Yoga: A Gentle, Non-Medicated Cure for Insomnia

Have you ever wondered why at the end of a hectic day, you feel exhausted and yet as soon you go to bed spend what seems like an eternity waiting for sleep to come?  Or perhaps you’ve watched your nightstand clock ticking past several hours, feeling more and more anxious because you know you have a busy day ahead?  Insomnia is rampant in society today:  nearly half of all Americans suffer from bouts of sleeplessness on a regular basis and ten to fifteen percent of us suffer for more than six weeks at a time!  Modern medicine offers some common sense suggestions (such as limiting caffeine, and getting regular exercise) as well as prescribing sleeping pills to help us through occasional insomnia.  Unfortunately, this approach does not offer a cure for sleeplessness and though pills may offer temporary relief, it’s not without risk of dependence or side effects, such as overall lack of clarity and feelings of sluggishness.

Yoga is a gentle, relaxing exercise designed to calm anxiety, relax tense bodies, and restore harmony and balance to our lives.  The pace of society often leads to a discord between our physical and emotional selves, and our hectic schedules leave nerves frazzled and bodies deeply in need of nourishment and rest.  Regular practice of yoga is associated with many health benefits, and is an effective tool to combat the stress that is often the root cause of bouts of insomnia.  All too often, there are feelings of guilt associated with taking a break to practice yoga or to calm the mind through meditation.  The restorative properties of yoga and meditation is exactly what our bodies need to cope with the stresses of life and prevent many of from suffering from illness, depression, and a general feeling of being at the end of our ropes. Furthermore, regular practice of yoga as part of a calming evening ritual can help prepare a body for rest, and train you to recognize your body’s sleep cues.

A Calming Ritual

One of the best solutions for better sleep that you can implement into your daily life is a calming ritual practiced each and every evening.  The actual process you follow is largely dependent on your personal preferences, but should include relaxing activities such as reading, writing, taking a warm bath, or drinking a cup of tea, as well as an evening cycle of restorative yoga poses.  The benefits of this nighttime ritual are many:

  • the routine will train your body to recognize when it’s time to sleep.
  • there will be a barrier created between your busy day and bedtime.
  • incorporating some of the techniques described below will clear your mind and tire your body.
  • spending the time each night to replenish your body before going to bed will release much of the stress you feel.

Breathwork and Meditation

Deep breathing lowers blood pressure, slows the heartbeat, and clears your mind.  Meditation allows the practitioner to gain control over their thoughts and release anxious feelings.  Regular breathing exercises combined with meditation can help prevent those nights where your thoughts are racing too much to fall asleep.  Experts suggest that meditating for fifteen minutes prior to bedtime can significantly improve your mental state and calm your mind.  In addition, it was found that mental condition during sleep determines cortisol levels the following morning (this is the stress hormone).  That is to say, going to bed anxious will result in awakening in the same mood, only to repeat the cycle over again!

Several pranayam are referenced as sleep-inducing, and calming for the body and mind:

  • Ujjayi Pranayama is also known as Victorious Breath, and is commonly prescribed for those who suffer from insomnia.  Named for this distinctive sound created as the throat is constricted, Ujjayi can lower blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Dirga Pranayama, or the Three-Part Breath calms the mind.
  • Brahmari Pranayama, which means bumblebee, reduces stress and anxiety and brings feelings of joy.

Yoga Poses to Help You Sleep

In addition to the benefits described above, yoga further enhances sleep because the practice of yoga works on the sleep centers of your brain – allowing you to fall asleep more quickly, as well as enjoying a deeper overall sleep.  Your daily yoga practice should be tailored to your physical feeling on a given day; if you are tired practice calming, restorative poses such as the Plow and Corpse .  If on the other hand, you are feeling particularly energized in the evening, then you should try a short cycle of twists, standing poses, and forward bends in order to cause your body to feel fatigued.

Calming Asanas to Induce Sleep

A quick search on the internet reveals many yoga poses that will help ease and cure bouts of insomnia.  Many act to release tension in your body taking away the pain often associated with tense muscles, while others are calm the mind and body and allow it to relax.  Some of the more popular poses associated with alleviating sleeplessness are:

  • Halasana – Plow Pose.  Reduces backache, and helps you fall asleep.
  • Sarvangasana – Shoulderstand.  A very calming and rejuvenating pose.
  • Tadasana – Mountain Pose.  Activates and strengthens the lungs.  Releases tense shoulders.
  • Ananda Balasana – Happy Baby Pose.  Releases your lower back and hips, helps you feel more relaxed.
  • Supta Baddha Konasana – Goddess Pose.  Again, this allows your body to feel more limber and relaxed as it releases your groin.
  • Savasana – Corpse Pose.  This pose will calm body and mind, and allow you to relax.

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