The more I teach yoga and work with people who struggle with pain, anxiety and feelings of depression, the more clear it becomes that lack of sleep and sleep deprivation is a real and worrying phenomenon of our modern life.
We live in an adrenalin-fuelled, high-octane stress world where everything is about immediacy and performing. Technology has brought the world into the palms of our hands, and we are all intensely connected with everything and everybody, everywhere. It’s great to be so in touch, feeling ourselves as an intrinsic part of the great whole!
It’s virtually impossible to disconnect from all this hyper-activity. The world around us is functioning at a 24/7 pace and suddenly, so do we! We have come to see sleep and rest as a nice-to- have, rather than as a must-have.
But the human body and brain is designed to disconnect from time to time. We need rest and sleep to recover, heal, grow and process our experiences.
If we don’t get to sleep sufficiently, the consequences can be pretty severe. This interesting article in Medical News Today highlights some of the causes of sleeplessness, and more importantly the risk factors involved with not getting enough.
Insomnia is a topic I know intimately. After coming off anti-depressants, I really struggled to sleep for the best part of 2 years as the chemicals slowly left my body. My quest for proper restorative sleep eventually lead me to yoga. In fact, it’s safe to say that yoga saved my life by helping me to sleep better, in those early days when I was depressed, exhausted, suicidal and desperately tired.
Now, it’s wonderful for me to be able to help others sleep and rest better through applying the skills and knowledge I gained during this tough and challenging time of my own life.
How can yoga help better sleep?
We all know that the physical practice of yoga has a great many benefits to release stiff muscles, make our bodies stronger and improve out mobility and suppleness. There is a good level of benefit to be gained sleep-wise from the postural side of yoga.
But yoga is a complex and many-limbed practice. For me, the real power of yoga to aid and improve sleep is a combination of the more holistic elements. Incorporating the best parts of pranayama (yogic breathing) with mindful awareness and loving kindness, withdrawing the senses and looking inwardly, and being authentic and truthful to ourselves all help to combine with asana (The actual physical postures we practice) are a powerful means to create a safe space for ourselves to practice the art of sleeping.
Much has been written about the benefits of yoga for sleep. This recent Telegraph article is insightful.
At the end, I believe that sleeping, just like yoga, is a learned behaviour.
So yoga becomes the means to an end. As we learn to discover ourselves through yoga, so we start applying the learnings in other parts of our lives, including how we sleep and rest.
There is never going to be a quick fix for sleep problems! But yoga offers a great arsenal of tools to help us relax and work toward better sleep.
This will include deep relaxation practices like yin or restorative yoga, where we slow things down to stay in one place and one position for an extended time. There is also Yoga Nidra, the wonderfully restorative practice that distracts our mind with a guided mediation while the body rests. Pranayama (Yogic breathing) has a myriad of different options to help us settle, calm our minds through breathing, and focus our concentration.
As in any physical pursuit, sleeping better starts with an intention first, and then taking action. We have to give ourselves permission to sleep. We have to allow ourselves to disconnect to not only the world, but the chattering of our own inner monkeys. We have to make space for ourselves to sleep.
Yoga can show us how to make that space.
Wishing you a good night’s sleep!