By Faye Martins
Does yoga for sleep and relaxation work? There are many reasons to stay up at night. Some of us worry, some of us don’t get enough physical activity during the day to be tired at night, 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. Additionally, 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. 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. Individuals who practice this method (pranayama) have learned the ability to produce a controlled response to stressors, as opposed to panicking 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.
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 bodies’ biorhythmic clock will already begin to do so. Whether a person is ready to settle down or not, their body will force them to.
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 recovery and healing of muscles and tissues and the brain is also re