Don’t Stress the ZZZs: Yoga and Sleep
For most of us, good sleep means: falling asleep quickly; staying asleep; and waking up feeling well-rested, refreshed, and energized for the day to come. Yet, most of us do not experience this kind of good sleep. The reason why we don't is a sign of the times; we are overworked, overstressed, our minds are too loud and our bodies hold too much tension to foster good sleep.
How Yoga Helps The Mind and Body Prepare for Good Sleep
How does yoga help achieve the state of mind and body necessary for good sleep that is reoccurring in our lives?
- Hatha yoga involves gentle body postures and breathing techniques. Putting one's body in these gentle postures helps to release tension and pain that could be holding you back from good sleep; breathing techniques center and calm the mind, helping to reduce the chatter that keeps you awake in bed.
- Setting aside time to reflect on your day, life, and purpose gives the mind the time it needs to consider those things while you're awake, not preparing to fall asleep.
Why You Can't Sleep: Disruptive Mind and Overthinking
Why does good sleep escape us? Many of us spend hours laying awake in bed, overthinking. Some of us are even exhausted from the day's activities, but still find the inability to sleep pervasive. Why is that?
Good sleep doesn't require exhaustion. And physical exhaustion coupled with a lack of proper mental stimulation throughout the day is a recipe for lack of sleep. As we go about our days, we interact with the world and other humans in it. It is only natural for our minds to spend time considering the day's events as well as our own deeds, words, and thoughts (and the deeds, words, and thoughts of others). When we don't give our minds the space to process the day, we run into trouble. This trouble often manifests when we finally hit the hay at day's end... when the body is quiet enough to let the mind think! No wonder most of us spend hours laying awake in bed...
How do we remedy this situation? Yoga translates to "union". Union with what? Union with the self. The Self that is the Observer, the Awareness sitting in the background of all of our "automatic" behaviors and words. This Self comes out in stillness. As such, yogic practices are a perfect way to become friendly with the Self. When we spend time sitting in steady postures (yoga asanas), breathing (pranayama), or in meditation, we consciously chose to: 1, simplify our body's physical behaviors and 2, make our mind one-pointed. When the mind is purposefully made one-pointed, the many strains of thought running in the background reveal themselves.
Yoga, The Path to Master Your Mind and Master Your Life
In this way, yogic practices allow for the healthy unraveling of various background thoughts during the day instead of during sleep. When the mind is given time to breathe in daily activities such as yoga, breathing, and meditation, you are cultivating the ability to observe your thoughts without fear. You're also giving your mind a prescribed time to explore itself. This helps your mind stay quiet when its meant to stay quiet (aka, right before bed).
As a practice, yoga works on all levels... helping you to find stillness not only in the mind but also the body and spirit, too. If you are having trouble sleeping, invite the positive effects of yoga into your life through an online course, online yoga class, specialized in-person dream and sleep retreat, or a visit to the ashram for a much-needed reset at any time of the year.