Ask the Expert: Aadil Palkhivala
Practice for deep and sound sleep.
My sleep has become easily interrupted. Which asanas and pranayamas do you recommend?
—Holly Hauser, Burlington, Vermont
When your brain is wound up, the accumulated internal tension does not allow your mind to become steady and focus on sleep. And when there is excessive
tension in your physical body, your muscles get tight and hard. This, in turn, stresses your nerves and prevents them from unwinding, relaxing, and allowing
your body to sleep.
The four major aspects of taking a holistic approach to solving sleep problems involve asana, pranayama, nutrition, and meditation. Muscle tension can be
caused by either too much or too little activity during the day; a regular asana practice will help unwind the muscular tension so that the nerves can relax.
If you are overactive during your day, you need restorative poses, so be sure that your practice includes Salamba Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Supported Bridge Pose), Salamba Balasana (Supported Child's Pose), and Salamba
Viparita Karani ,(Supported Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose), followed by Savasana (Corpse Pose). If you aren't
active enough, you need a more dynamic practice to remove the built-up tension. Try three cycles of classical Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation), Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand), Salamba Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, Salamba Adho Mukha Svanasana (Supported Downward-Facing Dog Pose), Viparita Karani, and Savasana.
Pranayama is also useful. While in Savasana, do Viloma II (Against the Flow Breath) for about 10 minutes. This is done lying down and involves taking an
uninterrupted inhalation and an interrupted exhalation. Start by lying in Savasana for a few minutes, then exhale whatever breath is in the lungs. Take a
long, deep inhale without any pause, filling the lungs completely without strain. Exhale slowly for two to three seconds, pause, holding the breath for two
or three seconds, exhale, and repeat. Continue until the lungs feel completely emptied, which may entail three to five pauses. At the end of the last
exhalation, release the abdomen—this completes one cycle of Viloma II.
Alternatively, you may also do one-two breathing for 54 to 63 cycles of breath. To do this, make your exhalation twice as long as the inhalation, without
strain. Both of these breathing practices soothe the nerves and promote sleep.
Nutritional adjustment can help promote sleep by emphasizing foods that ground the body's energy, such as root vegetables, grains, and beans. Your dinner
should include them. Avoid salads and spicy foods for dinner.
Meditation is another key to getting a good night's sleep. Ask your yoga teacher to show you how to center your brain energy using your hands and your
breath. This will prevent your mind from jumping from thought to thought. Make it a priority to set aside five minutes each evening to focus on centering
yourself before you go to bed.
If you practice all four of the above suggestions, you will enjoy deep and sound sleep.
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