Will Williams, the former music industry executive and insomnia sufferer, discovered – through a unique form of meditation – how to cure his chronic sleepless nights. Now he teaches others to restore their energy levels, combat stress, manage their weight and learn to love life a whole lot more just by using the same, no-nonsense method.
‘I suffered with insomnia all through my twenties and it drove me nuts,’ says Will Williams. ‘I tried loads of things to combat it. None of them worked. Then at a random meeting I was told about a ‘legendary solution’ for sorting it out. I was sceptical, of course, but desperate for a decent night’s sleep so I gave it a shot. Pretty much the next morning I began to notice a difference. In the space of two weeks, through meditation, my sleep patterns were the best they’d been in years.’
Will has since spent the past 11 years training with renowned meditation masters across the globe and creating his own methods. He teaches classes and courses from his London HQ from which he also founded World Meditation Day (May 15th). This year he’s launches a new BEEJA meditation app, publishing a book, ‘The Effortless Mind’ and opening new meditation centres in Berlin, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. It’s the kind of schedule that would give anyone sleepless nights – but for Will that’s no longer an issue. Here, he reveals how he sleeps soundly, and now you can too:
Identify The Sleep Saboteurs The reasons for Williams’ insomnia were the usual suspects – with one major exception. ‘I was leading an adrenalised lifestyle, working long, highly stressed days followed by schmoozing, boozing and partying at night.’ All of these factors are linked to insomnia and living in a city has been shown to accelerate stress levels. ‘My body was awash with the stress hormone cortisol, my diet was poor and my circadian rhythm (body clock) was all over the place. I’d also been in a severe car accident when I was 20 which – looking back – had put my nervous system on edge,’ Williams tells RSNG.
Using a mantra is designed to send your nervous system into a state of restfulness
Outsmart Your Smartphone Williams recommends building meditation into your daily routine – and suggests options to use around bedtime – that can help sever our compulsion to keep checking one’s smartphone. ‘Today’s insomnia’s sufferers will have similar lifestyle habits to those I’ve listed. They won’t have had the car crash trauma, but they will be victims to something I wasn’t – smartphone compulsion.’
Williams suggests that the simple solution to counter the impact of smartphones is not to look at it for at least an hour before to go to sleep. ‘But I know that’s so much easier said than done.’ Using meditation instead as part of a pre-bed routine can help you achieve the relaxed state you need to achieve quality sleep. ‘The influence of factors like smartphones has meant that insomnia has become normalised, and meditation can help you become less compulsive towards your phone.’
Become A Beeja You Williams was introduced to meditation, specifically Vedic mantra. ‘It helps you rediscover the sleep quality and quantity your body needs without you having to become a monk or adopt an alternative lifestyle,’ says Williams. It’s one of the simplest forms of meditation for anyone to learn. You sit comfortably, close your eyes and begin to repeat your mantra. The mantra is selected by a meditation group teacher and usually originates from Indian sanskrit, used by Buddhists.
‘The very nature of mantra meditation means that you could make a mantra meditation in any language, Sanskrit tends to lend itself best to meditation,’ says Williams. Namo Amitabha, for example, is a mantra used in his Beeja school from the Buddhist repertoire – it loosely means ‘Homage to the Buddha of boundless light’. ‘Using a mantra is designed to send your nervous system into a state of restfulness. In this state, our mind and body automatically develop without us having to try,’ says Williams.
Do Nighttime Nidra Another form of meditation Williams recommends is Yoga Nidra. ‘It’s a simple awareness exercise for people who find it hard to get to sleep. It takes about seven to eight minutes,’ he says. To perform it you mentally divide the body into two sides. ‘You get into bed and lie on your back with your eyes closed, feet shoulder-width apart, arms a little away from your side with your palms facing upwards. Take three deep breaths, letting out a good sigh as you exhale.’
‘Then, without moving, gently take your awareness to the following body parts: right thumb, right index finger, right middle finger, etc, then whole of the right hand, lower arm, upper arm, shoulder, right side of your chest, hip, upper leg, knee, lower leg, right foot and toes. Now be aware of the whole of the right side of your body.’
‘To complete this relaxation method Williams explains that you need to repeat the process on the opposite side too. ‘Gradually move your awareness to your left thumb and follow the same method, left index finger, left middle finger, etc, etc. Also be aware of the very thin layer of contact between your body and the bed, of the air temperature on any exposed part of the skin. Finally, without opening your eyes, just be aware of the room around you. Picture the furniture - remember the textures and materials in your surrounding area. If you have made it this far without falling asleep, keep your eyes shut and wait for a lovely deep slumber to envelop you.’
Poor sleep quality and quantity can lead to anxiety, depression, low energy levels and low self-esteem
Don’t Believe The Lie-In Lie Meditation techniques need to work in tandem with lifestyle adjustments if you’re going to fully combat insomnia, according to Williams. ‘If you are waking up and going to bed at different times each day, your body is never going to be able to develop a satisfactory sleep rhythm.’ He reveals that hoping a lie-in or two at the weekend will make everything good again is a major mistake. ‘When you change the rhythm of your sleep on two successive days, by the time it comes to Sunday night the body is confused. This triggers insomnia making Monday even harder to handle. It may feel counter-intuitive, but waking up earlier on one of those two days will generally make you feel better, not worse.’
Reap The Rewards Williams has rediscovered the joys of a decent night’s kip thanks to meditation, but his research has also highlighted the many benefits to applying relaxation technique to your daily routine. ‘Poor sleep quality and quantity can lead to anxiety, depression, low energy levels and low self-esteem,’ says Williams. ‘But when you sleep well you produce more of the appetite suppressing hormone leptin, and less of the hormone ghrelin which makes us eat more than we need to. Sleepless nights on the other hand cause a dip in leptin, a spike in ghrelin and a craving for comfort food. This can leave you feeling stressed about your diet and weight gain, Causing a rise in the stress hormone, cortisol, and more restless night in a vicious cycle. Meditation and better sleep habits will break that cycle for good.’
WHAT NEXT? Discover more of Will’s meditation tips in his vlog.
Will Williams, The Effortless Mind, Publishes May 2019 £9.95