Guest Post by Meera Watts
You are probably aware of yoga’s relaxing benefits, but you may not know just how effective it can be for sleep.
Stress and anxiety are an all-too-common cause of insomnia. Yoga is extremely effective in reducing stress. It lowers the stress-induced cortisol levels that trigger our ‘fight or flight’ response; the very response that makes us feel wired when we should be falling asleep.
Yoga Reduces Stress – Which Means Better Sleep
Cortisol is a natural part of our body’s makeup, it is essential to our survival. The problem lies when cortisol levels rise too high. This is when cortisol damages the brain and can cause problems with memory.
Yoga reduces all types of stress, whether triggered by a truly stressful event or an over-stimulating situation.
As yoga reduces cortisol levels, it relaxes the body at a cellular level.
When you can reduce cortisol, the body will be able to stop standing on guard against perceived dangers. Yoga before bed helps reduce all that built-up tension.
Yoga Helps Regulate the Nervous System
Lack of sleep is often caused by hyperarousal which occurs when your fight or flight response is activated. That activation likely happened during your day when you had a problem or conflict to deal with. Your reaction caused all the chemicals in the body to react and it created hyperarousal.
You feel exhausted but you can’t sleep. Yoga helps the body go back to its normal homeostasis function faster. When you activate the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), you counteract the stress response system. When you activate the PNS, your body is in rest and digest mode. This is what you want when it’s time for bed.
Yoga uses poses and breathing to activate the PNS. Deep breathing can be really helpful to relax you quickly.
Having a Regular Routine Helps Sleep Patterns
There are many ways to create a regular routine and yoga can help. Try going to bed and waking up at the same time daily. Before bed, don’t watch TV or handle your phone.
In lieu of overstimulating your mind before bed, do yoga.
Yoga helps create a routine and reminds you to listen to your body. When you can feel the tension, you can breathe into those areas and create more relaxation.
Yoga Helps You Deal with Uncertainty
Uncertainty in life is a guarantee. But it’s extremely challenging to work through uncertain times in your life.
Facing the unknown makes our brains fill in the blanks with stories of what could occur and how you will deal with it. It is natural for the brain to work to protect you from unforeseen circumstances. It’s also a major cause of sleepless, stressful nights.
A systematic review found that a yoga practice will help sleep when you use your practice to hone mindfulness skills. As you learn the deeper aspects of yoga, you will become more aware of your body and how you’re feeling.
When you’re laying in bed, unable to sleep because your mind won’t shut off, mindfulness is key. Noticing that you’re witnessing your thoughts might seem like an intangible and therefore challenging exercise but it’s actually pretty simple. It’s a natural occurrence when you do yoga daily and it’s one of the most powerful means of quieting the mind holistically.
Yoga Teaches You to Breathe Through Stress
Breath is 50% of yoga. It helps you relax and stretch deeper into poses. Calming breath techniques like Ujjayi Breath can soothe every part of your body quickly.
How to do Ujjayi Breath
- Inhale deeply through the nose
- Exhale through your nose while you constrict the back of your throat. Imagine you’re saying HA with your mouth closed.
- It will sound like ocean waves in your ears.
- Do this a few times to soothe yourself while in poses or just sitting.
Choose These Restorative Poses Before Bedtime
Wide Knee Child’s Pose
This pose is a very calming, mentally stabilizing pose. The nice thing is you can do it while you’re in bed. You might even find yourself drifting off to sleep. It releases tension in the hips which is where we hold anxiety and stress. Also, we go inward so we naturally feel safe.
Standing Forward Bend
Standing forward bend enables you to relax any tension in the neck. You stretch out the back of your legs and hips also. Again, you’re going inward with this pose so it makes you feel safe.
Reclining Bound Angle
This pose is excellent for releasing tension in the hips and groin. You are lying on the ground and massaging your kidneys which is where anxiety sits.
Legs Up on The Wall Pose
Legs up on the wall is extremely relaxing. In it, you recirculate your blood flow which helps tired and painful feet and ankles.
We don’t have an image, so we’ll describe this move: First, lie on your back with your sit-bones as close to the wall as is comfortable. Then, extend your legs up the wall, so the backs of your legs are resting fully against it.
Try these and other poses to discover yoga for naturally consistent, restful sleep.
About the Author: Meera Watts is a yoga teacher, entrepreneur and mom. Her writing on yoga and holistic health has appeared in Elephant Journal, CureJoy, FunTimesGuide, OMtimes and others. She’s also the founder and owner of Siddhi Yoga International, a yoga teacher training school based in Singapore. Siddhi Yoga runs intensive, residential trainings in India (Rishikesh, Goa and Dharamshala), Indonesia (Bali)