My Personal Experience
From my own practice, I’ve noticed just doing 10 minutes of these techniques greatly improves the quality of my sleep. I don’t usually have a problem with sleeping, however sometimes I’m short on time and find I get by on a lot less sleep when I need to and it doesn’t impact me. The quality of my sleep is much better as well.
I know there are many people that have trouble with sleeping. They have trouble getting to sleep, laying in bed for an hour before they fall asleep. So, practicing one of these activities will make much better use of your time.
Gongfu and the Art of Sleep
Gongfu means master of skills in any art form. Gongfu looks at the practice of something and breaks it down into its components so you can “practice it” to improve your results. Everything has some form of practice to it, even sleep. Most of us just think of going to sleep, but not how we go to sleep. How we go to sleep sets the whole tone and mood for the quality and restfulness of our sleep.
A main principle in Chinese Gongfu, is the yin-yang theory. It is a universal theory involved in all parts of life and will help you understand how to get better sleep.
Yin-Yang is the Foundation of Good-Solid-Sleep.
Your day is full of activity and doing things. The sun shines, the air is warm and people are active. This is the yang part of the day. In the evening, the moon glows, the air is cool and everything slows down. This is the yin part of the day.
Yang is everything that is bright and active, whereas yin is everything that is quiet and dark. “Yin time” is “night time”. Knowing this, we can use it as a guiding principle for getting more out of our sleep. Everything that promotes yin, or quietness, will help improve sleep. Everything that creates yang, or energetic qualities will disrupt your sleep.
To get better sleep, we want to cool down, physically, mentally and energetically before going to bed. A slightly cooler room temperature cools you down physically and helps improve sleep. Activities like meditation cool you down mentally so you can fall asleep more easily. Avoid things that are “warming” or energetic in nature, like caffeine and eating before bed.
We will group yin-yang into three areas:
- Cooling the Senses: Tea
- Cooling the Mind: Meditation
- Cooling the Body: Breathing
Cooling the Senses: Tea
As mentioned, the key principle of getting a good night sleep is the ability to cool down in the evening which prepares the body for sleep. An easy way to do that is through enjoying a calming and cooling tea.
Cooling tea promotes yin energy in the body. There are different yin ingredients which you can make tea from. When you make your tea, absorb it through many of your senses - enjoy the aroma, drink it meditatively and soak in the flavor as you sip it.
Yin Ingredients for Tea:
- Flower teas: Chrysanthemum and Chamomile.
- These are the most common teas that are calming and are easy to make. You can find them in most grocery stores.
- Apple: Add a slice of apple to your tea. Apple are yin fruit and can be nice touch to add with your flower tea.
- Honey: Mixing a little bit of honey to your tea can add a little sweetness and an enjoyable way to spend the evening. Honey is considered as a yin ingredient.
- Lemons/limes: These can also be mixed in with your flower teas and have yin properties.
- Banana tea: I haven’t tried this one yet, but bananas are a yin fruit and you can make a tea from them to promote sleep. The video below shows you how to make it and she seems to really enjoy it. (starts at minute 3:48)
Cooling the Mind: Meditation
A big problem with not being able to get to sleep stems from an active mind. Mental activities like worry, anxiety and depression all negatively affect your ability to sleep. Many people “try” to get to sleep which is the very opposite of sleep. It is effort. Effort generates yang energy and makes you more alert. In the evening we want to switch off the lights and switch off our mind. Meditation is the way we will do that because it puts your mind into the state which is most like sleep.
A meditation practice that I usually do is Qigong. With Qigong, there are both moving and non-moving forms. Many people that have trouble with meditation, have an easier time with moving forms because it pairs external activity with internal activity.
Moving qigong relaxes your mind and muscles. Qigong is a very flexible practice. Ultimately, you can choose to do whatever intuitively feels good. You can move intuitively, you can practice a specific form, or you can choose to take just one part of a form and practice it as your own form. Relaxation and visualization are the key components of qigong.
Below are a couple of videos demonstrating some qigong forms that you can practice. As you practice the moving forms, just pay attention to the feeling or sensation in your hands, that is the easiest place to start.
Cooling the Body: Breathing
When you sleep, your body temperature naturally drops a few degrees , which is why reducing room temperature is helpful in getting better sleep. You can also cool down your physiology through regulating your breath. Breath is the easiest way to access and change your physiological state through different breathing patterns and techniques. For example, if you breathe quick and shallow, you will start to feel jittery and anxious, similar to the fight or flight response. If you breathe deep and relaxed, your body will respond and become at ease and it will feel peaceful.
Peaceful Breathing is one of my favorite breathing techniques in the evening. It works on several levels. It puts your body in a deeply relaxed state and becomes oxygen rich. Ten minutes of using this method, I can get by with 5-6 hours of sleep a night, if I need to and will feel good the next day. Lack of good quality oxygen disrupts the quality of sleep. People that suffer from sleep apnea, where they stop breathing at night, don’t feel rested the next day.
Most people only breathe with 50-60% of their lungs, leaving a lot of “dead space” at the bottom of their lungs. This dead space is old CO2 that wasn’t expelled. The result is your next breath comes in and mixes with the CO2 and delivers less oxygen to your blood cells. Your body has to make more effort to get by with less. However if you supply your blood cells with more oxygen, it can do more work with less effort.
You can do this sitting if you wish, however you may find it more comfortable doing it laying on your back.
First breath deep into your lungs so you can feel your stomach expand out. Then continue the breath and breathe into your solar plexus, then up into your chest and upper chest. Take at least 5 seconds or longer if you can breathing in. This will fill your lungs all the way up.
Now we want to breath out in an opposite fashion. Start by breathing out from your upper chest area, followed by the chest, then solar plexus, and lower abdomen. When you have felt you have breathed all the way out. The next part is a primary aspect of this breath. You want to pull your lower abdomen in tightly to expel the rest of the dead air. This will create more space for fresh, oxygen rich air to come in.
You can do this breathing for as long as you like. I usually do it for about 10 minutes and find really positive effects from it.