According to Ayurveda, sleep is one of the most important principles for a balanced life. In Prajna, Mira shares an Ayuverdic pre-bedtime regime she believes will give you the best night’s sleep. From sesame oil and soothing drinks to journalling and breathing exercises, these are the mantras she swears by…
At HQ, we’re always on the hunt for new (or old) wellness trends and rituals to boost our wellbeing, which is why we’ve been poring over an Ayuverdic-inspired book, Prajna by Mira Manek. Prajna is packed full of Ayuverdic rituals and routines for the entire day, from energy boosting hacks to kickstart your day, to night-time practices that’ll ensure an incredible night of sleep.
We live in a fast-paced world. Many of us feel exhausted during the day but can’t fall asleep at night, with constant thoughts, to-do lists and worries running through our minds. Naturally more of a night person, I often feel ‘wired’, with a sudden burst of energy, at night. It’s hard to get to sleep when feeling energized or when the mind is pacing through thoughts.
This is why there’s now such an emphasis on winding down, on putting away your phone, on switching off from social media. It is important not just for the mind, but for all the body functions and our own wellbeing, to calm ourselves and activate our parasympathetic nervous system, so we’re in ‘rest and digest’ mode (opposite to ‘fight and flight’). Activation of our parasympathetic nervous system allows us to digest food properly, allows our muscles to relax and our heart rate to drop.
The realization of our absolute need to relax and de-stress is the reason why meditation apps are so widely used – they’re as popular with the business and banking communities as they are with yogis. There have been a number of brilliant books on sleep in the last few years, from Arianna Huffington’s The Sleep Revolution to Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker. The world has woken up to the detrimental effects and consequences of insufficient sleep.
So how do we ensure that we can actually fall sleep? How do we create an environment that allows us to and encourages us to slow down and get into sleep mode at night?
When you enter your home in the evening, lighting is the first thing that sets the tone and the mood. Bright lights can be stimulating, so try and have lights that dim or have a couple of lamps that you can use at night.
What you’ve eaten during the day will, of course, have an impact on how well you sleep. If there is any caffeine in your system, it might prevent you from getting into that very deep sleep, so try not to have any coffee or anything with caffeine after around 3pm. Chocolate also contains caffeine. Having a small piece might be okay, but having a whole chocolate dessert or ice cream might affect your sleep.
Turn off your phone
You may well find this difficult (like me) but try not to look at your phone for at least an hour before you sleep. The brightness of the screen and engagement with others on social media stimulates the senses and keeps everything ‘on’ rather than helping you to wind down in preparation for total switch off. When you go to bed, turn off your phone or don’t take it into your bedroom. If you need to, switch on the alarm on your phone half an hour before you get into bed so that looking at your phone screen isn’t the last thing you do before your head hits the pillow. Mobile phones are wonderful things but they can be disruptive for our sleep.
What is it that relaxes you? For some, it might be playing a guitar and for others it will be listening to music while cooking. Do what relaxes you and brings you into a meditative state. All these things from cooking and listening to music to going for a walk to writing a journal or playing an instrument can be meditative, if it is what you love and enjoy. Schedule this time in, even if it feels selfish, because there will always be other things to do, people to meet, places to be, but if you never switch off from this, from the noise, from others, from the world, you will lose your connection to you and the essence of your own self.
Stillness and meditation
For some, a meditation practice, whether it’s long or short, can be incredibly therapeutic. I’ve expanded on this below and on the following pages with mantras to chant and different ways to get into a mode of stillness.
Journaling and writing
Jotting down your thoughts can be a wonderful form of therapy and healing, making sense of all the fragmented thoughts and emotions, bringing them together in one place and finding a release.
Sipping on hot milk with a little saffron and nutmeg can help induce sleepiness. Saffron not only helps you sleep but can even help with depression.
Rub sesame oil on the palms of your hands and bottoms of your feet – another Ayurvedic sleep remedy. You could also use ghee.
Taking deep breaths, or practising ujjayi breathing, can be very calming and allow you to enter a state of relaxation. I often listen to podcasts by philosophers and thinkers or switch on my Indian classical playlist while I do my breathing exercises.
Getting some fresh air, clearing the head and walking in the outdoors can be a wonderful way to de-stress. It might also be something you can do with your partner or a friend, a time to laugh and chat and re-energize the soul as you walk.
Having a bath, perhaps with some candles, can be incredibly meditative and relaxing. For me, it’s often just 10–15 minutes, but I put on some soothing music or an inspiring podcast, I light a candle, sip on a herbal tea or a cup of lemon, ginger and honey, and close my eyes.
Adding Epsom salts into your hot bath will additionally draw out toxins from the body, and Epsom salts also contain magnesium which enters the skin and muscles and helps us relax even more. This is great for when you’ve been lifting weights or just working out a lot. If you have a cold, then adding a little eucalyptus and camphor oil to your bath could be just the thing you need.
Baths are a wonderful way to send you into sleep mode before bed, but they’re equally brilliant to warm the entire body in the winter, when you’ve just got home in the evening and it feels like the cold has penetrated into your bones. Try not to expose yourself to bright light after the bath so you stay in this relaxed state and get into bed as soon as possible after bathing.
Steam and sauna
I love using a steam room and sauna especially in winter, first and foremost to warm up, and then to soothe any aches and pains and feel entirely relaxed. My skin also feels great after a short time in a steam room, because the sweating opens up the pores and helps to remove dead skin cells and toxins. In Ayurveda, the steam bath, called Swedana, increases circulation, helps remove toxins from fat cells, reduces stress (the heat and relaxation stimulate the release of endorphins), gives the heart a workout and helps clear sinuses.
This eclectic collection of songs, for me, is infused with relaxed energy, mantras with upbeat rhythms to immediately bring the mind into evening mode and lift the mood, and with a sense of spiritual mystery.
‘Hanuman Chalisa’ – Keerti Mathur
‘Mul Mantra’ – Snatam Kaur
‘Reunion’ – Anoushka Shankar
‘Morey Pya Bassey’ –Cheb i Sabbah
‘Bangles’ – Niraj Chag
‘Ong Namo’ – Mirabai Ceiba
‘Pashupati’ – Sharon Gannon
‘Nataraja’ – Jai Uttal and Ben Leinbach
‘Gayatri Mantra’ – Deva Premal
‘Hari Om (Tiruvannamalai)’ – Janet Stone and DJ Drez
‘Long Time Sun’ – Snatam Kaur
‘Purnamadah’ – Shantala
‘Jai Radha Madhav’ – Deva Premal
‘Water Sign’ – East Forest
‘Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha’ – Edo Jo
‘I am (Krishan Liquid Mix)’ – Nirinjan Kaur
‘Rudrashtakam (Shiva Stuti)’ – Krishna Das