The One Thing You’ve Never Tried to Help You Sleep Better
This article originally appeared on Yoga Journal
You've read time and again that quality sleep is essential if you want to feel better, heal better, handle stress better, even show up better to your relationships. The difference is evident each time you manage to get a decent night's rest.
You know that you need more sleep. The problem is calming down so you can sleep. If you’ve already tried countless scientifically sound, research-backed sleep hacks but still find that you’re simply too stressed to settle down, there's one thing you may not have considered: the simple, free, no-adverse-side-effects act of chanting.
How Chanting Helps You Fall Asleep Better
Contemporary science as well as ancient yoga tradition suggest chanting allows you to settle more easily into the relaxed state required to fall asleep.
Contemporary Science Confirms…
A recent study indicates that chanting Om for five minutes “might enhance parasympathetic nervous system activity, promote relaxation, and provide calmness," according to its authors.
Whether you're speaking, singing, or chanting, you create sound on the exhalation, the part of the breath cycle that is connected with the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). Chanting Om lengthens the exhalation and initiates a PNS response, which in turn creates a sense of peace and calm.
The researchers attributed some of the demonstrated physiological and psychological effects of chanting to the vibrations that reverberate throughout your body when you chant the mantra.
…What Ancient Yoga Tradition Has Always Said
Yoga tradition teaches that repeatedly chanting mantras brings about a focused steadiness of mind, or sthira, that can give your mind a place to rest and calm your racing thoughts. The sound created by chanting Om (pronounced a-u-m) has long been regarded by some Southeast Asian cultures as particularly powerful because it embraces the vibration of all the known sounds in the universe.
Think of chanting as an extension of your breath. If you practice yoga, you may have tried different breath (pranayama) practices, such as Ujjayi (Victorious Breath) or Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing), to help you regulate your nervous system. Just as you can use pranayama to either calm down or activate your energy, you can rely on chanting in the same way.
Chanting Doesn't Have to Include Sound
Tradition holds that chanting can be practiced verbally and mentally, each providing powerful benefits. Verbal chanting has a direct vibratory quality on the physical body and creates specific physiological effects, similar to practicing pranayama.
Mental chanting, or silent repetition of a mantra, can also be paced with the breath to focus your attention inward and bring about a calming and steadying effect on the mind. Yoga tradition regards silent chanting as the most powerful way to use chanting to influence your state of being.
You can also practice verbal and mental chanting together, sequentially, to draw yourself further inward and prepare your mind for rest through the vehicle of sound. According to yoga tradition, modulating your voice in this way creates an energetically pacifying, or langhana, effect on your nervous system.
Combining gentle movement with chanting further helps your body relax, unwind, and prepare for rest. But should you choose to simply sit and chant, you will also notice the unique effects of this process.
A Chanting (and Yoga) Practice to Help You Sleep Better
Take the following practice slowly. As you chant, begin with a full, resonant voice and then transition to a quieter, softer sound with each repetition of Om. Allow your exhalations while chanting to reach a comfortable length of perhaps 4-6 counts.
You may find this practice becomes more effective when practiced regularly as part of your nightly routine. You can even do this in bed.
1. Cakravakasana (Dynamic Child's Pose)
Begin on your hands and knees. As you inhale, draw your chest forward and up as if you're coming into Bitilasana (Cow Pose), creating a gentle backbend with an emphasis in your upper back; as you exhale, chant Om and gently draw your belly muscles toward your spine and press yourself back to Child's Pose, bringing your hips to your heels, your chest to your thighs, and your elbows and forehead to the mat. On your next inhalation, slowly come back to your hands and knees and into your slight backbend. Repeat 8 times, gradually softening the volume of your chanting.
2. Parivrtti Sukhasana (Seated Twist)
Begin sitting cross-legged in Sukhasana and bring your left hand behind your left hip and your right hand to your left knee or thigh. As you inhale, sit tall; as you exhale, chant Om as you twist your chest to the left and turn your head to look over your left shoulder. On your next inhalation, gently unwind from the twist and come back to your starting position. Repeat this twist to the left 4 more times, gradually softening the volume of your chanting with each repetition. On your last twist, remain in the twist for 4 breaths as you continue to chant more and more softly with each exhalation.
Repeat the twist on your other side.
3. Apanasana (Knees to Chest Pose)
Begin lying on your back and stack your knees above your hips with your shins and feet relaxing above the ground. Bring your hands to rest on your knees with your fingers facing your toes. As you inhale, straighten your arms and allow your knees to move away from your body. As you exhale, chant Om as you bend your elbows and draw your knees toward your chest, gently stretching your low back in Apanasana. On your next inhalation, straighten your arms and bring your knees back to the starting position above your hips. Repeat 8 times, gradually softening the volume of your chanting as you go. You may even transition to mental chanting for your last few repetitions, drawing your attention even more inward as you prepare your mind for rest.
About our contributor
Bernadette Soler is a certified yoga therapist and teacher in the Viniyoga lineage. She is dedicated to the study and practice of yoga and has a gift for applying ancient techniques to our contemporary lifestyles. Bernadette has more than a decade of experience teaching and believes in the life-changing power of a daily yoga practice to uncover one's potential. She has immense gratitude to her teacher, Gary Kraftsow, for preserving and transmitting the teachings of yoga in a way that is authentic and timeless.
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