I suffered from insomnia for well over a decade, and it is tied to my earliest memories of sleep. I didn’t realize for many years that I was experiencing disordered sleep, because I had no reference for healthy sleep. It was only when I started inquiring about the sleeping habits of family members and friends that I discovered how abnormal mine actually were. But this discovery only led to increased anxiety over inadequate sleep, which began a perpetual cycle. I had resigned myself to poor quality of sleep and its effects: decreased immunity, mood instability, decreased focus and memory loss.
When I began practicing yoga, my sleep habits began to change. It was unexpected — I came to the practice for different reasons and had no awareness of the relation between yoga and sleep. It was also gradual — like the practice, which unfolds slowly and steadily, my experience of sleep changed over months and years.
Quality of sleep and quality of life are so intimately related, yet few people get the recommended amount of rest each night. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults aged 18-64 should sleep 7-9 hours every night. However, over half of Americans suffer from symptoms of insomnia at least a few nights per week, and women are more likely to be affected than men. In addition to disordered sleep, lack of sleep is increasingly prevalent, and can be equally detrimental to health.
Whether you experience disordered sleep, or simply struggle to get enough hours of rest each night, I’ve curated a list of the most practical applications of yoga for improving sleep quality. These are simple concepts to apply to a regular yoga practice to calm the nervous system and still an overactive mind:
• Seated or reclining meditation (use bolster or blocks as support)
• Extended exhalation (inhale for 4 counts, exhale for 6 counts)
• Seated poses (simple twists, side stretches)
• Grounding, calming sequences (cat/cow, moon salutation)
• Forward folds (head-to-knee pose, butterfly, straddle)
• Passive or reclining poses (supine crescent moon, supine pigeon, happy baby)
• Passive inversions (legs up the wall)
• Long holds (90 seconds or more)
• Long savasana (wear warm clothing, use heavy blanket, cover eyes)
Limit or avoid:
• Vigorous breathing techniques (breath of fire, holding after inhalation)
• Exerting poses (chaturanga, arm balances)
• Active sequences (sun salutations A, B, or C)
• Energetic poses (deep backbends, inversions)
Additionally, simple lifestyle changes such as creating an evening routine, and going to bed and waking at the same time every day can regulate the natural rhythms of the body.
Stasia Holmes is a yoga instructor and wellness advocate based in Chicago. She received her 200-hour certification through Moksha Yoga and is currently completing advanced certification through Yoga to Transform Trauma. Register for her in-depth workshop on The Yoga of Sleep and Dreams taking place September 30, 2016. Connect with Stasia on her website for public classes, private sessions and special events.