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Looking Sleepy by Tsukioka Yoshitoshiby NinaI’ve Heard a ...

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge

Looking Sleepy by Tsukioka Yoshitoshiby NinaI’ve heard a ...

Looking Sleepy by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi

by Nina

I’ve heard a large number of people recently say that they are suffering from insomnia these days. This doesn’t surprise me because chronic stress—which we’re all experiencing at one level or another these days due to the pandemic—can cause insomnia. So, one important thing you can do to help prevent insomnia is to practice stress management during the day on a regular basis. See Stress Management for When You're Stressed for information.However, when things are very stressful, there’s a chance that even daily stress management practices won’t help you much when you get into bed at night (though I still suggest maintaining your daily practice to help keep your baseline stress levels as low as possible). That’s because being alone with anxious thoughts when you’re lying in bed in the dark can trigger your stress response again. The result is that you may have a hard time falling asleep initially or, even if you do fall asleep quickly because you’re exhausted, you may wake up in the middle of the night or in the very early morning and then be unable to fall back to sleep.The good news is that there are yoga techniques you can practice while you’re in bed that can help you fall asleep or fall back to sleep. This post contains a number of suggestions for practices and poses that you can try. For those who are having trouble falling asleep initially, try one of these practices as soon as you get into bed and settle into a comfortable position. For those who are waking in the middle of the night or early morning, try one when you wake up and realize you’re not going to fall quickly back to sleep. If you are waking in the middle of the night, considering practicing both before you go to sleep initially as well as in the middle of the night. Practicing before you sleep might help you sleep more soundly throughout the night because you’ll fall asleep in a more relaxed state.From this list, start by trying what appeals to you most or what you think will work the best in your current circumstances. If the first thing you try doesn’t work or you just don’t like it, try something else. When practicing any of these eight techniques, be sure to stay warm and keep the lights off to reduce external stimulation to a minimum.1. Breath Awareness. This is the easiest yogic breath practice and one of the most basic forms of meditation. It can help you fall asleep because it quiets your mind and maintaining the practice for several minutes can trigger the relaxation response. To practice, simply bring your awareness to sensations you experience as you naturally inhale and exhale. You can focus on the sound of your breath, the way your belly or chest expands and releases in response to your inhalations and exhalations, the sensation of your breath moving in and out of your nostrils, or any other sensation that is easy for you to track. When you notice yourself starting to worry or your mind wanders away from your breath, gently return your focus to your breath.If you use breath awareness as your meditation technique during the day, it’s probably best to use another breath practice or another meditation practice (see mantras below) to fall asleep with. After all, during the day you want to stay awake when you meditate.2. Extending Your Exhalation. This breath practices provides two advantages over breath awareness. Exhalation lengthening takes more concentration than breath awareness, so your mind may wander less. And this practice has a special effect on your nervous system. When you make your exhalations longer than your inhalations, and you maintain that for several minutes, your heart rate slows down a bit. This decreased heart rate sends a feedback message to your brain that your circumstances are more peaceful and calm now, which stimulates the relaxation response.To practice, observe your natural breath for a few minutes as described above. Then, when you reach the end of your exhalation, instead of immediately inhaling, lengthen your exhalation by one or two beats. Keep it relaxed, and if at any point you find the practice irritating, return to your natural breath.3. Other Breath Practices. If there is another relaxing breath practice, such as Bhramari (Buzzing Bee Breath), Sithali, Ujjayi, exhalation pausing, or Alternate Nostril Breath with a longer exhalation than exhalation, that you have experience with and that you enjoy, you can give it try.Just stay away from practices that lengthen your inhalation, such as inhalation lengthening, inhalation pausing, and Kapalabhati Pranayama (Skull Shining Breath), because these are stimulating to your nervous system. (When you make your inhalations longer than your exhalations, and you maintain that for several minutes, your heart rate will speed up a bit. This increased heart rate sends a feedback message to your brain that your circumstances require activity, stimulating your nervous system to prepare you physically and mentally to take action with the fight or flight response.)Practices in which you make your inhalation and exhalation the same length, such as Sama Vrtti (Equal Breath) or Alternate Nostril Breath with equal inhalations and exhalations, are “balancing,” meaning they might be a little stimulating rather than fully relaxing. So, this type of breath practice wouldn’t be my first choice for insomnia, but if you find they send you off to sleep, then go for it.
