Yoga, Prana and Sleep....some things to consider

Yoga, Prana and Sleep......some things to consider

As a yoga therapist, something I hear all the time is "I’m not sleeping well or my sleep is interrupted and once I am awake I can’t fall back to sleep; my mind has turned on again".
To respond to this, as a general rule, with my classes and my private clients, I begin with the breath. Breath is a huge energy (prana) source for us with astounding ability to relax and quiet us or to recharge and "rev" us up.  In order to facilitate a resting response, for example—when you are ready to go to sleep--begin by noticing the natural breath and start to follow each inhale and exhale with as little effort as possible. You then might begin to count to yourself as you breathe, inhale 1,2,3, exhale 1,2,3 and so one. The old concept of counting sheep really works!!!

The longer the exhale, the more relaxed you will be begin to feel. Listening to the sounds of breathing are helpful too. Creating an ocean sound or learning "ujjiya pranayama", a calming yoga breathing technique may be beneficial.  To facilitate a relaxed response in the physical body, you could gently contract and release the muscles moving through the body from the feet to the face, releasing any lingering tension from the day.

Go back to this breath work if you wake up during the night and can’t seem to fall back into that rest mode.  Something as simple as touching the fingers together, thumb to index finger can help to center and calm the brain. I suggest touching the thumb to each finger and back up again pausing to take a full complete breath as you work your way to pinky finger and back up again, repeat until you drift off into a relaxing sleep. By focusing on your breathing, the mind is kept more in the moment.  You are less distracted, your to-do list takes a back seat and suddenly the central nervous system realizes it needs to shift to lower gears.  This generates the parasympathetic response in which we feel calm and relaxed all over and the mind and body are once again in sync.  I often recommend listening to an audio, a guided meditation, a yoga nidra cd or one of the various apps that are available for download to iPods or mobile devices.

If you have a personal yoga practice, you will want to do yoga poses that are more relaxing before bed-- restorative gentle poses, movements that bring you in, that make you feel more introverted and quiet. Some suggestions would be moon salutations, gentle twists; hip and spine releases or even just lying on your left side will aid the digestive process if you had a heavy dinner.  We hear all the time that being conscious of your diet is important, that things like caffeine, spicy foods, sugar or alcohol before bed disrupts our sleeping habits—it’s true.  A warm bath can also be relaxing, accompanied with a cup of chamomile tea or a whiff of anything with lavender essence can also help set the tone for a good night’s sleep.  As you lay your head on your pillow, close your eyes, repeat a mantra or affirmation mentally to yourself several times, "I am ready to sleep, to rest, to renew".  By doing this, you will be setting your intention for the peaceful hours you want to follow.  With practice, awareness and intention we can all bring about positive changes in our lives where they are needed, but we must first surrender, even to the "sandman".

Sherry P. Yost
Yoga Instructor
Integrative Yoga Therapy