As sleep is so incredibly precious and delicious, to be deprived of it is so deleteriously pernicious and thus in this newsletter I’ll present some solid, dependable, easy, and effective ways to ensure that when the time comes for deep restful sleep, nothing stands in the way of lying down and letting go.
VishwaDhatri, the “Wet-nurse of the Universe,” is one of my favorite Vedic adages given to sleep in recognition of its ability to nourish, strengthen and comfort the body, mind and spirit. Sleep, or Nidra as it is called in Sanskrit, is so key to well-being that along with right diet and right use of sexual energy, right sleep is one of the three pillars of health according to the Vedic tradition.
So the question naturally arises, how to ensure a good nights sleep? There are hundreds of possible factors to consider many of which fall into two main categories: remove the distressing agitation (vata dosha) from the bodymind and increase the centered balance of the bodymind (sattva guna.)
There are many ways to do this and the basic idea, as in all of Ayurveda, is to skillfully use a confluence of well-timed techniques, including exercise, diet, herbs like the anti-stress adaptogens Ashwagandha and Tulsi-Holy Basil, lifestyle and nutraceuticals to increase the chances of the desired outcome.
A great combination that I have seen work incredibly well at supporting sleep is to take, two to three hours before bed, 2-4 capsules of the Peaceful Sleep Formula chased with a warm soothing cup of Tulsi Sleep Tea.
You want your sleep to be deeply restorative, not deeply sedative, and so this is another reason why using deeply restorative herbs like Ashwagandha and Tulsi-Holy Basil, both of which are central to these “sleep” formulas, is a great idea.
Another apropos Ayurvedic tenet is that you make sure long-term lifestyle changes are being implemented to address deeper issues and not just short-term fixes that are merely symptomatic and not therapeutic. In other words, knockout sedatives are the last resort in treating insomnia. Also realize that there are numerous physical and karmic ailments that may result in insomnia that I will not cover here and that should be addressed individually by a qualified source of wellness guidance.
Gentle yet mildly vigorous exercise is one of the best ways to ensure sleep as it helps remove stagnation, alleviates distressing agitation (vata), increases the poise of one’s mind (sattva,) and helps move pent up energy, which is rampant in our culture. Flowing through Yoga asanas is great along with walks and gentle runs in wholesome (sattvic,) high-prana/chi places.
Exercise also helps to move and digest the mental issues that otherwise cause endless ruminations through the night. But exercise won’t help if you push your body too hard. Two great herbs to get the most out of your exercise are Ashwagandha and Turmeric. They both are great food for the joints and both support a healthy response to inflammation, which is very important. They both also support the density of core vitality, and they allow you to go deeper into your workout with less risk of injury.
Turmeric is especially important here as it helps to build and move blood in a very positive way that minimizes the subtle agitation in the bodymind that precludes sleep.
These emotional/mental issues do tend to be a main reason why people have noisy minds and thus experience poor quality sleep. The type of issues that are the worse culprits are those that tend to “move” the most, the air-element (vata) states like anxiety, worry and fear.Fire element (pitta) states like anger, jealousy and frustration are a close second.
There are numerous tales in the Vedic literature of great Yogis fighting endlessly with the demons of their day. I would aver to say that there is no difference between those legendary demons, who are always strongest at night, and some of the chimerical insidious dysfunctional egotistical thoughts that we can generate when mind is filled with dull darkness (tamas) and divisive agitation (rajas).
Noisy minds can also arise from what Dr David Frawley calls “toxic junk impressions” which are the sensory equivalent of “junk food.” These agitating mental impressions are actually “eaten” by your mind and include freeways, advertising, dulling scenes, TV, etc. Then at night a momentum of the unresolved agitation from all these junk impressions echo throughout your mind and body precluding easy deep sleep.
Again, often our antistress herbal adaptogen allies like Ashwagandha, Brahmi, Amalaki, Tulsi-Holy Basil and formulas like Joy! and Memory are great to help mitigate our basic susceptibility to stress and this will in turn help us manage stress and increase our chances to enjoy a deep sleep.
Often when other people are the objects of our anger, fear and agitation we can use a Metta practice of projecting love to them to antidote these negative emotions. Another wonderful deep method is identifying yourself as the witness of these “demons” and impressions and knowing them as simple objects in your awareness, basic phenomena like a book on a shelf. That way you do not necessarily remove the agitation, which may be very difficult, but you change your relationship to the agitation and thus remove its power to negatively affect you.
As my Teacher says, if you are sitting on your front porch do you watch the cars go by, or do you run after them, grab their rear bumper, and get dragged all over town with your face in the gravel? It seems like a simple choice to simply watch but as we all know for some strange reason we do tend to grab the “back bumpers” of a lot of nasty thoughts and get our “faces” fully pulverized by our ego’s pot-holed streets.
The more you let go of these thoughts and conditioning and patterns, the easier you will sleep and this will support you to be whatever you want to be, whether that is a parent or a student or a partner or a provider. Tulsi, especially Tulsi Tea, is known to support deep levels of emotional digestion that gets congested easily in a frenetic world where myriads of exponential curves of change abound. Both the Brahmis also assist this!
