I am a 54 year old lady doctor. I have chronic insomnia and am unable to sleep more than 2 hours at night without medication. This has been the case since many years, but much worse now and hampering my daily activities. When I sit for meditation, I feel very sleepy and restless at the same time. I feel like lying down and just cannot focus. If I try, it gives me a headache. I am reading Autobiography of a Yogi and am motivated. Can you please help me and guide me...
Swami Kriyananda and Yogananda have given a number of suggestions, based on the yogic teachings, to help with insomnia which I will note below. But one thought I have to raise is, have you had a medical work-up for Restless Leg Syndrome? If this is the problem, you might find great help with medication and supplements for this. These medications are not tranquilizers or sleeping pills.
In The Art and Science of Raja Yoga, Step 1, Swami Kriyananda suggests the following:
If you are troubled with insomnia, try doing a few yoga postures before going to bed. Get the energy in your body flowing smoothly, instead of leaving it gathered and blocked in local knots of tension. (Physical tension activates related areas in the brain, making sleep difficult.) Then lie in bed flat on your back. Inhale deeply; tense the whole body, equalizing the flow of energy throughout the body; throw the breath out and relax. Repeat this alternate tension and relaxation two or three times if you so desire. Then watch the breath mentally for awhile, allowing its steady rhythm to soothe you, like the waves of an ocean stroking the shore on a calm day. After some time, inhale deeply; then exhale slowly and completely, as if with a sigh, and feel that you are surrendering yourself to an infinity of peace. Hold the breath out as long as you can comfortably, and repeat mentally, “AUM, peace, peace, Amen,” or “AUM, shanti, shanti, shanti.” (Shanti is the Sanskrit word for peace.) Visualize an ocean of peace spreading out in all directions around you—or think of peace as gathering protectingly around you in great, soft clouds. Repeat this breathing process six to twelve times. If after that you are still awake, continue watching the breath, calmly, passively.
Yogis say that one’s bed should be arranged so that its head is not pointed towards the west. A westward position is said to induce fitful sleep and restless dreams; eastward, to aid the development of wisdom; and southward, to promote longevity.
Never go to sleep with the thought that you are utterly exhausted. Not only will the desperate desire for rest often drive sleep away (simply because desperation is the antithesis of repose), but the mental affirmation of exhaustion will be carried into the subconscious mind, and will affect even your wakefulness the next day. No matter how long you sleep, if you go to sleep exhausted, you will probably wake up exhausted.
Any strong thought that you carry into your subconsciousness as you fall asleep will affect your waking state the next day. This principle is said to hold true also for death—the “Big Sleep”—and subsequent rebirth. Above all, therefore, try meditating before you go to sleep. Sow in the fertile soil of your sleepland the nourishing seeds of God’s peace.
Yogananda listed a number of physical aids for overcoming nervousness (in which he included insomnia) which are excerpted here from the book How to Have Courage, Calmness, and Confidence, of The Wisdom of Yogananda series, Volume 5. In that book are many more suggestions for psychological and general means of cure too extensive to copy here.
Physical aids for curing nervousness:
- Avoid sour pickles, spices, onions, and stimulants
- Enjoy celery, orange, or almond juice, and almond butter
- Treat indigestion and avoid constipation
- Reduce hasty actions and nervous habits, such as scratching, playing with fingers, wrinkling the face.
- Reduce overworking.
- Take frequent baths, rubbing the hands on the skin of the entire body before bath.
- Go to bed early.
- Don’t lie awake in bed in the morning—wake up and get up.
- Practice sexual moderation.
- Tense the body and inhale; exhale, and release tension and nervousness with the exhalation.
- Take brisk fresh-air walks daily.
Many blessings to you. May you find deep rest through one or more of these suggestions.