“A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything”
Sleep – restoration and nourishment for the mind and body and perhaps even, as the Dalai Lama once put it, “the best meditation”.
We all know that the benefits of a simple good night’s sleep are ever-reaching and can maintain or even improve a number of important issues from general physical health and wellbeing; emotional and psychological happiness; and memory, concentration and all-round cognitive functioning… the list goes on.
Similarly, it is no surprise then that a deprivation of sleep can lead to many problems,both in the short term as well as the long term.
With so much at stake, finding an effective solution to sleep disturbances or insomnia can be a most important endeavor. Avoiding medication as an initial treatment is always wise, as basic lifestyle changes can often be the best and most sustainable form of treatment.
We are all aware that a very common cause of sleeping disorders is stress. Stress prevents the body and the mind from relaxing and therefore can keep us awake at night. This is where yoga can come to the rescue! A gentle yoga practice can help to calm down the mind and to release any tension built up. This restorative type of yoga practice activates the parasympathetic nervous system or the bodies “rest-and-digest” system, which helps to counteract physical and mental stress.
As practicing Yoginis we can probably all vouch for this already. The great Spiritual teacher Sivananda himself specified that as well as bringing calmness of mind, Yoga can aid with restful sleep. And even better, there is now an increasing amount of research that is officially confirming Yoga’s link to improved and restful sleep (Hariprasad et al 2013; Khalsa 2004; Manjunath 2005; Neuendor 2015 ).
Certainly we can say that a daily yoga practice, preferably done in the early morning, in a quiet and peaceful natural setting, with exposure to sunlight will improve sleep at night. But if you’ve missed your daily practice, or need an immediate “quick fix” there are certain postures that, practiced in the evening before bed, can help slow the mind and body to restore and calm and bring a most restful night’s sleep.
Rest assured, you do not need to take a full yoga class. Simple and gentle Hatha and restorative yoga postures, performed for even just 5 minutes, followed up by a Yoga Nidra-type body-scan or a specific Pranayama breathwork can work wonders in helping to wind down the body and mind after a busy day.
Some poses which can be helpful in relieving tension in the body and the mind are listed below. Ideally they are practiced 30 minutes before going to sleep, but some you can even do in bed!
Balasana or Child’s Pose – Sit on your knees with your back straight. Keep your hips on your knees and bend forward until your forehead touches the floor. Keep arms in a relaxed position by your side with the palms facing up. Make sure you feel comfortable and if you need to modify your position you can place your forehead on a cushion or else open your knees. With each exhalation let go of any tension in your body.
Legs Up the Wall (keeping eyes closed) – This is a great inversion that improves circulation and can be very relaxing after a long day. Lie down on your back with your hips touching a wall. Raise your legs straight up and place them against the wall so that they are 90 degrees to your body. Legs can be kept together or open wide, and hands can be relaxed by your side or on your stomach.
Spinal Twist (seated or lying down) – This reclining twisted pose helps in relieving tension throughout the whole spine in the easy digestion and helps us rinse out the tension from our day. Twisting postures also help in relieving toxins from your organs. Even better, it can be performed in bed! Lie down on your back and bring your right knees into your chest and then across your left side. Extend the right arm out and turn head to the right. Close your eyes and breathe deeply for several breaths and then repeat on the other side.
Supta Baddhakonasana or Reclining Butterfly (supported with pillows) – This is a great pose to increase hip flexibility and also works on releasing emotions and stress as it is said they are stored in the pelvis. Lying on your back, place the soles of your feet together and let your knees drop out. Keep your arms relaxed by your side with the palms facing up. If you need to modify this position for comfort you can place a bolster under your lower back. You can also place a cushion under your thighs to reduce any tension in the knees.
Savasana or Corpse pose – This is great for calming the mind and reducing stress. Lying down on your mat; feet mat-width apart with toes facing out; arms relaxed and palms up; shoulders relaxed; neck long and chin tucked. You may wish to place a cushion under your knees if you have any problems with lower back pain, or indeed under the head if you experience any neck pain.
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama or alternate nostril breathing – As a close to the above postures, this mindful alternate nostril breathing is excellent to balance the right and left side of the brain and ease you into a wistful night time slumber. Sit comfortably and place your left hand in “chin mudra” with the tip of the thumb and index finger touching. Place your right hand into “vishnu mudra” bending the index and middle finger. Place your right thumb on your right nostril and breathe in through your left nostril for a count of four. Next close both nostrils with your right thumb and right ring finger and hold your breath for a count of eight. Release your thumb and breathe out through your right nostril for a count of eight. Repeat this on the right nostril. And repeat this alternate breathing five minutes.
Love and light.. and sweet dreams!