When Ed was living in India at a yoga ashram, he met an Indian man who said he had never ever slept in his whole life. One day, during a meditation session, Ed recorded the man snoring. It sounded like an elephant stampede. Ed played it back to him and the man never complained again.
Invariably, while leading a meditation class, we will see people nodding off to sleep. Which is one of the reasons why Zen teachers have a tendency to whack their students with a thin bamboo stick -- it doesn't hurt but it certainly wakes them up! We ourselves are just as likely to nod off if we are meditating in the evening and Deb remembers sleeping through many of her early meditation experiences. A lot of people think that this means they cannot meditate, but it doesn't -- it just means they need to rest!
Nor does this mean that the purpose of meditation is to put us to sleep -- the purpose is actually the exact opposite -- but it has made us realize just how helpful meditation can be to induce a state of sleepiness when needed.
Why? Because when we sit still and watch the natural in and out flow of the breath we begin to balance the chemicals and hormones in the brain, which calms the stress response and induces the relaxation response. We are also creating the space in which to complete and release any issues from the day, on-going difficulties, or causes of unrest and stress.
It is not that you will necessarily fall asleep while meditating, rather that you will find it easier to get to sleep and will rest more easily through the night when you do go to bed. Such easier sleep does not necessarily happen the first day you begin to practice. For some they notice the difference after a week of regular meditation, for others it may take two to six months.
And we don't have to do a formal practice. Meditation takes many forms. One of Deb's teachers told her that there are as many forms of meditation as there are people who practice it. However, generally speaking, watching the flow of our breath is probably the most conducive to calming the mind.
Normally, throughout the day, our attention is completely externalized, being pulled from one event or distraction to another, absorbed in the computer, twittering or texting, running errands, watching TV, etc. At the end of the day, when we want to rest, the mind is so over-stimulated that it can be hard to stop and just sleep.
Most of us think of relaxation as putting our feet up, having a beer, watching a good movie, walking the dog, or perhaps joining a fitness club. Certainly these activities help, but too often they only deal with the more superficial, immediate aspects of stress. They make us feel better for a while, until the next deadline or traffic jam begins to push us over the edge again. To make more lasting changes, we need to loosen and release unconscious levels of stress from where accumulated tension and resistance affect both our behavior and our health.
As Yoga teacher and HuffPo blogger Cyndi Lee says: "I would have these adrenaline rushes as if I were nervous about something -- kind of a little low-grade anxiety -- and then I would immediately start to get anxious. It would get all blown up in my mind. By meditating with it, I learned to recognize that I was not anxious, I did not need to go into drama queen mental mode, I could just let this be, let it rise, and let it pass."
Meditation internalizes our attention and brings the mind inward. Watching the flow of the breath also gives the mind something very calm and rhythmical to do, so that it begins to let go of the external stimulus and become quieter. If help is needed, then we have a CD available from our website www.edanddebshapiro.com.
Do you have a sleep story to share? Did you ever fall asleep during meditation? Do comment below. You can receive notice of our blogs every Tuesday by checking Become a Fan at the top.
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Ed and Deb Shapiro's new book, BE THE CHANGE, How Meditation Can Transform You And The World, forewords by the Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman, with contributors such as Marianne Williamson, astronaut Edgar Mitchell, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Beckwith, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jane Fonda, Jack Kornfield, Byron Katie, Dean Ornish, and others is published by Sterling Ethos. Deb is the author of the award-winning book YOUR BODY SPEAKS YOUR MIND. Ed and Deb are the authors of over 15 books, and lead meditation retreats and workshops. Enjoy their 3 meditation CD's: Metta - Loving kindness and Forgiveness; Samadhi - Breath Awareness and Insight; and Yoga Nidra - Inner Conscious Relaxation, available on their website: www.EdandDebShapiro.com