Beat insomnia with yoga

Can’t fall asleep at night? Do you feel tired and rundown through the day? It might be stress or some other factors that could be contributing to your discomfort. But did you know that inability to fall asleep at night could be a sign of insomnia. A condition that is classified by a person finding it difficult to sleep followed by extreme exhaustion and irritability during the day, insomnia is a condition that affects one out of every 20 Indians.

With these staggering statistics, it is no surprise that a large number of people tend to reach out for pills and other artificial sleeping aids in order to get some shuteye. While it is necessary in some severe cases, there are natural methods to beat sleeplessness. In this post we will tell you about yoga poses that can help you sleep like a baby. 

Insomnia can be caused due to various reasons. It could be due to consuming too much caffeine or due to sleeping too much during the day. It can also be due to stress or due to watching too much television (especially comedy and horror) before falling asleep which can make the mind too active. Sleeplessness at night can also be caused due to mental conditions like bipolar disorder and generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). 

To help you combat these conditions, we spoke to psychological counsellor and personalized yoga trainer, Amulya R. She says, ‘Yoga prescribes some asanas like forward bending and lying poses to help one sleep. These asanas help in relaxing the body and mind, especially when done on a long exhale, which means exhaling out the air from your lungs as slowly as possible. Holding the breath after the exhale for a few seconds in the posture is also recommended. The hold should only be for about 3-4 seconds, because anything more than that, can have an activating or energizing effect on the mind making one more restless. Further just lying down in bed and trying to extend your exhale while completely focusing your mind on your breath, can also be very soporific.’

How does it work?

According to Amulya, ‘The exhaling action of the breath when extended tends to activate the parasympathetic nervous system in the body. This system is the counterpart of the sympathetic nervous system. It is that component which helps in bringing the body into the ‘rest mode’, in contrast to the sympathetic nervous system which helps in preparing the body for the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. Hence by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, we are nudging the body into its relaxing and self-healing mode – both these activities are typically done while sleeping.’

Yoga poses for better sleep

Paschimottanasana: This asana eases the mind and helps you relax. To do this asana, sit on the floor with your legs straightened out. Now raise your arms over your head and slowly bend forward. Try touching your toes with your fingertips and your head to your knee. The point of this asana is to relax you, not to stress you out, so take it easy. You may not be able to touch your toes right away, know that you will improve over time. Breathe out when you bend forward, hold your breath and then inhale on your way up.

Uttanasana: To perform this pose, stand straight. Raise your hands from the front to above your head as you inhale slowly. Then bend forward completely pushing your buttocks back till your palms touch the floor and your forehead touches your knees. If you cannot bend completely, or are uncomfortable with the stretch on your hamstrings, bend your knees a little. Stay in this pose till you are comfortable. This pose helps the blood rush to your head, helping your body switch from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic nervous system, helping you relax. To return back to the standing position, as you inhale slowly bring your arms above your head, raising your upper body. Then as you exhale bring your arms down from front of your face. Do not jerk up. Remember to rise up from the hips, without straining your muscles.

Apanasana: This a great pose for relaxing the back and the tense muscles of the neck and thighs. All you need to do is, lie on your back, and place your palms on your knees. As you exhale pull your legs to your chest gently. Allow your legs to move with the strength of your thighs rather than using your arms to pull them in too much. When you inhale loosen your grip, allowing your legs to move completely away from your tummy. Do this for a few breaths at your own pace. Let your breath guide your movement. Hold this position for some time. Close your eyes, and if your mind is not at rest try counting your breaths. This helps reign in the mind and helps it calm down. When you feel calm, slowly lower your legs to the floor and relax.

Supta Baddakonasana: This asana helps your mind and body relax, it also stretches out the muscles in the legs and back. To do this pose, lie down flat on the floor. Next, slowly fold your knees and bring your heels towards your buttocks. As you slowly inhale, open up your knees moving them towards the floor, and raise your arms above your head and rest them on the floor. You can take a few long breaths in this position. To come back to the starting position, bring your hands back to the normal position, slowly pull your knees together, and then extend out your legs so that you are once again in the lying position. To stand up, roll over to your left side, and use your hands to get up.

Shavasana: In this pose just lie flat on your back. Place your palms next to your body, with the palms facing upwards. Lie completely still and extend your breaths.

 Who can do these poses?

‘Anybody who is a fairly healthy individual can practice theseasanas, depending on their own capacity. But there are some people who should not try them. People with conditions such as spondylosis which may sometimes make them feel giddy and people with high blood pressure should not do the forward bending asanas. Anybody who has problems with their spine, conditions like lordosis, scoliosis, kyphosis, etc. are  also recommended not to try these poses without the supervision of a trained yoga teacher. Further, these asanas are meant to be relaxing and hence should not be done with too much force. If you feel any pain or discomfort while doing any of these asanas, it is an indication that something is not right and that you need to consult a yoga trainer before continuing,’ Amulya adds.

Finally Amulya says, ‘While a calming evening/night yoga practice will definitely help relax the mind of the individual; depending on what may be the cause of insomnia in a person – yoga alone may not always help. It is important to remember that a yoga practice must be designed by a trained instructor for it to be beneficial for an individual. Just doing a sequence of asanas without understanding the order in which they ought to be done, or what modifications need to be made for each individual may end up doing more harm than good.’ Pavitra Sampath

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