By Faye Martins
Does yoga for sleep and relaxation work? There are many reasons to stay up at night. Sometimes, we worry, and some of us don’t get enough physical activity during the day to be tired at night. Additionally, some of us are addicted to lousy television programs, and some of us wake up in the middle of the night with an overactive mind. Above all, many of us consume caffeine before bedtime. Chocolate, coffee, tea, and many soft drinks, contain an abundance of caffeine, which activates your mind, as a stimulant should. Then again, I haven’t been totally fair with teas as there are many and some of them will help you sleep.
The Yogic Solution
Yoga for sleep and relaxation is based on the ability to control the body’s response to stress by focusing on the breath as an effective means of remaining calm, even in the face of stress. Nevertheless, individuals who practice this method (pranayama) have learned the ability to produce a controlled response to stressors. In contrast, an untrained mind panics when something unexpected happens. Practitioners of yoga have better control over their response to stress, and therefore they are better able to combat the negative effects that stress has on sleep. This in turn helps them sleep better.
The physical aspects of practicing yogic methods may help promote healthy sleep through physical activity. Almost any kind of physical activity during the day helps promote better sleep habits at night, and therefore helps people to live a healthier lifestyle. Sleep is vital for individuals to remain healthy and be able to cope with each day that lies ahead. It is essential to develop healthy sleep habits to combat disease and maintain energy levels.
Sleep and Breath
The breathing techniques that are used in a typical Hatha Yoga class are especially effective for promoting healthy sleep. Participants learn how to control their breath, and how to connect their breath to the body as a means of controlling both physical aspects of the body and thought processes. By thinking through the breath and focusing on it, people can begin to alter the physiological responses to mental, physical, and emotional stress. Healthy sleep is promoted as individuals learn to use breath control to relax and drift off to sleep.
Can You Practice Yoga in Your Sleep?
Yoga is meant to relax not only the body, but the mind as well. Is there a better way to help get a restorative sleep than by practicing this ancient art we know as “Yoga?” Yoga works to bring the central nervous system into optimal alignment and works to calm the nerves and release tension in the muscles surrounding this area. The end result is a peaceful night’s sleep, which lasts the entire night. Some ask if they can practice yoga while sleeping, the answer is yes! One method is to use pillows for whole-body alignment, while practicing a deep breathing body scan. Another popular method is Yoga Nidra, which is very restful. The worst that can happen is you fall out of Yoga Nidra and into the REM phase for a deep sleep. So, this is a win-win situation for those who desperately need restful and healthy sleep.
So many people turn to sleeping medications, when, in fact, they can use the beauty of breathing techniques and certain poses to achieve what medications can’t. It is easy to build up resistance to medications, but yoga retrains the body to sleep peacefully. There are many restorative poses that can help a person learn to kick the sleeping pills and sleep naturally. While this usually won’t happen overnight, many have cured their insomnia by simply using restorative yoga techniques.
Sleeping on the Yogic Path
What does yoga do that is so beneficial to the body? For starters, yoga relieves all the tension built up in the muscles from the day. Whether it’s home or the office, a body holds all the anxiety and tension and the muscles react to the stimuli and tighten. Yoga also allows the heart rate to slow down. A slower heart rate is also advantageous for deep and restful sleep.
Most yoga instructors will tell an individual to have a regular bedtime. This will help to get the body in a rhythm and to allow it to have a certain time of day when the circadian rhythms slow down. The body is very much a system that likes to keep a schedule. If a person starts a routine, it won’t be long till, at that particular time of day, the body will automatically know what is expected of it. For instance, if at 10 pm it is time to calm down and start getting ready for sleep, the body’s biorhythmic clock will already begin to do so. Whether a person is ready to settle down or not, their body will force them to.
The Internal Schedule
Yoga worked well in early civilizations, without television, videos, video games, or computers, the body tends to wind down around dusk and then the body wants to rise around dawn. Fast-forward to the present and most people go to bed anywhere from 11 to 12 and find themselves getting up at 7 or 8 and the rest of the day they feel groggy and tired. This again has something to do with how the body is naturally programmed and when the internal schedule is out of sync, the whole person feels off. By practicing the proper breathing exercises and poses, it is possible to train the body to do yoga before and during sleep. Keeping in perfect alignment, the restorative phases of yoga can work for insomnia.
