T’ai Chi, Tantric Qigong, Meditation, and Sleep
Good, deep, restful sleep is like a cool draught of spring water to someone wandering in a baking desert. Our stressful, harried lives require good quality sleep, yet our ability to achieve these deep states seems to be slipping.
In the UK, one third of the population report that they suffer from insomnia and, according to a 2002 poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, 58% of adults in the U.S. experience symptoms of insomnia for at least a few nights each week.*
Prevalence and Etiology Insomnia appears to be more common in women; however the quality of sleep often deteriorates with age in both men and women. Additionally, insomniacs often experience fatigue during the day, fall asleep at work or have difficulty concentrating, poor memory, and can experience irritability. Persons suffering from insomnia can also wake up frequently during the night, have problems going back to sleep, wake up too early, and often feel tired following sleep.
Health conditions such as high blood pressure, sleep apnea, and menopause; medications, drugs, poor nutrition, bad habits such as over-consumption of caffeine and alcohol, pain or other physical discomfort, shift work, negative emotional states such as anger, OCD, and depression, even the anxiety about sleeping well itself can contribute significantly to the degradation of your sleep quality.
T’ai Chi Can Improve Sleep In research conducted by Li F, et al. of the Oregon Research Institute and published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, the ability of T’ai Chi to improve the quality of sleep was studied in a group of older adults. 118 men and women, ranging in age from 60 to 92, were randomly delegated to either a T’ai Chi or a low impact exercise class meeting for one hour, three times a week for six months. The two groups exhibited the same sleep duration at the beginning of the study. At the conclusion of the trial, the T’ai Chi practitioners showed significant improvement in sleep quality compared to the low impact exercise group as measured by the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI). The T’ai Chi-ists were able to fall asleep 18 minutes faster each night and slept 48 minutes more than the exercise group. The researchers concluded that “Tai chi appears to be effective as a nonpharmacological approach to sleep enhancement for sleep-disturbed elderly individuals.”**
How does this work? The researchers did not postulate the mechanisms involved in the improvement of sleep quality through the practice of T’ai Chi. However, with several decades of practice and teaching under my belt, I am willing to hazard a few guesses about this:
1. T’ai Chi (and Tantric Qigong) reduces pain and physical discomfort through gentle movements that improve blood flow, circulating out toxins while presenting no physical stress to the body.
2. T’ai Chi and Tantric Qigong increase oxygenation and vital energy (qi, chi) while at the same time balancing the active and receptive or quiescent aspects of this energy (yin and yang).
3. The gentle stretching characteristic of T’ai Chi reduces muscle spasticity and joint compaction that can lead to pain.
4. Like meditation, Tantric Qigong and T’ai Chi’s conscious breath patterns unite the frontal cortical centers with brain stem and limbic functions resulting in more self mastery and a concomitant decrease in negative emotional states. Training the brain to attain deep Theta states will also relax a person so deeply as to bring them to the threshold of sleep. © 2013 Keith E. Hall and www.Inner-Tranquility.com . All rights reserved.
*2002 Sleep in America Poll, National Sleep Foundation.
**J Am Geriatr Soc. 2004 Jun;52(6):892-900. Tai chi and self-rated quality of sleep and daytime sleepiness in older adults: a randomized controlled trial. Li F, Fisher KJ, Harmer P, Irbe D, Tearse RG, Weimer C. Oregon Research Institute, Eugene, Oregon.
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