W.C. Fields advises us with a wry smile that, "The best cure for insomnia is to get a lot of sleep." If it were only that easy! Many of us are feeling the pain of sleepless nights and sluggish days. At this time of our lives, hormones are shifting into different gears, and our sleep may be disrupted and disturbed. Perhaps we have a history of shift work through our career, and our Circadium rhythms are out of sync.
Approaching my own sleep challenges with Ayurvedic practices and a gentle, restorative yoga practice has served me well through the years. Many of my students have also reported improvements in their sleep patterns, and some of these folks have been challenged for years with this debilitating condition.
The hormonal imbalances created by lack of sleep can impair our cognitive functioning, and our executive decision making faculties. Chronic insomnia suppresses our immune function and actually changes the structure of the brain so we end up developing more "excitable neurons".
In the March 2014 issue of the journal Sleep, Johns Hopkins University released findings that demonstrate that Insomnia is not simply a nighttime disorder. Insomniacs are in a "heightened information processing state" all the time, and yoga is a perfect solution for managing this!
Find soothing yoga poses to help fight insomnia here!
How Yoga Helps
When we are in a hypervigilant or hyperprocessing state, the chemical composition of our hormones is programming us to be in Fight/Flight/Freeze mode. A Gentle practice activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which turns on the Rest/Relax/Digest functions.
The pineal gland commands the body to synthesize melatonin, which tells the body it's time to rest. This calms the brain, and allows us to gear down what Patanjali calls "the thought fluctuations of the mind".
Levels of stress hormones, such as Cortisol, come down, and the body releases its own endorphins and opioids that have an analgesic effect so we can unwind.
In our practice, we are engaging the mind fully and concentrating our awareness on the movements of the breath and the body. By using a mindfulness-based approach to our practice, we come in to the present moment, which is where we find peace and tranquility!
I encourage you to seek out an experienced teacher for a restorative class or Yoga Nidra workshop at a local yoga studio, and see how you sleep that night. If you can't find a suitable studio with a good teacher, explore options online! With Skype and PowHow, there are many teachers who can accommodate a class for a reasonable fee.
Support your Circadian rhythms with these other helpful ideas:
1. Practice Pranayama All Day Long
As often as possible, bring your awareness to your breath. See if you are holding breath anywhere and how you are holding it. Allow your exhalations to be complete, and you will experience a wonderful calming and refreshing of the mind.
2. Engage in Enjoyable Movements Daily
Whether it's a more vigorous yoga practice, a Tai Chi session, a brisk walk through a public garden, or a fun Zumba class, moving our bodies is a great way to help balance our hormones and detoxify. The earlier we exercise, the more benefits we accrue.
3. Avoid All Stimulants
Coffee isn't the only place to find caffeine. Caffeinated food and beverages abound in a society that is chronically over-tired. Seek out other drinks and teas that will soothe and calm your nervous and digestive system, such as Kombucha, or healthy juices and smoothies. Try new, healthy taste sensations that aid in digestion, including leafy vegetables and plant based proteins, beans and nuts.
4. Go To Bed Early
According to insights from the millennia-old Indian science of health, Ayurveda, the period of time between 10pm and 2am is a time of digestion and renewal. We are digesting food and assimilating nourishment, and we are also digesting emotional experiences and transforming them into wisdom. This is a key time for self care.
11pm is when the liver is going through its most active detoxing process and is being recharged, so be available and open to sleep well before then.
According to the time-honoured wisdom of Ayurveda, we are also encouraged to eat our largest meal in midday and enjoy a light dinner.
Follow an Insomnia Bedtime Routine
Create the physical and mental environment for sleep by following this plan:
• 9pm Electronic Sundown – Journal everything on your mind for a few minutes, and then turn off all electronic devices and light some candles.
• 9pm – 9:20 – Bathtime – A cup of Epsom salts in a very warm bath relaxes muscles and releases toxins. Add soothing essential oils, such as lavender, and enjoy some time being in the present moment with all of your senses. Enjoy a foot massage to help you release more tension. Google Ayurvedic Foot Massage techniques to find out how to maximize the effectiveness and enjoyment of this practice.
• 9:20 – 9:40 – Restorative Yoga – Enjoy your favourite restorative poses. Perhaps you would like to give "Viparita Kirani / Legs up the wall" a try, or maybe "Balasana / Child's Pose", would feel better. Try both and see which one you are enjoying more, and go for that. Maybe a supported twist would feel more soothing. Create a practice that is best for you for on that day.
• 9:40 – 10pm – Bedtime – Without tempting yourself with more electronic interaction, tune into some quiet and soothing nature sounds, or listen to a guided Yoga Nidra experience. Yoga Nidra is a time-proven way to bring brain waves into a more calm frequency.
Prioritize Rest and Cultivate Calm In All Areas Of Your Life
Being overscheduled and over committed can have a negative impact on our mental performance and our sleeping patterns. Are we doing what brings us joy? How can we re-prioritize our activities to allow more room for self-care and relaxation? Pondering these questions with an open mind and an open heart can bring helpful insights and new possibilities!
Geeta Iyengar, a renowned women's yoga teacher, reminds us in her book, Yoga: A Gem For Women, "Natural sleep occurs in a tranquil body and mind, and makes one well equipped to face the problems of the day."
She goes on to quote a verse by Vagbhata, a sage who lived in the 6th century, and one of the first to codify Ayurveda, emphasizing the importance of resting: "On sleep depend happiness and grief, plumpness and leanness, strength and weakness, potency and impotency, knowledge and ignorance, life and death."
This article was originally published on OneTV.
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