The Yogic Path to Better Sleep
Everyone has a bad night’s sleep once in a while, but many people suffer from chronic insomnia. Often times the culprit is stress. The thoughts are consumed by what is needed to be done in the future or what should have been done in the past. Chronic insomnia sufferers typically experience fatigue, poor concentration, decreased alertness and performance, and muscle aches. These symptoms occur because during sleep, the body is producing hormones that allow for the recovery and healing of muscles and tissues, and the brain is also restructuring neural networks and helping to solve complex problems. Many chronic insomnia sufferers have successfully eliminated or reduced their stress and anxiety symptoms by incorporating yoga into their life.
The yogic path includes the positions practiced, controlled breathing exercises, and meditation employed in practice, which helps the body eliminate anxiety and stress. To correctly achieve a pose and hold that pose, the individual must focus their attention on the moment. Thinking and worrying about outside things is not possible. The poses increase flexibility and strength and train the body to work towards its limits and relax simultaneously. Through a series of poses, the yogic path helps train the body to rid itself of tension and relax.
Controlled breathing exercises (pranayama) help the body eliminate stress and anxiety because of increased oxygenation to the brain. The yogic path focuses on keeping breathing slow, even, and purposeful. Pranayama promotes a state of calm within 3 – 5 minutes and if continued for several minutes, becomes a form of meditation. The goal of meditation is to clear the mind by identifying the thoughts that are causing stress and anxiety and learning how to empty the mind of these thoughts. The yogic path teaches individuals how to let go and turn the negative thoughts into positive ones by becoming alert and present at the moment
Yoga helps people who suffer from stress-related chronic insomnia because it offers relaxation techniques that provide relief. There isn’t really one specific yoga pose that aids individuals into falling asleep, but including a few gentle poses before bedtime can be effective. You could follow any gentle bedtime sequence of postures that induces sleep. The stretching of the body releases tension and successful breathing meditations help to eliminate the stress from the mind. The inner peace achieved is not limited to the times set aside for meditation, but affects all areas of life. The yogic path teaches individuals how to remain still and quiet within by focusing on their body, mind, and breathing, no matter what is happening on the outside.
Yoga for Insomnia
In today’s charged-up, plugged-in, needed-it-yesterday world, it’s no wonder insomnia is one of the most common sleep disorders, affecting, at least, half of all adults at some point in their lives. We need sleep for our bodies to repair themselves, and for our minds to sort out the details of the day in preparation for the next.
The inability to sleep well, or sometimes even at all, can also lead to high blood pressure, weight gain, and heart disease among other conditions. Some people experience a variety of mental and emotional problems due to sleep deprivation. Needless to say, driving, working, and thinking are impaired by lack of sleep. Medications are often only a temporary solution for relieving symptoms, but not the underlying cause, and many can have nasty repercussions. Coping with insomnia and practicing yoga, however, is not only effective but has been shown to have pleasant and positive side effects.
Insomnia Takes a Toll
Poor sleep may be responsible for a myriad of health problems ranging from heart disease to weight gain. In addition, people who do not get enough quality sleep simply cannot function as well cognitively as those who have developed healthy sleep habits. When the benefits of physical activity and stretching are coupled with effective relaxation techniques, stress is reduced and restful sleep is promoted. Yoga for sleep and relaxation is essential for optimal health.
Yoga focuses on a person’s well-being at all levels: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. It alleviates stress by quieting the mind and relieves tension with gentle stretching and restorative poses, often increasing blood flow to the sleep center of the brain, helping to regulate the sleep cycle.
Studies About Yoga and Sleep Cycles
A 2004 study by Harvard Medical School in Boston found that daily asana practice actually improved the quality of sleep, including total sleep time, and onset latency (the time it takes to fall asleep. Another study, conducted between 2006 and 2009 by the University of Rochester Medical Center, linked yoga therapy to better sleep quality, lessened fatigue, and reduced use of sleep medications in cancer patients.
Yoga for sleep and relaxation is a lifestyle. The next time sleep eludes you, try some calming breathing techniques, or pranayama, and follow with a few gentle poses to help your body relax and prepare for rest. Suggested poses include Balasana, and the extended variation of the pose, releases tension in the arms shoulders, chest, stomach, and back.
Other postures to practice are Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-the-Wall), an “inversion” style asana in which you lie on your back with your legs supported by the wall, and perhaps the most calming pose of all, Shavasana, or the Corpse pose. You can perform this simple pose in bed to unwind from the day and help yourself drift off to sleep. Lie on your back, noticing, tensing, and relaxing each part of your body in turn, emptying your mind of competing thoughts, and eventually entering a state of deep relaxation. Yoga for sleep and relaxation is certainly highly beneficial and can lead to a nurturing state of quality sleep, which is deeper and more restorative in nature.
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Yoga for Sleep and Relaxation Research
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