Catch some zzzzz’s

It’s so great that, despite the distance, we can all stay in touch via email and facebook. After the last Bite on breathing your stress away, I received an email from one of our Yoga Bliss community peeps.  She was emailing to let me know how stress reveals itself in her life and in her body.  Her email became the inspiration for our latest Bite – stress and sleep and how yoga can potentially help - so thank you for your contribution!

Sleep can be challenging when we are stressed out:  our minds churn with worry over situations; they generate endless to-do lists; they replay conversations and interactions trying to pull out every last thread of meaning.   All of this can lead to many sleepless nights and many more long, tiring days.

Below are a couple of things that have helped me over the years to deal with an overactive mind and challenging sleep.

One thing I make sure to do is not work in bed.  In fact, I try very hard to keep my bedroom a place solely for sleep.  It helped, years ago, to get the computer out of the bedroom and literally close the door on work.  The other thing I try to do on a restless night (and I still struggle with this one), is to get out of bed and do something else for a while.  I try to do something quiet, like look at a magazine, sit and breathe or do a little yoga. I never turn on the TV or work, but on rare instances I may jot down all the stuff on my mind so that I don’t have to remember everything.

And as for yoga, I’ve found that a brief, gentle practice can help transition us from the yang energy of active daytime stuff to the more quiet, yin energy of night-time rest.  It also helps us let go of physical tension and stress so that our minds can begin to let go as well.  And finally, yoga can help us connect to slower, deeper breathing, which in turn helps shift the mind into a quieter place.

Here’s a little sequence that I enjoy doing in the evenings.  It starts with some larger movements to help the body burn off excess energy and to help the mind begin to focus. We then gradually move toward smaller, subtler movements so we can gear ourselves toward relaxation and sleep.

Make sure you create about 20 minutes of time to do this so you are not rushing through it to fit it in, or staying up later to complete your practice.

  1. Stand in Tadasana:  Feet hips-width apart, share the weight evenly between your right and left foot, and between the balls of your feet and your heels.  Breathe into your belly, and feel yourself standing here:  rooting down through your feet and rising up lightly through the top of your head.  Take a moment to simply notice yourself just being here – not doing anything other than standing, inhabiting this space. Inhale and sweep your arms out and up alongside your ears.  Interlace your fingers and press your palms to the sky.   Stay and breathe into the opening you are creating in the sides of your waist and your ribs.  On an exhale side bend to the right. Inhale and float back up through center, lifting your ribs higher up off your hips, and exhale, sidebending left.  Inhale back up through center and repeat the sidebending 2 more times (R,L,R,L).  On an exhale release your arms by your sides and pause.  Feel the space in your ribs for the lungs to expand with breath; feel the release through your spine; allow a sense of ease to fill you.
  2. Cow and cat:  Place your hands on the ground underneath your shoulders, place your knees on the ground underneath your hips.  Feel a sense of steadiness and support from your arms and legs.  Spread your fingers wide and ground down through your thumb pads, pointer finger knuckles, pinky finger knuckles, and the pads on the pinky sides of your hands.  Inhale – tilt your pelvis forward so it feels like your tail is spinning up to the sky. Try to lift your heart skyward along with your gaze so that you begin to create a backbend through your whole spine.  Exhale and tilt your pelvis backwards so it feels like you are tucking your tail down, look down towards your knees and create a rounding through your spine.  Alternate back and forth between these 2 poses for 4 to 6 breathing cycles.
  3. Downward facing dog:  Inhale and tuck your toes under; exhale and lift your hips to the sky so you feel like an upside down “V”. Continue to root your hands like you did in the previous pose.  Elongate your arms and gently hug them towards each other.  Let your head dangle easily off your neck.  Close your eyes and breathe.  Feel your thighs drawing back away from your arms. Spread your toes and bottoms of your feet wide and imagine your heels melting into the ground.  Breathe slowly and deeply – stay here for 4 to 6 breaths and then rest in child’s pose.
  4. Child’s pose: Place your knees on the ground and sit back on your heels (or a blanket or block), rest your head on the ground (or on a blanket), slide your arms alongside your body. Let your belly rest on your thighs or widen your knees and let your belly fall between your thighs. Breathe slowly and deeply, sending some of the breath into the back of your body.  Let your back waist puff with each inhale and soften with each exhale.  Begin to let go a little bit more, softening your jaw and your tongue. Give the weight of your head over to the earth.  Let yourself be supported. On an inhale, roll up – if you feel ready and relaxed, hop into bed. Or, if you need more and have the time, continue on.
  5. Baddha Konasana:  Sit on a blanket edge, bring the soles of your feet to touch, and let your knees fall open away from each other.  Begin to find easy breaths here.  Encourage your spine to lengthen upwards.  On an exhale, tip your pelvis forward and begin to fold forward from your hips.  Again, you’re going to try and keep the length in your spine.  Let your head release over a bit –you could even rest your arms and head on the edge of a chair to create more support and quiet for yourself. Breathe 4 to 6 breaths.
  6. Supta Padangusthasana:  Lie on your back – knees bent, soles of your feet on the ground.  Take a moment to feel your spine and your whole back body supported by the earth.  Enjoy the support.  Feel the curves of your spine.  Inhale, draw your right knee into your chest, stay for the exhale hugging your knee towards you.  Inhale and up-stretch your right leg to the sky.  This should feel like a gentle stretch – if you need to, place a strap or a belt around your right foot and hold the ends of the strap so that you are not straining to hold your foot or leg up. Breathe into the gentle stretch in the back of your thigh. Stay for 4 to 6 breaths before changing sides.  There is no rush, no need to force or push.
  7. Windshield wiper twist: Continue to lie on the ground, knees bent, soles of the feet on the ground – about hips width apart.  Inhale your arms open wide like a “T”. Exhale and let your knees fall to the left – like windshield wipers.  Stay and breathe a few breaths.  On an inhale, bring your knees back up to center, and then exhale and let them fall to the right.  Breathe and let your spine gently release.
  8. Supta Baddha Konasana: Still lying, bring the soles of your feet together, let your knees fall open, away from each other.  Place a pillow or rolled up blanket under the outsides of each knee. Place a pillow under your head.  It’s important that the knees/thighs are supported so you don’t have to hold them in place.  It’s also important that your forehead is slightly higher than your chin.  Breathe easily here, beginning to let your body settle into the support of the props and the earth. Feel the opening in your belly and try to send the breath there.  Inhale a nice long, deep breath, exhale out completely.  Take 2 regular breaths in and out.  Repeat the long deep, inhale and the slow, complete exhale, followed by the 2 regular breaths. Do this pattern 4-8 times.  Then let your breath return to a regular steady rhythm. Invite a sense of stillness into your body.  When you feel ready, bring your knees back up and slowly roll to your right side.  Pause for a breath or two before coming up to sit.  From here try getting into bed, carrying this sense of deep peace and quiet with you.

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