room that is slowly filling with brightly colored water, so I can track the slow change. You can also switch it up and picture a clear-walled shape that’s filling up. (Sadly, for me, that shape for me is usually a Gurgling Cod pitcher - I’ve got a bunch of them because the physics of them makes me giggle, but in the case here, I can also mentally tip the jug, picture the air pocket that causes the gurgle, and refill it again.)

Otherwise, my insomnia techniques frequently help as well, since they’re designed to slow me down physically and mentally.

  • A warm - but not overly hot - shower before bed. (Being clean means you aren’t itchy, and the cooling of your body is a natural trigger for sleep.) I also recommend you go to Tuesday Morning or HomeGoods and get some nice smelling bar soap. It’s healthier for your skin and the scents are usually lighter and more natural than a lot of liquid soaps. (Strong smells can take you out of your head pretty quickly, or at least they do me.) Ditto for having a nice-smelling shampoo if you have a lot of hair.
  • Before I met my husband, I would light a single, unscented tea candle in a clear, high-walled holder - something about the flickering light is soothing, and candle flame meditation is a thing, so it would help me sleep. (CAVEAT: fire is bad. If you do this when you think you might be sleepy - either at bedtime or just as a meditation technique - get yourself a clear votive holder. It’s taller than a tea-light holder and keeps the flame secure behind glass. Put it on a coaster so you’re not worried about damaging your table, and place it far enough away that you can’t knock it to the floor accidentally. Getting cheaper tea lights that only burn 3 hours or so is also a bonus. ;) )
  • I use some great recorded-from-nature white noise MP3's from this site at bedtime - they are an hour long so there’s no seam for your brain to latch on to and the sound quality is excellent. (For you city dwellers who want to block out some louder city noise that does wake your ass up, I recommend “Rain on the River.” That shit has helped block out overnight construction for us.) I prefer the rain or running water tracks to the beachy ones. Because the beachy ones have gaps between the waves that can potentially let your mind wander at the beginning. But that being said, once you’re calmed down, you can switch to them pretty easily.
  • If you’re a big reader, keep a bunch of books that you love and find easy to re-read. If you can afford it, get one of the Kindles with back-lighting, because as your eyes adjust, you can use a dimmer and dimmer light, which helps A LOT. Nothing will keep up a book-lover like a brand-new book, but an old favorite is like slipping into comfy clothes. And since you know what’s gonna happen, you don’t feel the need to read one...more...page. I have been known to fall asleep sitting up with old favorites.