Sleep is such an important part of our life...and unfortunately, it is one of the first aspects to suffer when we experience stress, anxiety, transitions, a new baby, depression, trauma, chronic pain, a fluctuation in hormones...and the list goes on. Fortunately, yoga offers tools to help us fall asleep at night, fall back asleep if we wake up in the middle of the night, and lower overall stress hormones and the sympathetic nervous systems responses that interfere with restful sleep. Here are a few yogic tools below:
1. Gentle, restorative asana
Consider asana with slow, gentle movements or long, supportive holds to slowly unwind tension in the body and mind. This type of practice would involve more forward bends and gentle twists. For example: start with Cat-cow sequence before going into child's pose. You can then turn onto the back and do supine pigeon on both sides, then supine twist on both sides, and then apanasana. You can end in savasana or legs-up-the-wall pose.
2-4. Breathing Exercises
Extended Exhale: Start with noticing your breath, coming in and out of your nose. After a few rounds of noticing the breath, let your exhale be a second longer than your inhale. Repeat for a couple of rounds, then extend your exhale by another second. Continue at your own comfort level, up to a point where the exhale is twice as long as the inhale.
Belly and Chest Breathing: Place one palm on your upper abdomen and one on your chest. Inhale to fill up the abdomen first, then inhale the rest of the way to fill up the chest. Your palms may move slightly with the breath. Exhale to let the air out of the chest first, then the abdomen.
Alternate Nostril: Use your pointer finger to gently close the right nostril. Inhale through your left nostril, switch the pointer finger to close off the left nostril and exhale through the right nostril. Inhale through the right nostril; switch the pointer finger to the right nostril and exhale out the left.
Note: Start breathing exercises with 4 cycles of breath and increase only if you feel comfortable doing so. If you have a disorder that impacts the breath, please consult your physician.
Practicing meditation for a short time most days of the week can lower the sympathetic nervous response and aid in sleep. There are many variations of meditation. If you would like to try Yoga Nidra (or "Yogic Sleep"), please click here.
These five practices can be utilized at any point of the day and do not need to be reserved for when you are going to sleep or if you wake up in the middle of the night. If any exercise causes discomfort, discontinue that exercise and return to a normal breath.