By Dr. Rita Khanna
How can you start practicing Yoga for insomnia and what can you expect? Insomnia means the inability to sleep. Sleep is a natural process and it is a gift to us from nature. It is an essential and an important part of our life because due to a good night’s sleep we get special strength for physical capacity and mental working ability. Sleep not only helps regain used up energies but also gives rest to the strained muscles and nerves. The body and mind become healthy and make us free from all problems, worries, anxiety, and stress in life. Seven to eight hours of sleep a night is optimal for good health.
Importance of Sleep
It is essential for the formation of the various hormones, which are utilized during the activities done for the whole day. It is also essential for the rejuvenation of the heart’s muscles that tire during the day’s hard work. People, who suffer from sleep disorders, really understand the true importance of sleep. They feel tired, exhausted, and fatigued when they wake up in the morning. It can affect their energy level, mood, health, immune system, job, and family. In all of these areas, yoga for insomnia makes a positive difference.
What Happens When We Sleep?
Every time we go to sleep, our organs slow down, thought processes cease, or more appropriately our conscious mind stops working. Our breathing becomes regular and calm and so on. Now if one keeps on waking up one is likely to disturb one’s sleeping pattern. Every time you get up during the night and try to sleep again the body has to go through the entire process again. As a result, the net effective sleep that you get is much less than what you would have got if you had slept at a stretch.
Any of us can have short-term insomnia – like during weddings, examinations, project submissions, illness, death of a close relation – when we cannot sleep well for a few days. This is also known as acute insomnia. However, if you cannot sleep for at least three nights per week for more than a month at a stretch, it is called chronic insomnia. Chronic sleeplessness can adversely affect your work, relationships, and health and needs to be treated as soon as possible. Excessive fatigue, anxiety, fever, indigestion, pain, or discomfort anywhere in the body are the common causes of sleeplessness.
Automatic Nervous System (ANS)
The ANS is divided into two parts: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). Therefore, the sympathetic nervous system has an active pushing function; the parasympathetic has mainly a relaxing function. When the sympathetic nervous system overstimulates, it results in numerous adverse physiological changes such as anxiety, panic attack, stress, and increased blood pressure. People with insomnia problems must have noticed that whenever they want to sleep their mind becomes more active and lots of thoughts, programs, etc. start coming into their mind and they find it difficult to fall asleep. To counter these changes, we should follow certain techniques to activate the parasympathetic nervous system.
How to Activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System
The parasympathetic nervous system counteracts the stress effect, calms you down, slows heart rate, increases digestion, and so on. This is the state you want to be in before you go to bed. Incorporating Yoga into our life is one of the best ways to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Yoga prevents sleep disorders with the help of its stimulatory effect on the nervous system and the brain in particular. Certain Yoga postures such as Vipreetkarni Mudra, Sarvangasana, and Parvatasana increase blood circulation to the brain which normalizes the sleep cycle. The practice of breathing exercises such as Chandrabedhan, Kapalbhatii Kriya, Bhramari, and Om chanting allows for more oxygen in the body providing clarity to the mind.
Brahmari Pranayama has shown excellent results in reducing insomnia. While making a buzzing sound, we get vibrations in the brain which create a soothing effect on the mind and the nervous system. It stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which induces muscular, physical, mental, and emotional relaxation that leads to deeper and more restful sleep. During insomnia problems, practice Brahmari before going to sleep by closing the ears till the time you fall asleep.
A Basic Yoga Routine For Insomnia
Before we start yoga for insomnia there are some basic precautions to follow:
Drink at least 4 to 5 liters of water in a day to avoid constipation and indigestion.
Never workout on a heavy stomach.
There should be a break of at least 10 seconds between each Asana in the sequence
If you have any kind of ailments or health-related issues please consult your doctor before doing any exercise or do it under the guidance of a Yoga teacher.
A Basic Yogic Routine
1. Jalneti Kriya: twice a week, only during the morning on an empty stomach
2. Vipreetkarni Mudra: hold for 10-20 seconds, 3 sets 3 days a week
3. Sarvangasana: hold for 10-20 seconds, 3 sets 3 days a week
4. Parvatasana: hold for 10-20 seconds, 3 sets 3 days a week
5. Brahma Mudra :3 rounds
6. Chandrabedhan: 5 rounds
7. Kapalbhatii Kriya: 50 strokes + 1 round Anulom Vilom, 5 rounds
8. Bhramari: 21 rounds
9. Om chanting: 10 rounds
10. Shavasana: 10 minutes
11. Yoga Nidra
Shavasana for Sleep
Lie on your back in a supine position with your arms at your sides and your palms facing upwards. Make sure that your legs are slightly parted. Close your eyes. Focus on your right arm. Visualize it in your mind’s eye as best as you can and simultaneously feel the sensations that go through your skin, muscles, and bone in that arm. Feel the blood flowing through your veins. You do not have to spend too long doing this. Inhale and clench your right hand into a fist, lifting your arm slightly from the floor or bed. Hold it and then drop it on exhaling. Relax your arm completely and let it lie as though it were dead.
