Yoga and Sleep

The sleep industry is a multi billion-dollar industry, but we never talk about what things we can do at home with our own bodies to help with sleep.

Sleep is an important part of our human experience and much needed for our overall health. There are many things we can do with food and lifestyle, but here I want to dive into what we can do with movement, and to further narrow this down, I want to talk about Yoga for sleep.

If you experience anxiety around sleeping there could be multiple reasons why, but let’s discuss the most common ones I see as a yoga instructor:

  1. Your body creates a pattern it feels is shielding you from harm. It is a fight or flight response. These types of responses are not bad, it’s your body’s way of keeping you safe. The first thing we need to address is the pattern and begin to teach your body a new pattern. We can do this with breath work, known as pranayama in yoga. To begin the journey of breath work, all we have to do is start to control our breathing, instead of letting it happen on its own we intentionally breathe. The best way to do this is to begin with a technique called box breathing; breathe in to a count of 5, hold your breath for a count of 5, let the air out to a count of 5, and hold your lungs empty for a count of 5, and repeat this for two minutes. Starting in this manner forces your body to relax. The influx of oxygen into the system sends a signal to the brain that you are safe and it’s safe to relax. There are lots of different breathing techniques out there but this one is a good starting point.
  2. The second reason that you may be experiencing anxiety around sleep is a trauma.  Your body may have created a trauma response to sleep. The first step to addressing this is to spend some time finding out what the trauma might be. Trauma does not always have to be “big” event to cause a reaction. Trauma is anything that causes a new reaction to form in the body that continues to happen every time that “thing” is brought up or experienced. An example of this is yelling. When someone yells at you over and over and over you can develop a trauma response to yelling. This can happen with sleep too. Let’s say that every time to try to go to sleep you can’t fall asleep because every tiny noise wakes you up, this is a trauma response. To change these trauma responses, we can first use breathing then we can add in mindful movements. Mindful movements are doing a series of movements that are helpful for the experience we are currently having, using targeted motions that fit the moment. We will get into this in the next section. By doing mindful movements paired with intentional breathing you are creating a new habit and teaching your body a new response to the situation.
  3. Over stimulation near bedtime is a big contributor to sleep issues. We live in a very stimulating world and we have become desensitized to how these stimulants affect us. A good habit to get into is to put your phone on a charging stand in a different room 30 minutes before bed, turn off the TV, and put any other devices away. Spend these 30 minutes doing your breathing exercises, mindful movements, and slowing your body and mind down. Eliminating the amount of blue light you are exposed to before bed will really help your mind learn new habits. Blue Light is intended to keep you awake, it’s highly stimulating, so reducing your exposure during the day and especially at night will help your natural sleep rhythm function properly.

Now that we have talked about some of the causes of sleep issues let talk about actions you can do to aid your sleep. First up is mindful movements. Mindful movements are doing yoga poses and moving from pose to pose with your breath. An example of this is inhaling as you lift your arm over your head, exhale as you press your palms together and draw your palms through your mid line. This is just linking movements to your inhales and exhales. When you link your movements with your breathing your brain begins to create new responses to stress, this is how you can begin to change how you sleep. This process is not an overnight fix, this process takes time and consistency. You can do this once and then never again, anything new takes 6 months to develop a new habit and a year to become a permanent part of your routine, so take your time and be patient with yourself.

Yoga before bed should be done with minimum movement and poses you can hold for longer periods of time to relax the body and prepare for rest. Here are 3 poses that are really beneficial for sleep:

  1. Legs up the wall. Legs up the wall is just what it sounds like. You lay on your back and put your legs up on the wall. Doing this for at least 5 minute, 10 minutes is optimal, will recirculate all the blood in your legs through your body which eliminates stagnant blood, so your body feels more relaxed. If you pair this with slow inhales and slow exhales you will aid in the slowing down and relaxation of your body.
  • Seated forward fold. Sit down on the floor and extend your legs out in front of you, take an inhale and lift your arms over your head and as you exhale bend and waist and reach your arm toward your feet. When you reach as far as you can, relax your head, neck and shoulders and stay here for 10 inhales and exhales. This pose really helps release tension which helps your body to relax.
  • Child’s pose. To get into a child’s pose sit on your knees and bring your big toes to touch then separate your knees apart. Take and inhale as you lift your arm over your head, and you exhale, tip forward at the waist until your palms reach the ground. Stay here breathing for 10 rounds on inhales and exhales. This pose helps to release tension held in the pelvis. The pelvis is a place where humans store a lot of tension, stress, and trauma, so stretching out the pelvis regularly is really beneficial.

When working on your sleep be kind to yourself, be patients, and keep at it. The less stressful you can make the time before bed the better your results will be.

Love, Light, and Wellness.

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