I have personally struggled with insomnia my whole life, and have tried several holistic methods to try to help my body and mind wind down from a long, hectic day. Valerian drops and aromatherapy weren?t enough for me. When I laid my head down, my mind raced for hours on a circular track of ridiculous thoughts: Did I remember to lock my car? What did that text message mean? How am I going to cook that chicken I just bought? Over and over and over again. To be honest, my mind still does this from time to time. But it is much less likely to spin if I set aside twenty minutes for a gentle bedtime yoga practice. The stretching helps me relax and release muscular tension. I am able to let go of my thoughts and my fears and welcome the natural sedation of my circadian rhythms. This always cuts down on time I spend trying to fall asleep. There have been many times I have actually gotten out of bed and cut a dim light on to do a few quick restorative poses before returning to bed to attempt sleep once again.
Yoga for treatment of insomnia works, and here?s why:
Deep relaxation causes mental activity to drop, keeping your mind free of those rampant, worrisome thoughts. Further relaxation is achieved when muscles are calmed. Clinical studies were performed by physiologist and yogi Edmund Jacobson in the early twentieth century to measure muscle activity before and during restorative poses and shavasana. What he found was that when participants assumed these positions, muscle tonus (tension) calmed considerably. Practicing yoga also leads to a significant drop in blood pressure and is helpful for treatment of hypertension. Hypertension and lack of sleep have a positive correlation just as increased amount of sleep leads to lowered blood pressure.
Ujjayi breath, a deep-breathing technique that commonly accompanies meditative yoga practice, slows the breath to ten times slower than a resting breath rate. How does this change your state of mind? Ujjayi breath slows mental functions, reaction time, and metabolic rate, and almost retards some cognitive abilities temporarily. Meditation techniques have also shown to decrease the body?s production of cortisol, the ?stress hormone? secreted by the adrenal gland. Lower levels of cortisol result in lower stress levels, weight loss, and a more mindful state of being.
What poses should I do?
Other than Savasana (corpse pose where you lay relaxed, flat on your back with your arms relaxed alongside your body), there isn?t one magical pose that will call upon the sandman. But here are a few easy asanas that will help you stretch out that extra tension in your muscles and joints:
- Cat/Cow: Assume Tabletop, on your hands and knees. Move your hips around in a circle, towards your right hand, to your left hand, and back again. Switch directions. Now curve spine under and raise your chin and head towards the ceiling. Slowly, bring the spine up and drop the head and neck. Repeat as many times as you?d like.
- Sit cross legged on your mat. Lean to your right, and do not rotate the spine. Gently bring your right arm along the ground and reach your left arm up and over the head, leaning further to the right. Slowly bring it back to the center and repeat on the left side. Come back to the middle. Lean forward, folding the spine along the ground and bring the arms stretched out in front. Now slowly sit up. Interlock hands behind the back and stretch the shoulders wide, looking up. This will help open the heart chakra.
- Shoulder Stand: If this doesn?t feel right, you can lay on the floor, perpendicular to the wall, bringing the legs up the wall and keeping your spine and buttocks on the ground. If you are feeling particularly zealous, you can assume Plough pose for deepened stretch and relaxation.
- Child?s Pose: always relaxing, this is a good one to do after Plough as it bends the spine in the other direction.
- Goddess Pose: Come into Savasana but bring the feet together, opening the thighs. This modification will help open and balance the base or root chakra (groin area), which will promote restfulness, calm emotions, and soothe racing thoughts.
Try Yoga Nidra
Yoga Nidra can be performed at home with the help of a DVD, audio recording, or in the studio. This type of yoga uses various props, like bolsters, blankets, and eye pillows, to help deepen relaxation and meditation. The class may begin with a few restorative poses, to loosen the body and open the chakras. Then, you relax into savasana (corpse pose). A guided meditation begins, where you shift focus onto relaxing one part of the body at a time. One minute turns into ten and the time slips by as you drift off into meditation land. You might notice others around you snoring -- proof positive that this method works!