Category Archives: Yoga

Tips for handling Sleep problems

There is nothing like a sound sleep to keep one fresh and going. With me it’s much more; I sort of have a dependency on it. My mind almost refuses to function if I have not had a real sound sleep. So naturally, sleep has been an area of interest to me. Recently, I have had several discussions around sleeping problems with many people. It looks like quite a few have one or the other issues. Therefore I thought it makes sense to write a post on it. And as it looks, it turnt out to be an unusually long one.

Typically there are three problems: Getting in to sleep, maintaining the sleep and lastly not feeling fresh even after 8 hrs of sleep. When one or more of this happens regularly, that’s a sure sign that something is not really right

Most common and simplest of the problems is getting in to sleep. This is an indication that the mind and or the body is very active. First get the basics right: avoid exercises/ coffee/ smoke for 2-3 hrs prior to the sleep. Also avoid stimulating mental activities. A gap of 2 hrs between your meals and sleep is recommended and it is also advised not to drink plenty of water before getting to sleep.

 Contrary to the general perception, alcohol does not induce a good sleep. The quality of the sleep is severely impacted by alcohol and in higher quantities, it interferes with the memory. The process of storing temporary memory to permanent memory happens at night through a process called ‘memory consolidation’ and alcohol has a direct influence with it.

 Most of the restlessness in the body and the mind comes through an imbalance between the energies in the body and mind. If by nature your body energy is very high and mind energy low, you will have a lot of restlessness in the body. On the other hand, if your mind energy is very high and body energy low, you will have a lot of issues with obsessive thinking. In the first case, you need to include some relaxing activities in your daily schedule (like meditation) and in the second case you need to take up some solid exercising. Most issues with restlessness will be taken care of.

 Getting in to sleep becomes a problem when the mind is under stress, caught up with some compulsive thinking, brooding over a conflict/problem or is excessively obsessed with some planning. More compulsive the thinking is, more the effort to break it and get to sleep. In the case of stress, it is very common that people wake up in the middle of night (~2-3AM) and even before they know get sucked in to thinking and unable to resume sleep. In such cases, it’s a good idea to break the thought train and that will let you sleep peacefully.

Gibberish meditation is a simple but very handy technique to switch off this stream of thinking, even for those who do not have prior experience with mediation. I have written a separate post on it and advise you to read it. If your mind is too busy and does not let you sleep, practice it just before going to bed. You will sleep like a baby.

 For some people the problem is with scattered thoughts and off it goes from one thought to another. Such people will find it beneficial to do some ‘focusing’ just before going to bed. There is a great technique called ‘candle flame gazing’ that can help you (In yoga, this is called Trataka, in case you want to Google). Here is how you practice this. Place a glowing candle at arm’s length at the eye level. Sit relaxed and look at the flame of the candle. The flame should not flicker. After a while, when the eyes get tired gently close them and focus on the after image of the flame in the dark space before your eyes. When the image begins to fade/ move away, try to hold it steadily. When you can no longer hold the image, gently open the eyes and repeat the practice. Do it 4 or 5 times.

Practice notes:

  1. Instead of the candle flame, you can use a dot (.) on a wall
  2. People who suffer from any eye aliments should not practice Trataka
  3. People who suffer from epilepsy should not practice Trataka on a candle flame, instead should practice on the dot.
  4. It’s not recommended to practice Trataka for a prolonged period of time, as it might leave a permanent impression on your retina. Once a certain level of focus has been achieved, use some alternative techniques to maintain it
  5. When you practice Trataka, lot of suppressed impressions and emotions will surface. Sometimes they may surface too quickly and can make you down. If that happens, do not practice this technique.

 For people who have a strong unconscious mind (generally the emotional type of people), the problem is to do with the day’s events and other information need to be processed. Even when you are asleep, the unconscious mind keeps analyzing the events and tries to make sense. If you are a person who dream a lot, that’s an indication of this problem. This results in two issues. Firstly, you have no idea what the unconscious mind is doing with the information. Secondly, this consumes a lot of energy, so that you don’t feel fresh in the morning even after an 8 hour sleep. Here is a brilliant technique to handle this:

                Let’s call it the ‘rewind technique’. Just before you sleep lie on your back, close your eyes , relax your body and start re-playing the entire day’s events backwards from the moment you closed your eyes. Just watch as you watch a film. Don’t start thinking about it. Try to go in to as much detail as possible, like what you felt, what thoughts were going on in your mind at that time, the sense perceptions etc. Should you get distracted in between (very likely), gently bring your mind back and continue. Thought it may sound very simple, this is a profound technique and if you can practice it on a daily basis, not only that you will sleep like a baby, you will also be freed from the unconscious mental processing that makes your life miserable.

