It was recently brought to my attention that one of the most widespread problems facing adult humans is that of insomnia. As a people…we have trouble sleeping. Sleep being one of our most essential functions — well, clearly, this is very much Not Good.
Full disclosure: I’m not generally insomniac myself. Then again, I also can’t imagine there’s a human beyond the age of the crib who hasn’t experienced at least an instance or two of wanting desperately to sleep, while meeting with zero success on that score. So, while this isn’t one of my own primary, ongoing problems, I do still feel intense sympathy and compassion for those of you for whom it is.
And because I can’t stumble across someone in distress without wanting to help (sweet and caring, or just a martyr complex…? jury: still out…), I wanted to post about a certain relaxation technique that just might have some positive effect in this area…
I first encountered this particular technique when researching what’s known as Out of Body Experiences (“OBE’s”). This is the term given to the phenomenon in which a person is able to somehow jettison their consciousness — their spirit, their astral self, pick your favored term — from out of the usual confines of their fleshly form (i.e., their body). People who have reported OBE’s often speak in highly favorable terms about these occurrences, and report the ability to view their own sleeping bodies from some distance, and of being able to travel about in a sort of ghostly, float-y fashion through the world outside, perceiving things they simply couldn’t perceive from the relatively limited vantage point of their bedrooms.
This all sounded unqualifiedly fantastic to me. It put me in mind of the comic book tales I’d read as a youngster centering on the psychedelic adventures of one Dr. Strange, Sorcerer Supreme. Doc Strange, among many, many other supernatural abilities, had it within his arsenal of tricks to send his astral body out across the urban sprawl of his home city, Manhattan, or even farther, out to distant points scattered around the globe, as the astral form isn’t bound by the same restrictions of time and distance under whose pitiless boot-heels our physical forms must labor.
So it occurred to me that if other people could astral travel the way Dr. Strange can astral travel, then, well…I wanted in! So I set out to get out-of-body!
And…so far, still no luck. I did a bunch of research, both online and in those old-fashioned hardcopy holdovers from antiquity that the ancients called “books” — but nuthin’. My experiences have all remained very much in-body. But that’s okay, hope springs eternal and all that, and I remain optimistic… But getting back to the main thrust of this post — namely: the relaxation technique I mentioned that might help someone out there get some blessed sleep — it was in studying up on the ways in which people successfully get out-of-body that I bumped into the following little relaxation exercise…
I of course can’t promise that this will help you get to sleep (much less get out-of-body if that’s what you’re after), but it’s certainly worth a try! What do you have to lose, aside from maybe a bit of draining sleeplessness, and some time during which you’d have been staring in frustration up at your ceiling anyway, right…?
Here’s what you do:
Try lying on your back for this if you can, although if you can’t sleep that way, pick whatever position you tend to favor. Take a few slow, deep breaths to gear up for this (and it’s simple, so you will hopefully not feel any anxiety about making the attempt).
When you’re ready, start by focusing on your feet. Feel them, be aware of them…and then tense up the muscles there. Clench your toes, and your feet themselves, almost as if you’d do if you were trying to pick things up with them monkey-style. Clench them up, and keep them clenched, for something like 3-5 seconds. Don’t worry about whether you’re actually falling within that window — no one is clocking you with the exactitude of Swiss Time and tallying your statistics here — just keep your feet tensed up for a few seconds. Once you’ve done that…release the tension.
Next, move your mental focus up into your lower legs, and perform a similar clenching of the muscles there: tighten up your calf muscles, and if you can do so, pay attention first to their lower reaches down near your ankles, and then direct your awareness on upwards, toward your knees. Again, keep up the tension for a few full seconds (you can count them off if that helps you, but I’d really recommend doing this only if it’s helpful — if it stresses you out more, don’t count, and just estimate how long you’re holding the muscles clenched).
You can probably guess the rest: continue on upward through your entire body, clenching, holding, and then releasing the tension in one major muscle group at a time.
The only tricky part is deciding on the order in which to handle your hands and arms versus your torso. As you complete the clenching/unclenching process with your thighs, you’ll find that you’re reaching your gluteal area (you know, the part of you upon which you sit…) and your hands at roughly the same time, so you’re faced with a choice. There’s no right or wrong here. You can jump ship from your main trunk over to your hands, work your way up your arms after making and holding tight fists, then after you eventually reach your shoulders, pause there to return to your glutes so you can then move on up your torso (and remember to keep doing only one main muscle-region at a time, and in logical successive order: abs, lower back, chest, upper back…). Alternatively, you could do the opposite, completing your body up to your neck, then doing your arms, either shoulders to hands or the opposite, whichever you like. If you’re able to do so, you can even do your trunk and your hands/arms at the same time as you move up. Again, it really just depends on what feels best, easiest, and most natural to you. Feel free to experiment with different orders here on different nights, too — you might find that one sequence works especially well for you.
After you’ve knocked out all the major muscle groups below your collarbones, next focus on your neck. Give it an authoritative tightening, and be sure to hold it for a few good, long seconds…
Next, work your jaws, your mouth, your tongue… Then your cheeks… Even clench up the little muscles that make your ears wiggle if you’re one of those people who can do that (again, if this is not you, don’t stress out about this — just skip that part). Don’t skimp on your eyes and your eyebrows, and then your scalp muscles, either, if you can access them.
And once you’re all done…just lie there as calmly and coolly as possible, and try to let every…single…muscle…stay relaxed. Totally relaxed. Utterly unengaged… If you can do it, lie there unmoving, and so still that you start to feel detached from your own body. Pretend you’re already unconscious, and just let go of your muscles completely…
I can report from personal experience that almost every time I make use of this technique, I end up plunging soon thereafter into some sound and restful sleep!
I make you no guarantees that this method will zip you off to dreamland every time, or even any time — we’re all very different people! — but I do heartily recommend that you give it a shot, at least once or twice if insomnia is something you struggle with. Also, if sleeplessness is really a serious problem for you, and you haven’t yet consulted someone who’s more of an expert on the subject than I am…please do so! And in the meantime, while it’s morning here as I write this, I nevertheless wish you all restful slumbers, and the sweetest of dreams…