By Dr. Rita Khanna
Insomnia means inability to sleep. Sleep is a natural process & 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 & nerves. The body and mind become healthy & make us free from all problems, worries, anxiety and stress of life. Seven to eight hours of sleep a night is optimal for good health. It is essential for the formation of the various hormones, which are utilised during the activities done for the whole day. It is also essential for 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 & family.
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 insomnia can adversely affect your work, relationships and health and needs to be treated as soon as possible. Excessive fatigue, anxiety, fever, indigestion, pain or discomforts anywhere in the body are the common causes of sleeplessness.
Oour Automatic Nervous System (ANS)
The ANS is divided into two parts: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The sympathetic nervous system has an active pushing function; the parasympathetic has mainly a relaxing function. When the sympathetic nervous system over stimulates, it results in numerous adverse physiological changes such as anxiety, panic attack, stress & increased blood pressure. People with insomnia problem must have noticed that whenever they want to sleep their mind becomes more active and lots of thoughts, programmes etc. start coming into their mind & they find it difficult to fall asleep. To counter these changes, we should follow certain techniques 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.
How to Activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System
By 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, Parvatasana increase blood circulation to the brain which normalizes the sleep cycle. The practice of breathing exercises such as Chandrabedhan, Kapalbhatii Kriya, Bhramari, Om chanting allows for more oxygen in the body providing clarity in the mind. Brahmari Pranayama has shown excellent results in curing insomnia. While making a buzzing sound, we get vibrations in the brain which create a soothing effect on the mind & the nervous system. It stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which induces muscular, physical, mental & emotional relaxation that leads to a deeper & more restful sleep. In insomnia problem, do Brahmari before going to sleep by closing the ears till the time you fall asleep.
A Basic Yoga Routine For Insomia
Before we start 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 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
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.
• 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 thought.
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 nidra is practiced for insomnia it should be done on a full stomach after lunch or dinner. However, the opposite applies when practiced for hypertension. 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 co-ordinate 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 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 resolve such as ‘I will sleep better’, can help to remove insomnia.
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 utilise Yoga-nidra to remove sleep problems then you are on the way to greater understanding of yourself. Yoga-nidra 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 minds. For minor reasons one is caught in whirlwind of thoughts, which otherwise can be solved with some understanding & introspection.
• When you lie down to sleep, go backwards through the memories of the whole day. Don’t start from 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 & 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 the 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. Purchase a Brain Entrainment CD and some ear buds (they are the most comfortable to help in sleeping). Make sure the CD is designed for sleep. If worse comes to worst, consult a doctor.
• 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 you 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 find a decent book on Yoga from which you can read and learn to construct your own routine, or you can take classes, as best suits your lifestyle.
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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).
She believes firmly that Yoga is a scientific process, which helps us to lead a healthy and disease-free life. She is also actively involved in practicing alternative medicines like Naturopathy. Over the years, she has been successfully practicing these therapies and providing succour 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).