Fitness Magazine

Yoga for Better Sleep: Workshop and Tip

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Nina

Yoga for Better Sleep: Workshop and Tip

Cairns by Nina Zolotow

I don’t teach workshops very often, but when I do, I focus on topics I really care about. My upcoming workshop on Saturday April 6th, 2-5pm at Brentwood Yoga Center focuses on one of my favorite topics: Yoga for Better Sleep. (to register, go to ) This is topic is dear to my heart because, well, it’s something I have to practice myself on a regular basis. Even small amounts of stress can disrupt my ability to fall sleep or to sleep soundly (interestingly, that’s something that seems to run in my family). Fortunately I’ve learned a number of techniques both for reducing my stress levels in general and for lulling myself to sleep while I’m in bed. And my feeling about teaching these techniques to others is that if I’ve helped just one person to achieve better sleep, than I’ve been successful!
I’ve written about this topic in general on the blog (see Day to Night and Yoga for Insomnia, Part 1). But the other night as I was lying in bed not sleeping, I realized that if I had to choose one single technique above all the others, it would be the breath practice I turn to almost automatically these days. And I decided then and there I wanted to share it with you all.
For most of us, what is happening when we’re lying in bed sleepless is that our minds are churning, thinking about the day’s events, ruminating about the past or worrying about the future, which stimulates our nervous systems. Turning our minds to a neutral focus, such as the breath, allows us to let go—at least temporarily—of those disturbing thoughts and helps calm the nervous system, switching on the relaxation response. And in my case, after 10 to 20 minutes of breath practice, I almost always end up drifting back to sleep.
Start by practicing simple breath awareness. This means focusing your mind on how your breath moves in your body, perhaps on how your belly rises and falls with your breath or, if it’s easier, how your chest moves with your breath. You could also focus on the more subtle sensations, such as the feeling of your breath moving in and out or your nostrils or, if you prefer, the sound your breath makes in your body. I actually like to lie on my back with my hands on my  belly because that makes it very easy for me to feel the movement in my abdomen.
For some of you, this simple practice may be enough. For myself, I like to use a more structured technique of extending my exhalation. Extending the exhalation in particular helps calm the nervous system (your heart rate slows on your exhalation) but I also find it engages my mind more completely. To do this, when you reach the end of your exhalation, simply add a beat or two—without straining—before turning on to your inhalation. Keep it relaxed and easy. And if the practice aggravates you, simply return to your natural breath.
If at any point you realize your attention has wandered from your breath (it will, of course), simply—and without self judgment—bring your attention back to your breath.
I confess that, in addition to all that, I also count my breaths. I got the idea from Baxter who showed me a technique using your fingers that he learned when he studied at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Madiram. This really helps me keep my mind engaged, and when I start to really lose track of where I am, that’s when I’m starting to fall asleep. However, this may be, well, too anal for you. (Hey, I’m just trying to be honest about what I really do—and what really works for me.) Basically, you need to experiment and see what works for you. Maybe you’ll even come up with new variations. If whatever you are doing is working, then it’s right for you.
You can do this breath practice every night when you get into bed or just on those nights when you start to realize—it sometimes takes a while catch yourself—that you’re having trouble falling asleep or are wide awake in the middle of the night.
I have more tricks up my sleeve and hope to share them with some of you in person at my April workshop, but in the meantime, if I help just one person.....

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