YOGA FOR BETTER SLEEP
FEBRUARY 23, 2010: Better sleep has been touted for years as one of the benefits of yoga.
- Today we learn about Yoga for Sleep and improved emotional well-being since there is a link between inability to sleep and anxiety. What is Anxiety? It is how we manage stress. What is Stress? The opposite of relaxation.
- Insomnia—the inability to get to sleep or to sleep soundly—can be either temporary or chronic, lasting a few days to weeks. It affects a whopping 54 percent of adults in the United States at one time or another, and insomnia that lasts more than six weeks may affect from 10 to 15 percent of adults at some point during their lives
- If you've ever had trouble falling asleep at night or staying awake during the day this meets the practical definition of insomnia. This can be caused by a number of factors. Yoga offers you a number of ways to relax the parasympathetic nervous system.
1. The poses work to reduce muscle tension which can impact our ability to get to sleep and the quality of our sleep. This in turn lowers the levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
2. The breathing techniques raise levels of carbon dioxide a natural sedative as well as melatonin levels. Both of these helps us sleep. The other mental payoff from deep breathing is that it increases levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter associated with happy, calm feelings.
3. The breath linked movement known as vinyasa is a form of meditation that focus the mind through self study known as "Svadhyaya". Observing what we're thinking and feeling gives us the opportunity to shift our perspective which is known as cognitive-behavioral therapy. We learn in yoga class techniques to break negative thinking patterns (samskaras). Simply put you can learn how to worry less by thinking happy thoughts. And as Deepak Chopra says, "Happy thoughts create happy cells that create happy souls."
BREATHING: At the core of most anxiety is the breath, or the lack of it.
When you are anxious, natural breathing is inhibited. The diaphragm freezes, failing to move air downward as you inhale, which means that you don't let your lungs fully expand and fill with air. "And when you don't get enough oxygen, the brain receives a 'danger' signal, which perpetuates your mind-body state of anxiety," explains Jonathan Davidson, M.D., director of the Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Program at Duke University Medical Center. "Your breathing quickens and becomes even more shallow; in an extreme case this can lead to a full-blown panic attack, in which the person begins to hyperventilate."
According to Baxter Bell, inversions help people switch from the sympathetic nervous system (which includes the fight-or-flight responses) to the parasympathetic nervous system (which handles relaxation) by sending the body a signal that the blood pressure has gone up. In response, the blood vessels constrict and the heartbeat and breathing begin to slow, which causes the mind to relax.
- forward bends such as Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend), Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Pose), and Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend). You can do them supported if you wish, on blankets or bolsters, and they should be held for five minutes.
- While all of these poses should help, the most important of all is Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand). When practiced immediately before bed, it prepares the body for sleep. And if done during the day, it may help compensate for some lost sleep. You can also practice it supported on a chair. All inversions—such as Salamba Sirsasana (Supported Headstand), Halasana (Plow Pose), and Viparita Karani (Legs-up-the-Wall Pose)—are helpful to practice when you can't get to sleep.
- Finally, don't forget to practice the very important Savasana (Corpse Pose), unless you do Sarvangasana just prior to sleep.