Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Snooze-Asana: Yoga Poses So Pleasant You'll Do Them All By Yourself and then Sleep Like a (Happy) Baby

Practicing yoga at home is hard. Even super experienced yoga teachers can struggle with it, myself included! Anyone can be intimidated right out of their practice when the first thing she or he tries is unrollling his or her mat in the morning for an invigorating flow.

Know what else can be hard? Falling asleep! Between electric lighting, and worse yet, electric screens (they mimic sunlight, keeping our brain from releasing melatonin, which is the hormone that eases you into sleep), and our go-go-go lifestyles, getting our minds to shut down and drift off at night is challenging for a lot of us.

So, what do these two issues have in common? The solution: Bed-time Yoga! Ready to give it a shot? Keep reading...

Get comfortable: your favourite pajamas, your significant other's old t-shirt, or nothing at all! It doesn't matter, just wear what makes you feel comfy and cozy. If possible, downshift from intensive physical or mental effort, and get your eyes away from those screens an hour or two before your planned bedtime. Never write a facebook status in the middle of the night about how you can't fall asleep. You're only making things worse for yourself, and you're also driving me crazy. Turn down the lights, and turn off the upbeat music. Something at low volume, and relaxing is fine.

Get in bed: Yay! Bed! Don't love your bed? Replace it! Try different sheets, different blankets, different pillows. Save up for a new mattress and/or bed frame...the husband and I are going to try a Casper mattress once we get back from our last trip of the Summer.

Ok, made it that far? Now, breathe.

I know, you've been doing it all day, but now, you're going to pay attention to the fact that you're doing it. How slow or fast are you breathing? How deeply are you breathing? For most of us, just noticing our breathing pattern is enough to change it for the better, but that's not the only reason to take this step. Taking your attention into your body automatically takes your attention away from the stress of your day, your to do list tomorrow, or whatever other irrelevant thoughts are racing around in your head.

Paying attention to your breath, and perhaps slowing it down or deepening it, is step one of the Breath Control practice known in yoga as Pranayama.

In particular, making your exhales longer than your inhales activates your parasympathetic nervous system. Never heard of it? Well, it's the opposite of your sympathetic nervous system, which sounds very friendly, but is actually responsible for the fight or flight response: that heart-pounding, stomach-clenching, mind-racing state we get in when we're confronted by a stressful situation. The parasympathetic nervous system turns all that off, and puts us in a state of 'rest and digest'. We feel calm, safe, and open to the world around us. Our appetite is better regulated, we're able to be sexually aroused given access to the stimuli we're into, and, we can easily fall asleep. Amazing, huh? Decisions, decisions... ;-)

By now, you may not even need too many yoga poses to ease you off into dreamland, but they'll feel great, and you'll benefit more from them with your parasympathetic nervous system activated.

If your bed isn't next to a wall, you may want to put it there, but if that's not possible, start with this shape on the floor, then move into bed for the rest of them. This is my personal favorite yoga pose for everybody. It's especially good for fatigue, tired or achey legs and/or feet, and headaches: Legs Up the Wall! Yep, it's just what it sounds like. Sit down with your hip pressed against the wall, then lean back and swivel around to get your sit bones pressed against the wall. It's a little tricky to get into, but well worth it. You can max out the inversion benefits of this shape by placing a pillow under your hips to slightly elevate them. Once you get there, just relax. Come back to your breathing. Your hands can come to rest anywhere on your body that needs some extra healing or love, or they can be out to your sides. You can open your legs up to a wide V, or leave them together. Try to stay for five to fifteen minutes. If your legs and feet get too tingly, you can bend your knees and slide your feet down the wall for a break before resuming.
Forward folds of all kinds are another great way to tune inward and leave your day behind. Resist the urge to pull yourself into your deepest stretch, as deep muscular stretches are stimulating for the body, and you may re-activate your sympathetic nervous system right when you want it switched off. Even if you aren't very bendy, just let gravity take you as far as it wants to into the stretch. Try using pillows and yoga blocks (books will do if you don't have blocks) to support the weight of your head.
Try seated forward fold to untie your ham strings after a long day of walking, or star pose, heels touching a couple feet from your pelvis, knees opened out to the side. This variation of the popular hip stretch is an excellent lower back release.
Encourage your psoas, a huge muscle that connects your upper body to your lower body and makes walking possible, to release for the night by laying on your back, and hugging one knee into your chest at a time. Intensify this stretch by elevating the hips slightly on pillows, but remember not to take the stretch past subtle sensation, to maintain the relaxation-inducing benefits.
You can give yourself a happy baby while lying on your back, if this is a pleasant pose for you. Skip it if the sensation in your hips is intense or unpleasant, or if hugging both knees toward your chest makes taking deep breaths difficult.
A gentle reclining twist can help you inhabit and feel your entire body before bed. Bring the right knee toward the chest, then let it fall gently to the left. Extend the right arm out to the side, and keep the right shoulder grounded down. You can support the right knee on a pillow, block, or books to keep the twist light and gentle. Be sure to do the second side!
The best part of bedtime yoga? Bed time Savasana! Let there be a few feet between your heels, and some breathing room between your upper arms and your torso. Make sure you have enough covers to stay warm even as your body temperature drops as you ease into sleep. If your arms keep rolling inward in their sockets, causing your palms to face the mattress, try picking up your upper back, and hugging your shoulders in toward your spine before easing it back down. If that still doesn't work, you may want to consider an alternative hand placement, such as palms down on your hips or your belly. If your lower back feeling tight or painful, place a pillow or rolled up blanket under your knees. Most of us living in modern society can benefit from an eye pillow: a small pillow usually filled with flax seed, and sometimes with dried lavender. The weight on the eyes induces them to close and settle, and by blocking out all light, your pineal gland is finally allowed to release melatonin. The lavender fragrance can be very soothing as well, though if it's not your thing, you can easily find one without.

Come back to an awareness of your breath. Don't worry about changing it in anyway, just let it work itself out. You may be shocked at how infrequently you're inhaling and exhaling after a few moments! Let yourself be soft, and receptive to absorbing the benefits of your practice. There's nothing else you need to do...

...except have sweet dreams. :-)

Live Omily,
~em

2 comments:

  1. It’s very true that practicing yoga at home is really hard. I tried learning yoga myself but I failed. Then I joined San Jose Yoga classes. I love doing yoga over there. Now I really want to become a yoga teacher.

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  2. I'm glad you were able to find a studio that inspired your practice, Cris! Teaching yoga is a wonderful way to deepen and enrich your own practice, but if you've explored my blog much, you may have already read my warning to prospective teachers: it takes years of consistent hustling, and a BIG does of luck to make anything close to a living wage teaching yoga (I'm not even close). Don't go into it expecting to be able to survive on it. It is NOT a more pleasant alternative to waiting tables, and for 99% of us, it will never be a career.

    Wishing you the best! :-)

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