Empty Your Mind
Go through the same routine for your left arm, your right leg, your left leg, and then your torso from the base of your spine to the top of your skull. Tense, and then relax every part of your body in this order. When it is done, your whole body should feel completely relaxed. Take notice of the bed or floor below you and how it makes contact with your body. Imagine yourself melting completely into the floor. Let the weight of your body surrender to gravity completely. Empty your mind of any distracting thoughts.
Sleep or Yoga Nidra
Shavasana is an effective technique for getting over a sleep disorder. It may or may not work immediately. If it does not help you get to sleep on the first try, keep on practicing for a few weeks. You may find that eventually your body and simultaneously your mind since the two are both linked more deeply than you may realize, will get the message and slide into sleep more easily. Eventually, one of two things will happen. Either you will fall asleep, or you will enter a state known as Yoga Nidra
In Yoga the art of sleeping is called Yoga Nidra, psychic sleep. This technique should be practiced in Shavasana (lying flat on your back) during the day. Whenever you feel tired or unable to concentrate on your work, take five minutes or as long as you can spare and go through Yoga Nidra. This will refresh you for the rest of the day. Half an hour of Yoga Nidra equals two hours of sleep. When Yoga for insomnia is practiced, it should be done on a full stomach after lunch or dinner. However, the opposite applies when practiced for hypertension. As a result, when practicing Yoga for insomnia, Yoga Nidra should be practiced after Sheetali and Sheetkari Pranayama.
Yoga Nidra commences by going through the physical body, part by part. Focusing the awareness on the different parts of the body affects that area of the brain’s cortex where sensation and motor activity are mapped out. That is, the toes are represented at one end of a long line of cells and the head is at the other. By systematically going through all the body parts we stimulate each part of the motor and sensory cortex in turn, relaxing the brain’s activity and putting the circuits which have been disturbed back into order. This effect extends into our daily life helping to coordinate and relaxes our physical movements. When physical tension disappears, the body can lie still in bed more comfortably. Relaxation of the muscle tone relaxes the mind and sleep comes more quickly.
Yoga Nidra is a meditative practice designed to induce Pratyahara (sense withdrawal); the mind stays awake while the body sleeps. The brain activity quietens, alpha waves are increased, the body relaxes but the mind is totally alert. Turning inwards and maintaining awareness on the border of the sleep/wakefulness state (stage one of the sleep cycle) allows contact with the subconscious and the unconscious. This awareness helps us gain a deeper understanding of the parts of our mind that induce mental and physical tension resulting in insomnia. This leads to good sleep.
An important part of Yoga Nidra is the Sankalpa or resolve, a short dynamic statement charged with vital energy from the will. At certain times during the practice when the subconscious areas of the mind open up, it is possible to plant the resolve firmly and deeply in the mind so that it will flower and bear fruit. A positive resolution such as “I will sleep better,” can help your Yoga for insomnia routine.
When we were young without a care in the world, we could sleep deeply and peacefully, awakening to the rising Sun with a relaxed and warm feeling inside. Through Yoga Nidra, Asana, Pranayama, Meditation, and a regulated lifestyle, you can recapture that childhood experience in adult life. When you learn how to utilize Yoga Nidra to remove sleep problems then you are on the way to a greater understanding of yourself. That said, Yoga for insomnia then becomes what it was originally intended to be, a method of diving deep into the self. From this experience, we discover that actually, we have been asleep all the time, even when we thought we were awake, asleep to the greater reality of life.
What to Avoid
Late night dinner, heavy and greasy food, fermented foods like idli, dosa, maida, etc., cold fruits like watermelon, pineapple, musk melon, etc., too much tea or coffee, watching horror movies or unpleasant shows on TV
What to Adopt
To permanently reduce insomnia, practice Karma Yoga, both physical and mental work, get up at 4 AM and do Asanas, Pranayama and Meditation, do not sleep during the day, and practice Yoga Nidra before sleeping at night.