                 Stress is another common problem that causes sleeping problems. Stress affects both the ability to get in to sleep and maintain sleep. The root cause behind stress is that you have too much identified with your thoughts. If you generally have a lot of emotional burden, practicing some witnessing technique will help. The essence of this is to make a bit of distance with your mind, by watching it. But it’s not going to happen in one day. You will have to cultivate it gradually. Here is how you can practice it:

Before you go to bed, sit with your spine erect and watch the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils. Thoughts will distract you; gently watch them and come back. You might alternatively observe the rise and fall of your abdomen as you breathe in and out. The most important thing here is not to strain. Be as relaxed as possible and watch it with a sense of detachment. About 20 minutes would generally suffice.

 If you have too much stress accumulated on your body (which is indicated by stiffness, tightening of muscles in more acute cases aches and pains), you can also watch your body from inside. Take your attention in to the body and watch your body from inside. Relax every muscle as you do this. The stress accumulating in the body is a common problem these days because of sedentary life styles and bad postures. Exercises and massages will also help to remove stress from your body. The exercises should involve stretching and relaxing of the muscles.

                 The sleeping posture bears an important correlation with the quality of sleep. There is a direct relationship between your thoughts and body movements. That’s when a specific kind of thought occurs in the mind, it creates specific body movement. The converse is also true. A stress on any muscle in the body  in turn triggers a particular thought pattern in the mind. If you sleep with your body tightened in any way, it’s time to change it. This is more the case with those who sleep on their tummy and hands tucked below the neck. Lying on your back or side is a definitely a more relaxed posture.

                 The time just before going to sleep and just after you wake up is very significant. This is when the conscious mind is still not very active, but the unconscious mind is active. Normally this is the time you kind of hallucinate. People with very strong unconscious mind, this is the time very deep impressions are created and reinforced. These impressions have a deep impact on your personality, mood etc. Two things will help. One is that you sleep when you are really sleepy; try reading something before you sleep or try one of the exercises described above. Secondly, leave the bed as soon as you are awake. This is very important especially for those who feel down in the mornings.

                If you are feeling tired even after 8 hours of ‘good sleep’, check out one of these possibilities. If the room is not ventilated, you may not get enough of oxygen at night and that could make you dull in the morning. For some people, it could be that your natural way of breathing is very shallow and it becomes more shallow at night. For such people, either a deep breathing technique (like Pranayams) or engaging in some aerobic activities would help.

                 There is a medical condition called sleep apnea, which obstructs the breathing during sleep. But it is hard to detect. If you have anytime woken up choked at night, perhaps this is one possibility. You will need to get medical help to sort this out.    

                Another reason why you feel tired in the morning is that the unconscious mind is very active during the night. The techniques described above (especially the ‘rewind technique’) will surely help. This is important for those who have a lot of emotional stress and confused patterns.

                 Some people who feel tired in the morning, despite a regular fixed sleeping pattern, might need to try increasing / decreasing the duration of the sleep by say 30 mts. The mind goes through different stages during sleep and when you wake up in some of those stages, you feel fresh and in some other stages you feel down , irrespective of the duration of the sleep. Sometime it so happens that you have a fixed schedule and you always get to wake up exactly during the phase where you feel down. If nothing else works, try to change the duration and see.

 You will need to experiment with some of these techniques for a few days to see what works for you.

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Doubt, Negativity and the level of Prana

There are times when our minds become doubtful. All of a sudden, things look different. We start doubting people, situations, and intentions and finally start doubting ourselves (our capabilities, qualities, achievements etc). Sometimes this passes quickly, but at times it gets lodged firmly in the mind, difficult to shake off. When prolonged, this leads to psychosomatic disorders.

But where does all this doubt come from? It’s interesting to see that you were perfectly at peace with some situation till one fine day where you begin to ‘sense’ something wrong. A doubting mind soon develops negative tendencies and the negativity feeds on to doubt back. This could also lead to depression.

Typically we attribute ‘doubting’ to personality traits, thinking problems or even certain situations. But it’s interesting to see the point of view of Yoga. Yoga suggests that mind becomes doubtful when the Prana level goes down. Prana is what’s called the life force (or mental energy) which is alive in everyone. When your prana levels are low, that is when you feel down, disinterested in things, lethargic and develop a negative attitude in life.

So Yoga suggests that to keep doubts and negativity away, all you need to do is to keep your Prana levels high.

