Insomnia is one of the curses of modern life. Studies have shown that as many as 30% of adults worldwide suffer one or more of the symptoms associated with insomnia. Although only about 6% of the population experience the full range of criteria that qualify medically as having the disorder, sleeplessness to any degree can be a huge irritation. Thankfully, there are a number of yoga techniques that can help you improve your quality of sleep.
Do you toss and turn at night because you’re unable to “turn off” your thoughts? Yoga teaches people to focus on their breathing to control their thoughts while performing the poses. The same focus can help you to quiet your thoughts when you’re lying in bed. Breathe deeply into your belly, feeling it expand, and concentrate on what it’s like to breathe: what does the air feel like as it passes through your throat? What parts of your body move as you inhale, and what parts move as you exhale? If you learn to focus on this, you’ll find you have far less space for runaway, stressful thoughts.
Another reason some people have trouble falling asleep is simply that their muscles are too tight. Tight muscles make it tough to get comfortable. Additionally, there’s a symbiotic relationship between the mind and the body; just as feelings of stress encourage muscular tension, muscular tension can actually encourage stressful thoughts. So try running through a few yoga poses just before bed to loosen your body, and see if it helps. Don’t do anything too strenuous: you don’t want to get too worked up. Just do a few gentle sun salutations and some stretches for the parts of your body you know tend to get tight.
Although belly breathing in bed alone can help some people drift off to dreamland, others find they need more time to wind down. If this is the case for you, taking just a few minutes to meditate before bed can be extremely helpful. After you’ve gotten ready for bed, try sitting cross-legged or in lotus position to meditate. There are a number of different ways to meditate.
Here are just a few that you may find helpful:
As we mentioned, just focusing on your breathing is one great way to get out of your head and into your body. If your mind wanders, you might try counting your breaths. Sometimes the simple act of counting can give your mind just enough to think about that you won’t feel as tempted to follow the thoughts that come to your mind.
In addition to focusing on your breathing, you can also try bringing your attention to different sensations in your body. For example, tune into your heartbeat. Can you feel it in your chest? Once you do, try to see if you can feel it in a different part of your body, such as your arm or your fingertips. The more still and relaxed you are, the more parts of your body you’ll be able to feel your pulse in. At the same time, tuning into your body’s sensations will help you to feel more relaxed. Try tuning into other sensations as well, like the feeling of the clothes or blankets on different parts of your body.
Repeating a Mantra
One more way to control your thoughts is to focus on a particular mantra or phrase as you breathe. Examples of mantras include, “Peace,” “Calm,” “I am safe,” or similar ideas you want to welcome into your thinking and your life.
Morning Sun Salutations
One way to help keep your inner clock in sync is to get natural light in the morning. Light helps your body know when it should be awake and when it should sleep. So, when you get up in the morning, pull open the curtains or blinds to let light in, and do a few sun salutations in that little rectangle of sunlight. Better yet, in the summer, head outside for a brief morning yoga session. The light will help your body know when it’s time to go to sleep at night, and the exercise may as well.
One of the truly wonderful things about yoga is that daily practice leads to benefits in every part of your life, and not just when you’re on the mat. Just as practicing yoga poses will help you be stronger and more flexible throughout your whole day, practicing mental quiet during your practice can also help you to be more able to release your thoughts when you’re in bed.