Contributed by The Tuck Sleep Foundation
Meditation has been an integral part of Eastern culture for hundreds of years. It may have been a fad when it first hit the scene in the Western world but, today, science has begun to discover the many benefits of how meditation on the mind and body.
The Relaxation Response
When the body relaxes there are biological responses that take place such as a decrease in oxygen consumption, an increase in exhaled nitric oxide, and reduced psychological distress. Together these create the ‘relaxation response’ that gets triggered while meditating. There is even evidence to suggest that regular exposure to the relaxation response can change the cells at a genetic level.
Depression, Anxiety, and Fatigue
The science behind the relaxation response supports the idea that the mind can change the body. Studies have shown that regularly helping the body to have a relaxation response can relieve symptoms of depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Meditation can also reduce the feelings and signs of daytime fatigue. More studies have found that the effect of meditation works across age groups with older adults and teenagers having similar responses to regular meditation.
Reducing the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and fatigue creates conditions that lend themselves to getting better sleep. Better sleep creates a healthy cycle that can continue to reduce symptoms of mental and physical illness.
The Right Kind of Meditation
Not all meditation techniques promote sleep. Some methods work to bring the mind into focus and stimulate the brain for complex activity. If you’re trying to get ready for bed, you don’t want your brain to be waking up. In general, the less cognitive effort needed the more likely you are to relax.
Four of the most effective methods include progressive muscle relaxation, mindful breathing, counting, and guided meditation. All can be performed while lying in bed so that you can drift off to sleep as your mind an body relax.
This method involves identifying muscle tension followed by systematically tensing and releasing muscle groups. Once you’ve laid down in bed, breathe deeply. Starting at the top of your head and tense one muscle group for five seconds and then release. Inhale before tensing and exhale as you relax. Work your way through each muscle group in your body down to your toes. It may take two or three times through the exercise to release all tension at which point your muscles should feel heavy.
Mindful breathing involves focusing on the inhale and exhale of your breath. As you take slow, deep breaths feel the expansion of your lungs and chest. With every exhale, empty your mind and body of stress as you release your breath. When the mind wanders, bring gently back to the rhythmic in and out of your breathing.
If muscle relaxation and focused breathing don’t work for you, counting meditation might be the right blend of focus and tension release. When you lay down, take a few deep breaths and start slowly counting. Focusing on each number helps you stay present but isn’t hard enough to require mental strain, which will allow you drift off to sleep.
The key to guided meditation is that you don’t have to think about what to do next. You follow someone else’s instructions. Guided meditation may involve mindful breathing or counting, but you simply follow the guidance of the instructor. You can use guided meditation apps and/or audio files.
Whatever meditation method you use, it should help bring your mind to a quiet place of rest for a better night’s sleep.
By Melanie Radliff
Happy New Year, Shala family! We’ve got quite a chilly start this week to 2018, and since cold weather is one of the most compromising times for our immune systems, I want to share a recipe with you for a wellness tonic that I make every morning. I’ve never been in better health than since I’ve adopted this as part of my morning routine over one year ago.
I’ve packed as many healthful ingredients as possible into this tonic, and while it’s incredibly beneficial, it also has a strong and somewhat unpleasant taste. If you don’t feel you can handle it right away, feel free to adjust the recipe to your liking. I always suggest using smaller measurements or using only a few of the ingredients to start, and increasing as you feel comfortable. This should ideally be taken on an empty stomach, but you can eat something light first if you feel the potency of the mixture irritates your stomach.
This tonic starts with warm water and a half (or whole) lemon — this is a great place to stop if you don’t feel up to the rest of the recipe yet. In Ayurvedic medicine, our digestion is viewed as a fire that burns more cooly during the night while we rest, and it must be awoken gently with something warm and invigorating in the morning. Warm lemon water is great for this as it also packs a large dose of Vitamin C and provides a hydrating boost to your body immediately. Added in are turmeric, black pepper, cayenne, fresh garlic, local honey, and a probiotic. I also add a tincture of echinacea, ginger, and elderberry to top off the tonic for maximum health goodness. For those of you interested in the health benefits of each ingredient, continue reading below the recipe for more information.
Most of this can be combined ahead of time and will keep in the refrigerator for about 4 days. I recommend cutting the lemon and garlic as fresh as possible, as the nutrients and vitamins in each will decrease as soon as oxidation begins. Enjoy!