How do you do that? According to Yoga, there are four sources of energy: Food, Sleep, Breath and Meditation. Paying attention to them (if not all, at least one or two) will help you keep your energy.

Here is a brief overview of the four:

  • Food – According to Yoga, there are three types of food
    • Sattwik – Whole some food E.g Fresh fruits, vegetables, milk, cereals. They give lot of energy (greener the vegetable, more the prana)
    • Rajasik – This group causes lot of agitation in the mind. E.g Tea/Coffee, Spicy foods
    • Tamasik – That depletes energy and makes you dull and lethargic. E.g Alcohol, mushrooms, non vegetarian food, garlic, fried food, frozen food, refrigerated food etc.

If you are eating Tamasik food regularly, it can make you become very lethargic. Change your diet a bit and go for Satwik food. 

  •  Sleep : It’s important to have sufficient amount to quality uninterrupted sleep. If you have sleeping problems, sort it out. (See the post Tips for a good nights’ sleep )
  • Breath :  Look at your breath. Is it deep or shallow, is it long or short. A bad breathing pattern will fail to reenergize your body and mind as required. If you are badly down, completely devoid of energy, get on to some Pranayama practices. Things will turn around quickly. (Suryanamaskara is also a profound technique) Or try some aerobics. Paying attention to breath also brings some amount of present moment awarensss. 
  •  Meditation: A great source of energy. Needs some practice but can keep you really charged. There are several schools and techniques, choose what you find suitable for you.

Putting attention in these four sources for a few days, you will have a better prana level and even if you have been down for longh, you can see that in few days mind turns around.

H.H Sri Sri Ravishankar says in a talk – Doubt is always about positivity. When someone says “I love you”, you ask “really?”. But when someone says I hate you, you don’t question that. You don’t doubt your anger or depression, but you doubt all the positive qualities in you….

Also see Doubt and conditioning of the mind for the worse

An insight to making firm decisions

All of us make decisions in life. We decide to do something or we decide not to do something or change the way we do something. While we are successful sometimes, there are also quiet many failures. (By success I mean that we are able to stick to the decision and failure the opposite)

Have you ever wondered why we aren’t successful always? Even if we thought about it, we are most likely to attribute it to things like our will power. One reason why we are unable to see a pattern in our own decisions (and the success and failures) is that every time the decisions are different and look unique. It’s very rare we take the same decision over and over again.

 I had the great privilege of being a heavy smoker for many years. I had made numerous attempts to quit, and one important ritual in every attempt was my taking the decision ‘not to smoke ever in my life’. I failed repeatedly. Sometimes it was immediate; sometimes it took few hours, days or weeks before I succumbed to the temptation. Sometimes I was miserable and some other times happy.

When I analyzed these failures, I could see there were two separate aspects. One was the decision making itself and the other sustaining it through maintaining the mindset. If I made a good decision, that helped me have a great start. I could overcome the initial hurdle without serious problems. Similar to a rocket gaining the escape velocity to overcome the earth’s gravitational pull.But if the decision it self was weak, I failed almost immediately. Even when I made a good decision, my failure came from the second aspect – where could not sustain it.

So, when was it that I could take a good decision? I saw two scenarios:

  1. When I had done enough reflection and introspection (why am I doing this, what is it doing for me..etc)
  2. After an emotional outburst.

But still I couldn’t figure out why was my decisions were stronger in the above scenarios.

 Months later, I came across a technique from Yoga for making firm decisions. This is the technique:

Sit in with your eyes closed, spine erect. Take a deep breath and hold the breath inside. Now repeat the decision firmly and continuously in your mind. Keep holding the breath as long as you can. When you can’t hold any longer, breathe out completely. Now hold the breath outside and repeat the decision again in the mind. When you can’t any longer hold it out, breath in and hold and so on. Do this couple of times. And it seems, whatever decision you take like this, you wouldn’t be able to break even if you try to.

This was interesting. Holding breath is a stage in Pranayama called Kumbhaka. And what happens when you do Kumbhaka? – the mind stops (or the thoughts disappear). (Please do not attempt the above technique without guidance or knowledge)

Now the whole thing made sense. I could see a connection. I could see that in both the scenarios above, there was something interesting about the mind. In the first scenario, the deep reflection settled the mind (or the doubts) and the in the second mind just entered in to a void following an outburst. So in essence, I could see that the mind had to get out of the way if we have to take a firm decision. This is verified by the fact that there are times when I take a decision; I almost knew that it will not work. I could see that before even the decision is made, doubts arise in the mind and the decision is doomed even before it starts.