The roots of sleeplessness or insomnia are within the mind. For minor reasons, one is caught in a whirlwind of thoughts, which otherwise can be solved with some understanding and introspection. When you lie down to sleep, go back through the memories of the whole day. Don’t start in the morning, start from the immediate. Go back step-by-step. While doing so, you will fall asleep. Deepen and lengthen your breathing patterns. Count 8 seconds for inhalation and 8 seconds for exhalation. Continue doing it until you fall asleep. Take a deep breath and hold it. While holding your breath, tense up the muscles throughout your entire body and hold both for 30 seconds.
Exhale completely and relax. Continue doing it until you fall asleep. Place your hands on your stomach, inhale and expand your stomach like a balloon. Then exhale slowly through your mouth. Continue doing it until you fall asleep. Still, if you are unable to fall asleep, get out of bed, get on to the computer or do some light reading or listen to stimulating music or turn on a bunch of lights or do anything else that stimulates your brain into high gear. Use a brain entrainment recording and some earbuds (they are the most comfortable to help in sleeping). Make sure the recording is designed for sleep. If worse comes to worst, consult a doctor.
Embracing Inner Calm
You could be a very confused person today. Calm down and peacefully think about the reasons behind your confusion and what is troubling you so much. If necessary, write out your thoughts or discuss them with a friend or family member. You will be able to clear your mind in this manner. Practicing Yoga, in general, can be a good way of helping you to overcome insomnia. Yoga exercises can help you beat stress, which is a common factor in sleep disorders. If you like you can start a routine at night before you turn in, which is the best time to do it if sleeping is difficult for you. You can watch any of the videos on this post to practice Yoga for insomnia. With the knowledge you gain, you will construct your own routine, or you can take classes, as best suit your lifestyle.
If you feel inspired by this article, feel free to publish it in your Newsletter or on your Website. Our humble request is to please include the Resource as follows:
Courtesy: Dr. Rita Khanna’s Yogashaastra Studio.
A popular studio that helps you find natural solutions for complete health.
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Dr. Rita Khanna
Dr. Rita Khanna is a well-known name in the field of Yoga and Naturopathy. She was initiated into this discipline over 25 years ago by world-famous Swami Adyatmananda of Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh (India). Dr. Khanna believes firmly that Yoga is a scientific process, which helps us to lead a healthy and disease-free life. As a result, she is also actively involved in practicing alternative medicines like Naturopathy. Over the years, she has been successfully practicing these therapies and providing succor to several chronic and terminally ill patients through Yoga, Diet, and Naturopathy. She is also imparting Yoga Teachers Training.
At present, Dr. Rita Khanna is running a Yoga Studio in Secunderabad (Hyderabad, India).
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Two Types of Pranayama for Insomnia
By: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed
As the seasons change, many Yoga practitioners are also beginning to focus their attention more fully on academic or professional goals. With the combination of a renewed vigor for professional development and the heightened intensity of savoring the final days of balmy weather, many of us find ourselves quite overbooked. If this sounds all too familiar to you, you may find yourself almost breathless as you run from one activity to another. This sense of urgency can also create an underlying state of anxiety and stress, which often translates into difficulty sleeping. There are many healthy ways to unwind before turning in for the night; a few time-honored traditions are drinking a warm cup of almond milk and taking a soothing bath before retiring. Practicing a balanced routine of Yoga poses, Yogic breathing exercises, and a daily period of meditation will also effectively release tension and soothe an overactive mind.
The Sanskrit term “Samavritti” is translated as the equal or uniform movement of the thought waves of the mind. The term “vritti” is literally translated to mean the whirlpool of energy that arises in the calm ocean of consciousness. This energy is the energy of creation. However, when our minds are constantly in a highly active and frenetic state, it can be quite difficult to sleep. The suffix “sama” means equal. Thus, Samavritti Pranayama is a simple but profoundly effective Yogic breathing technique that balances the inhale and exhale and creates an internal state of equanimity.
The practice of Samavritti Pranayama is optimally done in a prone position at the end of a Yoga class. This is also a gentle and calming breathing exercise to do in bed as you drift off to sleep. When you are ready to practice Samavritti Pranayama, lie down on your Yoga mat and cover yourself with a blanket. If your lower back is tight today, you may wish to place a Yoga bolster or rolled blanket underneath your knees, in order to release the tension and further support you in relaxing. Placing an eye bag over your eyes will further enhance a sense of withdrawal from the external world and promote a deep sense of relaxation.
Expansion of the Heart Area
When you are ready to practice Samavritti Pranayama, place your left hand on your heart and your right hand on your lower belly. These hand positions will enable you to feel the expansion of your heart and abdominal areas as you inhale. It will also help you to be consciously aware of exhaling fully. If you feel sad or overwhelmed, you may also want to gently send some healing energy into your Heart Chakra as you practice this soothing Yogic breathing exercise.
