Overworked, overstimulated, overstressed. It’s no wonder that in our culture insomnia is so prevalent—so many of us just don’t know how to slow down, unwind, and prepare our bodies and minds for a night of rest.
I have to admit, I’m usually pretty good at sleeping. I used to brag that I could fall asleep anywhere, in nearly any position. Lately, however, I have new aches and pains, new distractions, and so much to think about, I’ve been feeling less like a sleep expert. There are some nights where I still drift right off to sleep, while other nights I lie there with my eyes open for a lot longer than I’d prefer. What I’ve learned is this:
While yoga and meditation are not magical cures for sleep problems, practicing regularly really does help me to fall asleep faster and get a better quality sleep.
Here are 5 ways yoga has helped me get some much-needed sleep.
1. Practice makes perfect. You know that point at the end of a yoga class when your muscles are so tired it feels like bliss to let yourself just lie still for a few minutes? I’m talking about Savasana (Corpse Pose). Practicing Savasana at the end of yoga class helps me to practice that feeling of total surrender. It also serves as a reminder that I’m capable of surrender, which comes in handy at the end of a long day.
2. Certain poses unwind your mind. Forward bends and restorative poses are designed to calm the nervous system and soothe a busy mind. When I know I’m going to have a hard time getting to sleep, I try to spend a few minutes doing forward bends and Viparita Karani (Legs-up-the-Wall Pose) to prepare both my mind and body for sleep.
3. Ease physical discomfort. This is a new problem for me. I never had much trouble with aches and pains at night until I got pregnant. Now I have an achy low back and sacrum and exhausted limbs that sometimes plague me into the wee hours of the night. Body pillows don’t really help, but certain yoga poses do—Cat-Cow, Downward Dog, and (again) Viparita Karani have been really helpful.
4. Self-reflect on your mat and meditation cushion so you will be less likely to at bedtime. Maybe it’s just me, but when the lights go out that voice in my head will NOT shut up! (I’m not schizophrenic—I just think too much.) I’ve found that a few minutes of quiet self-reflection on my meditation cushion or even with a cup of herbal tea before bed lets me get through all of those thoughts about how my day went and my to-do list for tomorrow before I hit the hay.
5. Learn to quiet the chatter. One of the most useful techniques I’ve learned in yoga is how to be mindful, notice when my mind wanders, and gently bring my attention back to my breath. I think of it as training my mind that there is a time to think and a time to rest. It takes a lot of practice, but this has helped me to fall asleep many times when my mind chatter threatened to keep me awake.
Has yoga ever helped you overcome insomnia? I’d love to hear your tips, too.