Based on this experience, I have formed a concept for making firm decisions:  If you have to make a firm decision, you need to first get the mind out of the way. Once the thoughts stop (mind doesn’t exist then – I like the analogy of mind and thoughts to forest and trees) take the decision. Allow it to sink deeply in to your self. You will find that the decision is successful, almost effortlessly.

So how to get the mind get out of your way? Here are few suggestions:

  1. Intense Mindfulness. Mindfulness literally kills your mind. When you are mindful, the decision making is good automatically, and you don’t need to do anything extra. But becoming mindful needs some preparation and effort
  2. Intense prayer and surrender – This also settles the mind, especially when there is fear about the decision or you feel helpless
  3. Deep reflection and introspection. In cases where your mind is cluttered about the decision. For e.g smoking, on one side you really want to stop and on the other side you fear that you will miss your friend. Do a deep reflection to get clarity, this will settle the mind and you can take a better decision.
  4. Certain techniques in yoga where you do breath retention (like Moorcha pranayama, Nadi Sodhana Pranayama with prolonged Kumbhaka or simply just holding the breath as mentioned above). They immediately result in a void, and this is the space where you actually take the decision. A void could also result by haphazard breathing for sometime. Techniques 2 or 3 followed by 4 will be your key to making firm decisions.

Sometimes, it is also possible that your mind becomes void or blank without any effort. If you are aware, you should be able to catch it (I have seen this happening ton me when I am physically exhausted)

But remember, taking decision is one of the aspects we need to master. Thoughts on sustaining that in another post.

Rajinikanth and Sharukh Khan

Before you get carried away by the title, let me make my point. I believe that people who have had phenominal sucess in life, do have certain ‘special qualities’  which are not very obvious or noticeable. I think these qualities have helped them (over and above the accepted traits such as hardwork, perseverence, committment and luck) reach unimaginable heights and stay there for long. Let me give you two of my observations:

I was reading a review on the book The Name Is Rajinikanth ( I haven’t read the book) in a magazine last year ( For those who do not know, Rajinikanth is a south Indian actor who is famous for his style and commands a popularity that no other actor in India can ever imagine). There was something I found very interesting about him in the article; that’s his ability to detach from what’s going around. There was an incident mentioned where he goes to a director to return the advance payment and to tell him that he is going to the Himalayas in search of the truth. The article mentions that Rajini often gets this ‘problem’ where he can detach from life and look at it as a third person.  This is the essence of what is called Sakshi Bhava (The art of witnessing) which even great sages would die to achieve.

Look at another example. During a flight , I watched an interview with Shahrukh Khan   ( For those who do not know, he is the ‘King Khan’, who rules the Hindi film industry of India). There was something interesting that caught my attention. Shahrukh talks of a special character of him, which describes as – Every place looks new to me, even if I have visited it several times. I forget people and places. When I’am there the next time, I can’t recollect if I had been there earlier. When I’m there, I am just there. (My interpretation of what he said, not verbatim). This is what every one who is trying to ‘be ‘mindful’ or ‘live in the present moment’ strive to achive.

The point I am trying to make here, these simple (but profound) characteristics in these people have definitely helped them to be what they are, but without being feverish about it. They may not get noticed easily, because I think they came to them naturally and effortlessly.

Who knows, there muct be such a quality in each of us, lying neglected because we don’t really recognise its significance..

What does yoga offer for right-left brain coordination?

Adding a note to my earlier post Right brain or the left brain? Does it really matter?.

The ancient sages of India had explored literally everything that could influence the mind and conciousness positively. Looks like they were aware of the importance of coordinating the right and left brains for better functioning of the mind and better awareness.

There is a simple technique called Yoni Mudra (A mudra is a  posture  that is used to channel energy to a specific part of the body) which is used in meditation, to achive this. Externally this is meant to balance the energies between right hand and the left hand. But interally this helps to balance the right and left parts of the brain. Yoni mudra is performed using the hands as shown below in the picture.

Yoni Mudra

How the mudra meditation done?

Just sit cross legged with the spine erect, hold your hands in yoni mudra (thumbs are facing the ceiling and the hands below your navel with elbows bent outwards) and take deep, joyful ujjai breaths. Do few rounds. This can be integrated with other yoga practices, or can be done alone. Typically a mudra is practiced after raising the enrgy level in the body through yoga or pranayama or even a physical activity like jogging

When do you want to balance your left and right brains? When one of them is really dominant. That is either you are too logical and lack creativity or you are too sensitive and emotional and can’t approach things logically.

Note: In some texts, yoni mudra refers to a different posture. I think just a termonilogy issue.

Also see the post on story telling to make the brain more creative