The main type of mental and physiological disturbances that will preclude sleep has the qualities of being cold, dry, light and mobile. So during the evenings before bed there are a few things that you can do to counteract this, and one of them that addresses all four qualities is to massage yourself with a warming massage oil (anti-cold, dry, light) and then with the oil still on you, ease into a warm (anti-cold) bath (anti-dry) in candlelight (anti-intensity) in a closed quiet bathroom (anti-mobile). Add few drops of Tulsi Essential Oil to the bath for aromatherapeutic benefits. This calms the prana in the bodymind, and opens a gateway to rest.
Some gentle conscious breathing or pranayama will sweetly assist the process. The idea is to create a still, sacred space which leads us to the next level of tuning into a deep sleep: Vastu Shastra, or Vedic Feng Shui.
In Vastu Shastra the south is considered the abode of Yama, the God of death. Sleep is nothing other than a form of death, death to the outer sense world for the night, and so it is best to have your bedroom in the South or Southwest part of your home and your head pointed to magnetic south as you sleep. This utilizes the magnetic energy of the earth to calm your spirit and let it rest deep in your body with fewer dreams.
The more things you have, the more things have you, and few of them seem to want you to have a deep sleep! So your bedroom should be simple, used only for sleep and sex, and without the clutter that invokes agitation (vata) and with the serenity that invokes poised centered equilibrium (sattva.) Again, we are back to Let Go! Let go of the world, of grudges, of attachments, of stuff in your closet, of clutter in your room and in your mind.
Your bedroom should invoke a meditative state and indeed to meditiate before sleep is wonderful. My teacher says that what you practice right up to the moment of sleep is often carried through the whole night. So if you practice thinking endless dysfunctional thoughts, so it happens all night. If you practice simplifying your mind and returning your center of awareness into itself, then you practice Nidra yoga all night and your mind stays singular and simple all night.
Your diet can have a large influence on your ability to sleep. In general your own specific individual constitution determines the diet that is best for you so you should be advised by an Ayurvedic practitioner on this. Besides this, the main concerns are likely obvious by now: Stay away from stimulants and eat a diet that pacifies cooling distressing agitation (vata) and warming intense activation (pitta).
It is exceedingly important to have a balanced digestion and so to ensure your digestion is strong. A 3,000 year old trick, perhaps the most used technique in the world in fact, is to take 2 capsules of Trikatu right before eating or even with your first couple of bites. This triggers your liver, pancreas, stomach and small intestine to be ready with the appropriate enzymes by the time your food enters your digestive system. Triphala is also excellent to bring the deep balance that supports deep sleep. Triphala should be taken right before bed, 2-4 capsules depending on the state of your colon that night.
Because the liver is responsible for so many critical operations of our physiology it is often responsible for imbalances that one attributes to other organs and functions in the body. For instance, because the liver metabolizes all the hormones in the body, then if someone has, for instance, too much estrogen, then instead of supporting the reproductive system, you may want to support the liver. In the same way, the liver in any kind or amount of distress can absolutely cause 100% of your insomnia.
Katuki is one of the world’s greatest liver herbs and is found in the Liver-Kidney Formula and also the Immunity Formula. If you are an extra fiery person then Neem is also a great liver herb for you. And the liver support that Shatavri has to offer everyone will be especially appropriate to most women older than 40.
When it comes to herbs for sleep you can easily get capsules of herbal sedatives, but before you do that, realize that most people who have insomnia do not need sedatives, but tonic herbs instead.
What I have seen in my practice is that people get deeply weary from stress, difficult relationships and poor choices. They get so burned out that their Spirit gets so thin that it quakes and quivers at the slightest mental, emotional or physical perturbation. Confidence and immunity weaken and a subtle look of alarm resides in their eyes. This alarm, this on-guardedness, causes insomnia because the person can’t trust enough to let go and allow the Isness to simply be. Those blessed with thickly robust spirits have confidence, can let go, and easily fall into deep sleep and stay there.
So before you simply knock yourself out with an herb that creates dullness (tamas) in your mind, which is anathema to a sustainable life, perhaps it is better to take sattvic tonics that will strengthen your Spirit first. Ashwagandha, Shatavri, Jatamansi, Safed Musli, and Tulsi-Holy Basil are high on the list. You can also use the Joy! Formula which is formulated with four wonderful empowering cognitive adaptogens. And I would definitely recommend consuming these herbs with an extra comforting Tulsi Tea, like Tulsi Cinnamon Rose, Tulsi Sweet Rose, Tulsi Honey Chamomile or Tulsi Sleep Tea.
If all of this does not work, and you really have tried your best, then finally you can pull out the sedatives like Hops, Valerian, Skullcap, California poppy, Kava kava, oats, and alcohol, especially “hoppy” beer, but realize that this is not sustainable. Nutraceuticals that can work are Tryptophan and 5-HTP, as they are precursors of seratonin in the brain, Magnesium and Calcium as they relax the muscles and Vitamin E as it helps build Ojas and “thickens” your energy. Take all these right before sleep.
Remember, it is all about creating a confluence of factors that will accumulate the directed power so that you will accomplish your goals, whatever they may be. If your car is in the ditch one person might not be able to push it out, but ten people can. Unfocused light is a household light bulb where focused light is a laser. In the same way, align your life with as many of the things that I have mentioned as possible and you will be well on your way into the nightly loving healing embrace of the Wet-nurse of the Universe.
Prashanti de Jager