Healthy Sleep: Functional Yoga Medicine

Yoga and ayurveda (Life Science) are relevant when it comes to managing mood, daily, annual and lifelong rhythms. As a Yoga Therapist, I apply these sciences to my life and assist clients to create an artful way of life that supports individual well-being.

One of the main things to remember about insomnia is not to sweat it when you can’t fall to sleep. Anxiety over the clock ticking makes it worse.

Create a sattwic or pure, calm environment: 
  • Choose soothing colors, sounds, smells, fabrics, flavors and company. Trust your preferences and reflect on how they impress you. Impressions affect mood. 
The art and science of rhythm:
  • Avoid television between 10 pm and 6 am.
  • Avoid phone calls after 8:30 pm.
  • Choose soothing music at a tempo of 60 beats per minute- the heart rate of a relaxed person.
  • Start winding down, and actually turn down the lights around 7:30 pm.  
  • Avoid lingering in bed in the morning – this will only make you sluggish later. 
  • Orient the bed to either avoid or cultivate awareness of the sunrise. Consult feng shui and other philosophies for appropriate and nourishing bed positioning.
  • Eat your largest daily meal by 2 pm.
  • Refrain from eating food after 6 pm.
  • Drink warm liquids only, especially after 6 pm.
  • Warm milk or almond milk (preferably fresh from soaked-for-8-hours, blended and strained almonds) with a pinch of cloves, turmeric and a teaspoon of ghee or clarified butter before bed is a nourishing nighttime tonic.
  • Holy basil (tulsi); lemon balm (Melissa officianalis) teas can be taken all day.
  • Be in your pajamas by 9 pm. 
  • Be in bed between 9 pm and 10 pm. (something a chiropractor once told me which had to do with sleep hormones and the pancreas – you have to be lying down for them to kick in and they kick in between 9 and ten, otherwise you get a second wind!) 
Indulge in natural fibers:
  • For blankets and pillows, clothing and pjs.
  • Let yourself indulge in the sense of touch. Textures bring us back to our senses.
  • Natural fibers – wool, cotton, bamboo, linen, hemp, alpaca, mohair and silk – help to regulate our body temperature and healthy detoxification during the day and at night. Though sometimes appropriate, synthetic fibers act like plastic and restrict the natural ebb and flow of our vital energy, including body heat and perspiration.
Create a sadhana (spiritual practice) that evolves over time: 
  • Lovely wind-down and wake-up rituals affirm the activities and quality of the day. 
  • Check tomorrow’s calendar. Control surprises, which can trigger anxiety disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder and post-traumatic stress.
  • Make a To-Do list, get things off of your mind and onto paper to refer to later. 
  • Balance your checkbook and record your purchases so money doesn’t nag at you. I admit, I have to work on this one.
  • Light a candle. 
  • Take a deep breath outside and look up to the sky. 
  • Bathe in the moon and starlight. Note the moon cycle. 
  • Squat or sit, barefoot, under a tree if you can, or go barefoot on the earth, at night or more often in general. Be on the ground, feel the temperature under your feet and around your body. Drink fresh air into the lowest lobes of the lungs. The brain drinks oxygen from here.
  • Change the water in your vase of fresh flowers. Fresh flowers and their colors remind us of beauty and the impermanence of the human experience.
  • Journal, or make a mental three-item gratitude list while resting in bed. Even one item is a great start.
  • Practice daily reflection of things that went well and things that could be improved. Be honest with self-inventory. 
  • Practice meditation – listening – and prayer – requesting. Add vital energy to your wishes.
  • Visualize healing light, wholeness and wellness first for yourself, then loved ones, than the globe and the cosmos. 
  • Get out of bed after 45 minutes if sleep isn’t happening:  
  • Stay quiet. Honor the quiet hours and indulge in the peace. Be gentle with yourself. Practice ahimsa: non-animosity for yourself or others.

Breathing well is a lifelong practice. Breathe out, using your belly.

1. Notice your breath for thirty seconds. Just notice. Be curious. Note mood, mental activity, emotion. Get a baseline. Be like a scientist. Just observe.

2. Breathe restoratively – just breathe naturally without needing to pay attention… for one minute or more. Relax and feel.

3. Count the lengths of your inhalations and exhalations for thirty seconds.

4. Breathe restoratively. Drift. Relax and feel.

5. If you like, begin to balance the length of your inhalations and exhalations by lengthening or shortening them by just one count, to begin, for one minute, to make them even or closer to even. (This is called the “1: 1 ratio breath”). This technique is for depression, sluggish thoughts or neutral mind.

6. Notice your response. Breathe naturally or breathe and count again (#3) if this balance (1: 1) causes tension, anxiety or shortness of breath.

7. Breathe restoratively for one minute or more. Relax and feel.

8. Lengthen your exhalation by just one count, to begin, for thirty seconds or up to one minute. This “1: 2 ratio” breath soothes the nervous system, calming and relaxing the mind and body, slowing respiration and heart-rate. This technique is to soothe anxiety.

(Breathing exercise from Yoga for Emotional Balance by Bo Forbes, PsyD.)

**This blog was adapted from a handout Brooke used when teaching a class on healthy sleep. Click here for a PDF of the original handout that includes Yoga poses and a few other tips that we had trouble formatting for our website.**

Brooke West, B.Sc., RYT is Certified Ananda Yoga ® Therapist. Read the rest of Brooke’s posts for IBPF here, or browse her personal blog.

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