YOGA FOR INSOMNIA
Yoga benefits our sleep in many ways. Yoga has been proven to calm the mind, relax the body and release anxiety, all crucial components of drifting off into quality slumber and staying there all night long. We have a snooze-inducing ally in yoga. Yoga helps to fall asleep sooner and improves the quality of our sleep so that we need less. We need less sleep because yoga increases the elimination of toxins from the body and rejuvenates the entire body right down to cellular level. The practice of breathing allows for more oxygen in the body providing clarity in the mind. You will thus have a more restful sleep because of the relaxing aspect of yoga and the subsequent relieving of stress, tension and fatigue. But no matter how good your sleep habits, everyone suffers from insomnia from time to time. When you find yourself tossing and turning late into the night, don’t reach for a sleeping pill. Practice some relaxing yoga asanas to wind down.
Insomnia is a sleep disorder that is characterized by difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, waking too early, and/or feeling tired upon waking. Acute insomnia (lasting from one night to a few weeks) is the most common form and is usually caused by stress, hormonal changes, and/or emotional problems. Fortunately, the stress reducing, calming and natural balancing effects of yoga make it a perfect remedy for mild and acute insomnia, and along with good sleep habits insomnia can often be prevented or quickly cured. A gentle practice of calming yoga poses will be generally effective to reduce stress and balance the body’s systems to promote good sleep. Since forward bending poses are traditionally known for their inherent calming effects, try practicing standing forward bends like Padangusthasana (Big Toe Pose) and Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend); seated forward bends like Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend) and Supta Virasana (Reclining Hero Pose); and also Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog), Balasana (Child Pose), Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Forward Bend) and Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana (Revolved Head-to-Knee Pose).
If there is an emotional component to your insomnia that includes depression and anxiety, then incorporate the following poses to strengthen the energy of the body and open the heart centre: Matsyasana (Fish Pose), Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose), Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose), Uttana Shishosana (Extended Puppy Pose), Ustrasana (Camel Pose), Virabhadrasana I and II (Warrior 1 and 2), and twisting squat. Also, practicing meditation to cultivate loving-kindness to remove negative thought patterns will be helpful.
Hormonal imbalances are often a cause of insomnia too. If so, forward bends and inversions will be particularly effective. Poses that massage the reproductive organs and activate the endocrine system will also be helpful, such as Dhanurasana (Bow Pose), Navasana (Boat Pose), Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose), Makarasana (Crocodile Pose), and seated twists.
If stress is contributing to your insomnia, then a more active or flowing approach to yoga would be warranted. Including some of the following hip openers and side bends in your yoga practice would then be beneficial: prayer squat, seated and standing angle, supine bound angle, Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose), side seated angle. Establishing a daily meditation practice will also be important to calm the mind and effectively manage stress.
Always end your yoga practice with a long enough period of Savasana (Corpse Pose). You could add progressive muscle relaxation or guided relaxation during Savasana to further calm and relax the body and mind. Inversions, such as Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand), Halasana (Plough Pose), and Sirsasana (Headstand) will be helpful to practice when you are having difficulty falling asleep. Also, practicing Dirga Pranayama, especially with an extended exhalation, will also be deeply calming to the body and mind, and can be practiced while lying in bed. Yoga Nidra is great for insomnia as well.