Michele Loew not only owns and operates the most exquisitely-designed yoga studio in the Pacific Northwest, the Yoga Space, she is one of the most internationally sought-after yoga teachers around. She's been David Bowie's tour yoga instructor, received several Kalachakra initiations with the Dalai Lama himself, and practices Buddhism with Dr. Robert Thurman, the renowned Columbia University professor and scholar/activist (and Uma Thurman's father).
Michele is one of the gentlest, wisest, kindest and most generous souls I've ever encountered. We first met in 2005, backstage at a rock festival in western Australia where our significant others were performing, only to learn we lived blocks away from each other in Portland, Ore. (Michele is married to Pete Holmström of the Dandy Warhols, another gem of a human being.) We've been friends ever since, and though life has gotten increasingly busy for both of us, there are few people I look forward to spending time with more. I always walk away feeling energized and enlightened in some way, big or small. (No doubt this is why she has such a loyal following of students all over the world.)
Since so many of us struggle to get a restful night's sleep, I was curious to hear what Michele, having practiced and studied yoga for more than 20 years, would have to say on the subject. Michele is actually hosting a "Yoga for Sleep & Yoga Nidra" workshop at her Portland Studio on March 21st to talk in depth about this very issue, but if you can't make that, I encourage you to read the Q&A below, and hope you find it as educational as I did.
DO YOU HAVE A BEDTIME RITUAL?
I like to take a bath with bath salts and essential oils like lavender and spruce before sleep. The salt and oils cleanse, relax and ground. I’ll listen to binaural beats or nice music sometimes, like the Shins [laughs]. A big part of my ritual is just setting up my room. You want wide open space. The energy of bliss. So a lot of times I'll burn sage or palo santo to clear the energy. I always light my candles and come into a meditation before I go to sleep. At least 20 minutes of silent meditation. Then I blow out my candles and fall asleep.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO CLEAR YOUR ROOM BEFORE BED?
I clear the energy of the room, and that which I picked up throughout my day, to get myself into a positive vibe. A lot of us are physically or energetically carrying lower frequency emotions such as anger, frustration, or sadness from our own lives, or the collective. We may even feel powerless because we can't do anything about what we see going wrong in our lives or the world, and those feelings—if not seen, honored and released—can adversely affect us, even permeating our cellular structure. (Epigenetics has shown that our minds can actually change our DNA structure.) So I clear the energy to come into that clear light of infinite pure bliss energy that is available during sleep. That is our true nature, and doing some ritual around remembering that before bed allows us to access it during sleep and awaken deeply rested and rejuvenated.
We don’t need to carry the weight of the world when we sleep. We can let it go and more powerfully face the tasks at hand in the morning—more capable, vibrant, awake. Sleep rituals of clearing and positive intentions are pure magic for deep rest and healing.
HOW DOES THE PRACTICE OF MEDITATION HELP YOU SLEEP BETTER?
Meditation helps to increase the brain waves that also occur in deep sleep and clear-mind awareness. Theta waves occur most often in sleep, but are also dominant in deep meditation. Delta waves are generated in deepest meditation and dreamless sleep, and Gammas are the highest frequency brain wave. They are also the most subtle; the brain has to be quiet to access them. How they are generated is a mystery. But there are high states of these brain waves in people who have been meditating a long time, what we'd call "Olympic meditators." But researchers are also seeing them pop up in people practicing yoga nidra, even if they are not avid meditators. So yoga nidra is a very powerful practice of meditation and relaxation. Practicing allows you to drop into that pure bliss, or clear light of the void, that you need to sleep well.
WHAT IS YOGA NIDRA, AKA YOGIC SLEEP?
Yoga nidra is usually practiced lying down to facilitate letting go. It's a guided meditation practice to help you relax, heal and transform, and it also accesses the same brain waves in sleep, gradually moving you into a state of pure consciousness within deep sleep. You have pure awareness within a restful body. So it is sleep to wake up to pure consciousness that is free from the conceptual mind. The worries and things that might keep you up at night start to dissolve and drop away. You're tapping into your higher self and dropping off the naming and concepts of the mind. You take yourself into pure freedom, also called the clear light of the void, or bliss void indivisible. This is the nature of our super subtle consciousness that mediation and yoga nidra accesses. And it is extremely powerful and joyous to rest in that awareness.
YOU MENTIONED AFFIRMATIONS CAN ALSO BE VERY CLEARING, CAN YOU TELL US MORE?
One way to work with positive affirmations and mantra is in the Buddhist practice of Metta meditation. Metta is very much about clearing energy for yourself and others. It is deeply healing and freeing. Metta is loving kindness meditation, and it opens your heart to yourself and others. You can start by visualizing in front of you a person you love deeply and connecting to the feeling of your love for them as you see them there. Then you say to them: May you be safe, may you be well, may you find your way and be fulfilled, may you be happy, may you be filled with compassion. You repeat this to them in that feeling of love as long as you like. Then you do it again with someone you feel neutral about, such as your barista. Then with someone you are in conflict with. Then with yourself: May I be filled with compassion, may I be free from suffering, may I be safe, may I feel supported, may I be happy, may I find my way and be fulfilled.