Life is busy and overwhelming at times. Unfortunately, that means most of us bring stress home which affects our sleep patterns. Yoga combined with meditation and mindful breathing, may offer a great way to wind down before bed. But, there’s something more important than mastering poses—teaching yourself how to relax. Whether you call it mindfulness or self-care, it might be time to rethink how you prioritize your p.m. routine so you can get better sleep.
The Right Mindset
Before we even get to poses and breathing techniques, let’s get some perspective. How do we prioritize rest? As a culture, we don’t view rest, or sleep, as a priority. It’s always go, go, go. Society values “hustle” and”‘the grind,” but that leaves a lot to be desired in the health department.
“We’re constantly manipulating our nervous system—caffeine, yoga, running, etc. We’re revving things up or calming things down,” says Abby Paloma, 500-hr Yoga Alliance certified teacher, advanced restorative yoga teacher, and doctoral candidate in Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine. “There’s less emphasis on disengaging or creating structures in your life where less is the goal.”
Most likely, this is the root cause of your sleep problems. Your body hasn’t been given ample opportunity to be ok with do nothing, to wind down. More scientifically speaking, your body is having a hard time switching from a sympathetic state to a parasympathetic state. Let us explain:
Sympathetic Nervous System: this is your alert state and how your body mobilizes its fight-or-flight response.
Parasympathetic Nervous System: here is where your body finds homeostasis and the rest-and-digest response.
Tips on Winding Down
To help your body switch over, you can’t rely on yoga alone. You have to take a mindful approach to your nights. Likewise a positive and centered one. Create an evening routine or ritual that doesn’t seem like a chore. If this is just another task to check off your list, it won’t serve its purpose.
Paloma suggested a few things to help. Lower the lighting in your room or whole home, turn off your phone, and shut off the T.V. a couple hours before bed. You can also take a warm shower or bath, use essential oils, or enjoy hot tea. And—yes ladies and gentlemen—this is where yoga, mindful breathing, and meditation come in.
How Can Yoga Help
Yoga has become popular for good reason. Our crazy, stressed-out culture is hitting a bubble. A good number of us are anxious all the time. Yoga is one of the best tools to counteract that stress. “Yoga helps your body switch to parasympathetic,” says Paloma. The poses and breathing and mindfulness help your mind and body connect, so you can recognize how you feel inside and out.
“Your body has to feel safe to let down your guard,” says Paloma. Giving your body that moment of stillness that yoga offers allows your it to relax enough to switch states.
Recommended Poses and Breathing Techniques
While making time to do any yoga practice before bed is helpful, certain poses are more beneficial than others. Legs up the wall, supported back bends, supported supine bound angle pose, child’s pose, standing forward bend, and savasana are all fantastic poses to help relax your body.
“A simple breathing technique for beginners is an equal inhale and equal exhale breath, called sama vritti pranayama,” says Paloma. She recommends starting off with a four-count. Simply inhale for four seconds and exhale for four seconds.
More important than poses is your willingness to commit. Try one of Aaptiv’s yoga classes in the privacy of your own home. Or, if you have a favorite teacher at your local studio who does an evening class, take it and utilize the benefits. No time to flow? Try a quick breathing practice to reset before you go to sleep. Or, move through the “Prepare for Sleep” or “Evening Stretches” class on Aaptiv.
Regardless of how you choose to welcome rest in your life, make sure it’s welcomed. “If the ritual itself is producing anxiety, it’s missing the point,” says Paloma. “Taking care of yourself should bring joy.”