Yoga and Sleep
One-third of American adults are affected by a sleep disorder. Insomnia affects the majority of the sleep-deprived, and is not uncommon among the two-thirds of Americans that generally sleep well. Nervous or anxious feelings as well as stress play a role in our ability or lack thereof to get a good night’s rest. Insomnia may be a symptom of illness such as chronic lung disease or arthritis, but the sleep condition is not considered to be an illness.
Ayurveda, which is the ancient Hindu practice of health and medicine, may explain why so many Americans have such difficulty sleeping. Ayurveda plays a large role in the practice of yoga, and leads yogi to believe that all diseases begin with poor digestion. When the human body intakes food, the nutrients are used by the body and the rest of the food is discarded as waste. Ayurveda states that poor health is relative to the inadequate processing of this nutrition.
Indigestion often referred to as an upset stomach, can be caused by a number of things. Contaminated food, a weak digestive tract, and nervous or anxious thoughts all physically contribute to our digestion. Gas and flatulence are minor irritations associated with digestion issues, and insomnia or other sleeping conditions affect the body on a far deeper level, the subconscious. This type of digestion is physical, but mental and emotion digestions are abstract concepts that may contribute to physical indigestion as well. Mental indigestion which can be described as a recurring negative thought or a bad feeling about a certain situation can quickly become an emotional issue. Emotional trauma may result in emotional indigestion, which occurs when an emotion has not been fully worked through. The emotion is often felt subconsciously, or on the “back burner”, but resurfaces in the form of sleep disorders. Some people believe that when a person grinds their teeth in their sleep, it is a hidden attempt to rid the mind of this feeling literally through digestion, the chewing and swallowing of a feeling or emotion.
Latter-day explanations for the most common sleep disorder, insomnia, range from caffeine and sugar consumption, to physical activity, to watching a violent program or participating in an argument, when experienced at a late hour, or around one’s normal bedtime. The mind is stimulated as you simultaneously ask it to relax, which can cause frustration and even more difficulty when trying to fall or stay asleep. Falling asleep should not consume time, but rather occur naturally and effortlessly.
Human mechanics may be yet another reason sleep is not a simple task for many people. Our bodies prefer to work by schedule, and from an early age we are programmed to be awake during the day by going to school at an early hour (although there may be a biological reason to be awake during the day, we can only absorb certain vitamins with the help of sunlight) and retiring our bodies to sleep at night. The graveyard shift at work, late night partying, and jet-lagged travelers all receive interruptions to an otherwise normal sleeping pattern. Temporary insomnia can usually be corrected with a carefully scheduled bed time, and cat naps during the day.
If your mind cannot rest in your bedroom or sleeping area, sleep deprivation is caused by environmental factors. Noise, light, and color can all be thought-provoking, even in the deadest of hours. All activities, with the exceptions of sleep and sex, should take place elsewhere in the home. When you come to a calm and quiet room, even if the rest of your house doesn’t share this type of ambience, your body and mind will naturally relax and be prepared to rest.
In order for you to be able to fall asleep in a tranquil room, you must mentally and physically prepare your body to enter that particular space. Reading a book, meditating, or taking a hot bath or shower may allow your unconscious mind to understand that you are ready for sleep. Yogic techniques are another way to mentally prepare the body for rest. The Corpse pose (Savasana), and the Side Relaxation Pose (Dradhasana) as well as meditation will slow the breathing and allow you to focus on clearing your thoughts. Going to bed and waking up around the same time every day will also help to reset your internal clock.
Yoga asanas and meditation are beneficial at any time of day to relax your body, and may help eliminate sleep disorders. Yoga postures exercise and strengthen the body, meditation enables a person to rid their mind of negative thoughts, and the yogic way of life is healthy and leads to happiness. If you relax your body throughout the day with these techniques, you may be ready for bed when you wish to be.