Can’t sleep? Ask yourself: “Where’s the tension?”
I was a deep and late sleeper until I was well into my thirties. I needed my alarm or I would miss half of the day. And then one day, something weird happened. Well, sadly, not that weird — hormones shifting, I am sure. I started waking up unprovoked at 7 or even 6am.
Though there is something cool and creative about being a night-owl, I have come to love mornings so overall it’s not a bad change. However, the lighter sleep has given me insomnia from time to time which definitely sucks.
I’m a bit of a cerebral type and I’ve always thought of the mind as the CPU that merely receives sensory input from the body and sends output signals to muscle groups in order to move around. Then I read about the somatic marker hypothesis (in Descartes’ Error), and started to realize that things are a bit more complex than that. The state of the body influences the mind, or I would almost say: is the mind.
I found this meditation routine called “progressive muscle relaxation” for when I couldn’t sleep where I would systematically go through the body, relaxing my arms, fingers, shoulders, etc.. Quite often that would work and allow me to fall asleep. If your mind is racing, it seems like it’s only because you are facing a problem and that causes your body to tense up. But sometimes it’s the other way around. Or at least, the result of a feedback loop.
I can tell that my wife grasps this on a much more intuitive level and she is quite good at suggesting, say, that I do a workout when I am in a bad mood which never occurs to me but almost always helps. She told me that she used do something similar to my meditation routine, but had discovered that she could shortcut the process by simply asking herself “Where’s the tension?”. And that, it turns out, works for me as well. I almost always discover that I just need to relax my forehead, my abs or some other muscle, and my body allows me to let go of the thoughts and fall asleep.
Are you tense somewhere right now?