Yoga, which deals with the energy of the mind and body, can help alleviate sleep disorders. Most people have heard of yoga, but relatively few in the United States have ever practiced this ancient self-healing art. Although often associated with Eastern religions and practices, it is increasingly being adopted by Westerners for its numerous benefits. The most notable of these are increased circulation, better flexibility of muscles and joints, relaxation, and improved sleep.
Yoga is based on the principle that the mind, body, and spirit work in unison. If the body is sick, it affects the mind and spirit. If the mind is chronically restless and agitated, the health of the body and spirit will be affected. And if the spirit is depleted, the mind and body will suffer. There are many forms of yoga, many of which use various poses that incorporate stretching and breathing exercises to integrate mind, body, and spirit. (Don't worry: You don't have to lay on a bed of nails or twist your body into a pretzel shape to achieve yoga's benefits.)
Yoga can help with sleep problems by loosening tight muscles, releasing tension, and putting you into a deep state of relaxation. But it's a type of relaxation that requires fixed attention to work well. The breathing and stretching exercises are designed to slow down your racing thoughts and pull you into the present moment. The practice of yoga helps stem the flow of stress hormones that your body produces when you are under stress. Indeed, when your body, mind, and spirit are connected and relaxed, you are more resilient to stress. You will also undoubtedly sleep better.
Try one of these exercises before getting into bed to enhance relaxation:
- Lie on the floor or a bed with your arms near your sides and your legs slightly parted. Relax your entire body by letting it sink into the floor or bed. Breathe in slowly through your nose, and pull the air deeply into your lungs until you feel your abdomen rise. Slowly exhale. Be attentive to how your body feels as you breathe in and out. Repeat with as many breaths as you need to feel calm.
- Sitting comfortably in a straight-backed chair, with your back supported and legs uncrossed, practice the same breathing technique mentioned in the previous exercise. After two or three deep breaths, raise your hands above your head and stretch as if you were trying to touch the ceiling. Continue breathing while you stretch. Be attentive to how your body and your mind feel as you breathe. Repeat until you feel more relaxed and ready to sleep.
- Standing, with your feet shoulder-width apart, inhale deeply, clasp your hands together and raise them above your head, and gently raise up on your toes. Stretch your whole body upward. Exhale slowly as you bring your arms back down to your sides and lower your heels to the floor. Repeat one or two more times.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Virgil D. Wooten, M.D., is the medical director of the TriHealth Sleep Centers at Good Samaritan and Bethesda North hospitals in Cincinnati. He is also a diplomat of the American Board of Sleep Medicine, a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, and a consultant, writer, and speaker on sleep-related subjects. Dr. Wooten has more than 25 years of research, clinical and teaching experience.