Why Meditate Before Bedtime?

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I usually emphasize meditating first thing in the morning to students who are new, or fairly new, to meditation.  Among several reasons, in morning meditation you are setting the tone for the rest of the day, and can do so from the relatively non-reactive and calm place engendered from sleep.

But why meditate before going to bed at night? Many just want to get to bed. Others avoid going to bed by spending too much time with their smartphones, social media, TV, computer or other activities–and then collapse into sleep. It can also be good to add an evening session, say–just before dinner. That’s great, but today I want to focus on meditating before bedtime in particular.

Meditating before bedtime is a great opportunity to clear mental and emotional residue from the day—tensions, unfinished interactions, worries, ignored feelings— and to make room for listening to the often obscured “still small voice” of inspiration and wisdom. Many of us wouldn’t think of going to bed without brushing our teeth, but what about clearing the mind and heart? To take 10 or 20 minutes before sleeping has many advantages: your sleep will tend to be of a higher quality, and deeper—and when you are aware of dreams—you may find them more lucid and powerful. Another benefit I have found is that I need less sleep and I wake up more rested and clear-minded. 

I always recommend a timer: this will help create a structure that allows you to go as deep as possible without having to mentally manage the ending time. Before you begin, do a few stretches, deep breaths, and movements that help release tension from the shoulders and neck.

Your meditation period falls roughly into six phases: preparation, beginning, practicing, clearing, absorption, and return.

Preparation involves whatever aids you in beginning: intentional relaxation, even a few yoga stretches, deep breathing, and perhaps a little ritual, like lighting a candle, can be good. Sit with the spine straight, but make sure the neck is not held in a rigid “military” fashion, but rather “floats” from the shoulders. The shoulders are relaxed, and not hunched or brought forward. If you are sitting in a chair feet are flat on the floor.

Next is practice. This is when you begin the meditation technique you have chosen: it could be mindfulness, breath watching, mantra, and so forth.

Then comes clearing—this is not so much an active process but one of allowing all that arises directly from the practicing phase.  You notice thoughts and feelings, and rather than react to them, you allow them to have their brief life and then pass on or dissolve. This is the hardest part of meditation, since resistance comes in at this phase: daydreaming, restlessness, and the urge to end your session can arise.  With loving persistence,  eventually a clarity and peace takes the place of resistance.  Now you can enter the wonderful phase of absorption: this is a state of stillness, clarity, and grace.

Fritz Perls, founder of Gestalt psychology, used to say, “Awareness is curative.” Whatever technique you use—breath, insight, mantra, etc—simple non judgmental awareness of what is arising is going to be the purifying, healing and transformative agent.

The return, the final phase of your session–is different from morning, or daytime meditation, in which you need to transition back to a certain external focus and alertness in preparations for the days activities. . With before-bedtime meditation you can instead sink directly into sleep in your meditative consciousness.

Let me know how it goes!

Wishing you well, 

Thomas Amelio-Shivanand