Better sleep has been touted for years as one of the benefits of yoga. So today we learn about Yoga for Sleep and improved emotional well-being since there is a link between inability to sleep and anxiety.
What is Anxiety? It is how we manage stress.
What is Stress? The opposite of relaxation.
One of the most important things you can learn from a yoga class is that your thoughts have the ability to affect your overall contentment and health. During the deep relaxation pose (corpse pose), one systematically relaxes every part of the body, even suggesting that the brain itself is “relaxed.” During conscious relaxation, thoughts are experienced more as an energy, which is associated with the brain than as the sum total of who we are. We have thoughts, but those thoughts no longer take over our bodies and minds at large — triggering tension, anxiety or other responses. Yoga teaches us that consciousness and thoughts are not the same thing.
When we are relaxed we are able to let the thoughts flow through us without dancing away with them to the past or the future. We remain conscious, allowing the thoughts to come through us, but we learn not to interact with them. We can say to ourselves, “Oh, there’s another thought of dinner, or of person ‘X’ or of fear about tomorrow’s meeting.” Then we can let go of that thought and return to the relaxation at hand. This is a meditative practice, which gradually over time allows us to “dis-identify” with our thoughts. When thoughts are experienced just as thoughts, not as reality itself, then the path to freedom which yoga promises begins to unfold naturally.
Breathing: At the core of most anxiety is the breath, or the lack of it.
When you are anxious, natural breathing is inhibited. The diaphragm freezes, failing to move air downward as you inhale, which means that you don’t let your lungs fully expand and fill with air. “And when you don’t get enough oxygen, the brain receives a ‘danger’ signal, which perpetuates your mind-body state of anxiety,” explains Jonathan Davidson, M.D., director of the Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Program at Duke University Medical Center. “Your breathing quickens and becomes even more shallow.”
Yoga teaches you how to breath with awareness, giving you the power to control your breath and thereby your anxiety resulting in better sleep.
Try these 4 breathing techniques for better sleep.
1. Lengthened Breath
When your body is stressed, it breathes faster to take in more air. Trick it into a state of relaxation by breathing out longer than you breathe in.
Inhale for a count of three, then exhale for a count of six. Then inhale count of 4, exhale count of 8. Feel free to change up the numbers you count, but the idea is to have a prolonged exhale in comparison to your inhale. Slow, deep breathing like this resets your autonomic nervous system.
2. Alternate Nostril Breathing
Tune in to your nasal breathing with this yoga breathing control technique known as Nadi Shodhana.
1. Using the right thumb, softly close the right nostril, and inhale as slowly as you can through the left nostril, then close it with your ring finger. Pause. Open and exhale slowly through the right nostril.
2. With the right nostril open, inhale slowly, then close it with the thumb. Pause. Exhale through the left nostril. Once your exhalation is complete, inhale through the left. Pause before moving to the right.
3. Repeat this pattern five to ten times, and then release the right hand to the right knee. Ease back into normal breathing.
3. Diaphragmatic Breath
With one hand resting on your lower abdomen and the other on your chest, take five deep breaths, inhaling for a count of three, then exhaling for a count of three. Inhale four, exhale four, Inhale five, exhale five. Initiate this breath in your low belly. Clear your mind by focusing on the way your hand rises and falls according to your inhales and exhales. When we are anxious we breath only in our upper chest. Therefore using diaphramatic breathing calms the nervous system.
4, Visualizing Breath
As you inhale, envision the air traveling into your nose, through your entire body, and back out again. Imagine it traveling through all your muscles, all the way to your toes and fingers, before it comes back out again during your exhale. As a variation, inhale and visualize your breath as pure white light purifyihng every cell in your body, as you exhale see black light remove toxins and stress as your breath leaves your body. Inhale white light again. Keep going.
Focusing on your breathing activates your parasympathetic system, encouraging it to calm down, relax, and lower your heart rate in preparation for sleep.