This week: How progressive muscle relaxation can help you sleep.
SLEEPING is one of my talents. No tossing and turning for me —I can stay curled up all night long, waking up with a dead arm and pillow creases on my face. I have even been known to get my full eight hours on a bus travelling down the pot-holed dust track that is Ruta 40 in Argentina, which proved highly annoying to my travel buddy.
This, however, has changed of late. After being up all hours with my little sleep thieves for, well, years now, I can sometimes struggle to switch off, roll over and do what used to come so naturally and easily — sleep. And I’m not alone. Nearly everyone will have sleep problems at some point in their lives.
One simple get-to-sleep technique that really works for me is progressive muscle relaxation. By systematically tensing and relaxing different muscle groups, you literally squeeze out any tension lurking in the body. And as the body relaxes, so too can the mind. This technique also makes you aware of what tension and relaxation feel like and, in time, it can teach you how to relax whenever the going gets tough.
HOW TO DO IT
YOU can do this posture if you feel a little anxious or at the end of a yoga session, but if you’re trying to help insomnia, I suggest you get ready for bed and hop right in. Yes, that’s right, you can do it snuggled under a duvet if you like. Lay on your back with your feet hip-width apart, feet flopping out. Take your hands well away from your body and face the palms up.
Your aim is to be comfortable, so put a pillow under your knees if the back feels tight. And make sure you’re warm enough — you have zero chance of relaxing if you’re feeling cold. Close your eyes and listen to your breath. Feel the breath, soft and smooth, as it travels in and out of your body.
Bring your attention to your feet. Squeeze all the muscles of the feet and toes as tightly as you can for about three breaths. Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze — so much it almost hurts — and, on an exhale, let go. Repeat this clench and release technique as you work up the body, working the lower legs next, followed by the thighs, buttocks, belly, then chest.
Next, bring your attention to the hands. Make tight fists and hold for three breaths, then spread the fingers and thumbs as wide as they can go. Squeeze… and release. Move on to your forearms, then the upper arms.
Come to your shoulders. Round them in towards your chest for a few breaths, then shrug them right up to your ears, as high as possible. Squeeze… and release. Allow them to fall back and relax.
Finally, screw up your face, as if you were trying to bring all your features in towards the nose. Feel the jaw tighten, the throat tense and any wrinkles and fine lines become exaggerated. Hold for a few breaths and then open your eyes and mouth very wide, stick your tongue out and sigh ‘aaaaah’ before letting everything relax.
Come to stillness. Stay here for as long as you like. You never know, you might just fall asleep…
CAN ANYONE HAVE A GO?
YES, yes, yes. There really is no exception.
First published in the Irish Daily Mail, April 7, 2015