One of the most frequent concerns raised by people generally is their inability to get a good night’s sleep. Insomnia, as well as restless sleep, seems to be a widespread concern. Among practitioners of yoga, the concern goes even farther, in that they desire to convert sleep into a luminous, rather than a dull or dark period of life, particularly given the fact that we tend to spend 30% or more of our lives asleep or attempting to sleep.
There are numerous causes, generally, of sleeplessness, including diet, stressful lifestyle, various pharmaceutical drugs, sedentary lifestyle effects, illness or chronic disease conditions, and in the modern world, the electronic interfaces through mobile phones, tablet computers, and other computing devices, as well as from the impact of television. Add to these primarily physical causes emotional disturbances and mental preoccupations and one can easily see why there is a seeming epidemic of inability to rest in sleep.
In recent years, the practice known as yoga nidra, or “yogic sleep” has gained tremendous attention around the world for its ability to bring about a state of deep relaxation to the body, nervous system, emotions and the mental process. It is interesting to note that the Mother provides her own comprehensive prescription for attaining sleep which foreshadows the practice of yoga nidra, and goes beyond with attention on the centrality of the psychic being as the leader of mind, life and body. Spending time disconnecting from the external preoccupations and the electronic interfaces is an obvious precursor to the actual practices she recommends. Additionally, taking steps to provide proper movement and exercise to the body, working to maintain balance and harmony in the life, and looking after appropriate diet and timing of meals can all be proactive steps to help make sleep both restful and filled with light and soothing support.
The Mother observes: “To sleep well one must learn how to sleep. … If one is physically very tired, it is better not to go to sleep immediately, otherwise one falls into the inconscient. If one is very tired, one must stretch out on the bed, relax, loosen all the nerves one after another until one becomes like a rumpled cloth in one’s bed, as though one had neither bones nor muscles. When one has done that, the same thing must be done in the mind. Relax, do not concentrate on any idea or try to solve a problem or ruminate on impressions, sensations or emotions you had during the day. All that must be allowed to drop off quietly: one gives oneself up, one is indeed like a rag. When you have succeeded in doing this, there is always a little flame, there — that flame never goes out and you become conscious of it when you have managed this relaxation. And all of a sudden this little flame rises slowly into an aspiration for the divine life, the truth, the consciousness of the Divine, the union with the inner being, it goes higher and higher, it rises, rises, like that, very gently. Then everything gathers there, and if at that moment you fall asleep, you have the best sleep you could possibly have. I guarantee that if you do this carefully, you are sure to sleep, and also sure that instead of falling into a dark hole you will sleep in light, and when you get up in the morning you will be fresh, fit, content, happy and full of energy for the day.”
Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Sleep, pp. 11-17