4. Silently Reciting a Mantra. Just as you would when you are meditating during the day, you can use a silent mantra or any word or phrase in bed to quiet your mind and keep yourself from spiraling into anxious thoughts. This is helpful for those of you who find focusing on your breath makes you anxious and for anyone who has a cold or another respiratory problem. You can choose any Sanskrit mantra you like or even just create your own mantra in whatever language you prefer. When you notice you’re starting to worry or that your mind wanders from your mantra, gently return your mind to your mantra.
If you meditate regularly during the day with a mantra, it’s probably best not to use the same mantra for falling asleep. After all, during the day you want to stay awake when you meditate.5. Guided Relaxation. Following recorded audio instructions to perform a guided physical relaxation—with or without earphones—focuses your mind on a soothing voice and your physical sensations, which allows some to drift off to sleep. You could also try any guided meditation that is designed to help you sleep. If the person’s voice or background music or imagery or anything else in a recording irritates you—yeah, that happens to me—look around for one that makes you comfortable instead. You may even find one recorded by someone whose voice automatically makes you feel calm. 6. Self-Guided Physical Relaxation. When you are familiar with the basic instructions for deep physical relaxation, it’s simple enough to skip the guided relaxation track and just gradually relax your body by following your own instructions. Many years ago, my first yoga teacher recommended this as an insomnia practice.
7. Slight Inversion. A very relaxing pose you can practice in bed is a low version of Supported Bridge pose. This pose may be especially helpful because the gentle inversion naturally triggers the relaxation response due to your baroreflex (a mechanism in your body that helps regulate your blood pressure) so you don’t need to focus on anything to make that happen. To practice, simply take the pillow out from under your head and lie on your back with your knees bent. Lift your pelvis up and place the pillow underneath your buttocks (but not under your lower back). If you wish, you can combine this with breath awareness or a mantra to quiet your mind as you relax. Try to stay in the position for at least ten minutes to give the baroreflex time to take effect and allow yourself to experience the full benefits of conscious relaxation.
8. Other Restful Poses. If you sleep alone or aren’t worried about disturbing your partner, there are a few restorative yoga poses you can do in bed that have been recommended to me by practitioners who find them very helpful. Practice whichever appeals to you. If you want to combine them for a bed restorative session, I suggest the following order:
Supported Child’s Pose: If you enjoy Child’s pose, try using two bed pillows to support your torso in a supported version of the pose. Bring your arms forward and hug the pillows or stack your hands on the top of the pillows to support your forehead and then slightly tug your forehead skin down toward your nose. As you lie in the pose, bring your awareness to your back body and sense how your breath moves your back muscles, or practice any other form of breath awareness. Try to stay at least three minutes. If your head is turned to one side in the pose, switch to the other side when you’re about halfway through.Reclined Cobbler’s Pose: If you’re relatively flexible and find Reclined Cobbler’s pose comfortable and soothing, use your bed pillows to support your head and torso (but not your pelvis) in a supported version of the pose. If you have extra pillows, try putting one under each of your thighs. As you lie in the pose, bring your awareness to your belly and observe how your breath causes it to rise and fall, or practice any other form of breath awareness. Try to stay at least three minutes.Supported Seated Forward Bend: If you find forward bends soothing, you could try a supported bend in your bed. Sit with your legs straight or in crossed-legs position (whichever is more comfortable and allows a deeper forward bend) and place a stack of pillows on top of your straight legs or in front of your crossed legs. Then lengthen your spine forward and rest your arms and forehead on the pillow and relax. Try slightly tugging your forehead skin down toward your nose. As you lie in the pose, bring your awareness to your back body and sense how your breath moves your back muscles, or practice any other form of breath awareness. Try to stay at least three minutes.If you suffer from insomnia, I sincerely hope you’ll find something on this list that will help. Most of these techniques are ones I’ve found useful myself (I'm a bit too lazy to sit up and try an actual pose, however). Readers, if you have any additional suggestions, please let me know!This post originally appeared on the Accessible Yoga blog.

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