It can be difficult to achieve mental peace when there are so many demands being made upon us at any given time. It is also difficult to maintain a sense of balance and perspective concerning the impermanence and transience of these factors. Our thoughts race around in our heads, perhaps as quickly as we would like to accomplish everything that needs to get done. We worry. We fret. We dwell on old hurts and disappointments. It is as if our mind is a spooked horse that gallops out of control and we are taken wherever it may go.
This feeling of having thoughts racing out of control is often the worst at night when we try to go to sleep. A whole day’s worth of stress and tension flickers about in our mind’s eye as we lay in bed, trying in vain to get to sleep. Many times, the body has also reacted to our stressors by stiffening up, so that it is hard to even be comfortable enough to fall asleep. It can feel as if the mind is an engine that is overheating.
A car’s engine requires coolant in order to prevent it from overheating. We humans also require coolant to prevent our body and our mind from overheating. In Chinese medicine, anything with a cooling, soothing influence on the bodymind is considered to be yin, whereas anything that is active, heating, and energizing is considered to be yang. Most of us live extremely demanding “yang” lifestyles nowadays. This tendency towards constant stress and activity needs to be balanced with yin. People with insomnia are generally considered to be deficient in “yin”. The cooling, relaxing, soothing influence that encourages a good night’s rest has been exhausted and is in need of replenishment.
Acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, and meditation can all aid insomnia through bringing balance back to the body. One acupuncture point that is useful for encouraging sleep and relaxation is right between the eyebrows. It is called “Yintang”. You can go to an acupuncturist for a full treatment, or you can try pressing on this point once in a while when you are trying to unwind enough at night to fall asleep.
One Chinese herbal formula that is often very useful for insomnia is called Suan Zao Ren Wan. This formula can often be found in pill form in health food stores and Asian markets. The main ingredient is a Chinese herb called Suan Zao Ren, or ziziphus seed, which has a calming, yin influence on the body. Research in China has shown it to be useful for anxiety, heart palpitations, and insomnia. It also helps reduce the occurrence of disturbing dreams. The usual dosage is eight to twelve pills three times a day for the Chinese patent pills. If you buy a different version, read the instructions. It is important to take it regularly throughout the day for a few weeks to see results. It is not a quick fix to be taken only at night.
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Of course, in addition to acupuncture and herbs, it is important to modify the habit patterns that result in insomnia. It is important to have a regular bed time, preferably before midnight. The Chinese believe that sleeping at irregular times and sleeping too late depletes the body.
It is also crucial to learn to put aside our stress, our tension, and our worries before going to bed. This is done most effectively through the use of meditation. A Western version that utilizes meditation for insomnia is the old tradition of counting sheep. It is important to have a point of focus for meditation, whether it is a candle flame, a mantra, your own breathing, or sheep. My personal favorite is reciting “Om Shanti Shanti Om”, which is a Hindu mantra that focuses on “shanti”, or satisfaction and peace.
As a result, letting go of extraneous mental chatter becomes easier and easier. Our mind stops overheating. The body can loosen up and relax. It becomes easier to fall asleep at night. We remain calm and poised during the day.
Through the use of meditation, herbal medicine, and acupuncture, most people with insomnia can gain considerable relief.