To begin Samavritta Pranayama, breathe into a count of four, and then breathe out to an equal count of four. The length of the count of four you are using should fit your own breathing capacity and pace. In other words, simply breathe at your own pace and comfort level while making sure that your inhale and exhale are full, complete, and equal. Consciously observe the flow of your inhalation and exhalation as you practice this Yogic breathing technique. Observe the rise and fall of your emotions as well as the sensations in your body with each breath. Gently allow your mind to relax as you continue to count and breathe.
Practice Samavritta Pranayama for five to ten minutes or longer if you wish. When you have completed your practice of Samavritta Pranayama, remove the Yoga bolster and eye bag, if you are using these props, and roll to your right side. Rest for several breaths on your side, and then push yourself up to a comfortable seated position on your Yoga mat. This is a wonderful time to simply wrap the blanket around your shoulders and meditate for some time before continuing on with the rest of your day or evening. Sometimes, we are busy pursuing academic, personal, and professional goals. Additionally, as life flows into the evenings, many people are trying to fit all of their activities into a day. If this scenario feels familiar to you, you may be experiencing a packed schedule that is creating an underlying feeling of anxiety and breathlessness.
Solution for Anxiety
Yoga for insomnia is one solution for anxiety that becomes a problem falling and staying asleep throughout the night. Practicing Yoga poses and breathing techniques on a regular basis, several times a week, will help to calm an overactive mind and body. Yogic breathing exercises are known in Sanskrit as “pranayama.” This term essentially means the control of the vital life force or breath through restraint. When pranayama exercises are paired with a regular practice of Yoga poses, the “fight or flight” response is considerably dampened as the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are restored to a point of balance.
By consciously practicing pranayama exercises, you will gain the further benefit of training your mind to witness your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations without becoming caught up in them. This mindful awareness also helps to reduce stress and anxiety. Instead of being constantly caught up in a matrix of swirling thoughts. By holding your conscious awareness on the pace and rhythm of your breath and the sensations within your body you will also develop a sense of compassion for your own life experience. Consciously practicing pranayama exercises during the course of your Yoga class or personal session will create a space for you to simply slow down and breathe.
As I am writing this, my mind is anxiously saying, “What? Just Breathe? You have to be kidding me. I have way too much to do just to sit and breathe!” If you are like me, your mind is probably anxiously telling you the same thing. This is all the more reason to slow down and gently restore your body and mind to a state of equilibrium, particularly before you go to bed in the evening if you struggle with insomnia or restless sleep. Practicing Yogic breathing exercises also creates the time to really tune in to how your body feels so that you can become aware of where you may be holding tension and which Yoga postures to practice in order to relieve that tension.
Extended Exhalation Pranayama
Extended Exhalation Breath is a wonderful Yogic breathing exercise for triggering the relaxation response because it activates the parasympathetic nervous system while calming down the sympathetic nervous system. This form of breathing is quite simple. The goal is to extend your exhalation to double the count of your inhalation. It is important to work within the framework of your own natural breath. The practice of extending one’s exhalation is a soothing and nurturing way to end your Yoga class or as a calming breathing exercise in preparation for meditation.
Coping with Anxiety
This pranayama exercise is also a very relaxing Yogic breathing practice to do if you are anxious, afraid, or upset. Additionally, practicing Extended Exhalation can be done almost anywhere without detection by those around you. For example, if you are waiting to go into a job interview and your heart is pounding, practicing extended exhalations for several minutes will calm and focus your mind so that you can present yourself with poise and clarity during the interviewing process.
To begin the practice of Extended Exhalation Pranayama, sit comfortably on your Yoga mat or on a chair. Take five full rounds of your natural breath. Simple witness the state of your body and mind as you breathe fully and deeply. Become aware of the pace of your own natural breath. After the fifth round, inhale naturally and count. As you exhale, elongate your exhalation to twice the count of your inhale. If you find that you are straining or tensing your muscles, you are trying too hard. Simply shorten your inhale by one or two counts, so that you can comfortably maintain the 1 to 2 ratio of your inhalations and exhalations. Practice Extended Exhalation Pranayama for three to five minutes, and then return to your normal rate of breathing.
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6 thoughts on “Yoga for Insomnia”
Practicing Yoga for insomnia, in general, can be a good way of helping us to overcome insomnia. Thanks for posting this valuable info.
When one can learn how to utilize Yoga for insomnia to remove sleep problems then he/she is on the way to a greater understanding of himself/herself. Thanks for posting this informative post.