Breathe Right, Sleep Tight: Yoga & Meditation For Improved Sleep

man_meditatesWhen watching a skilled practitioner engage in yoga and meditation, it can be hard sometimes to even tell if they are awake. These relaxation disciplines blur the lines between wakefulness and sleep so well that it’s only natural to try and use them to strengthen our ability to sleep in a healthy way. It’s well known that these practices can help us sleep, but they can also help our bodies habituate proper breathing, which is important when you’re trying to knock out snoring.

At the highest levels of these disciplines there is much to know and practice regularly, but for our purposes we just want to dip our toe in. So, we saved you a perilous trek into the upper Himalayas to learn a wizened old yogi’s ancient secrets by asking a few professionals for beginner’s tips.

Yoga: Getting All Bent Up Before Bedtime

As we know, Yoga is considered to be the physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines that aim at transforming body and mind. Although the origin of the practice is a debated issue, references to yoga started appearing in texts from 2500 to 2200 years ago. It’s hard to imagine that it’d stick around this long and have as loyal a following as it does if it didn’t provide some serious benefits. Heidi Hanna, the CEO and founder of Synergy, teaches these benefits as a global speaker and consultant who has trained thousands of individuals to incorporate nutrition, exercise, and positive psychology strategies to improve their health. Better, and quieter, sleep is just one of the potential gains Hanna feels that yoga can offer.

Heidi HannaYoga practice not only helps to reduce stress levels, it also enhances circulation and strengthens the heart and lungs in order to support more effective recovery when we sleep. The deep breathing associated with yoga may also improve lung capacity and block potential obstacles that can cause snoring. The practice of certain yoga positions will increase the blood circulation to the sleep center in the brain, which has the effect of normalizing the sleep cycle.

Hanna says there are several great yoga poses that promote healthy sleeping and would encourage you to pursue a full regimen of yoga techniques. According to Hanna, Viparita Karani  is one of many great poses for good sleep.

For Viparita Karani (Legs-up-the-Wall Pose), bring a folded blanket or a bolster about 6 inches away from a wall (or farther away if your hamstrings are tight). Sit sideways on the support, with the right side of your body against the wall. On an exhalation, slowly turn to your right, lowering your shoulders down to the floor as you swing your legs up the wall. Adjust yourself so that your sitting bones drop down slightly between the support and the wall, the back of your pelvis rests on the bolster, and your shoulders rest on the ground. Bring your arms into a position that supports the opening of the front of your chest, whether out to your sides or reaching overhead on the floor. Relax your legs, face, and jaw. Stay here for 5 to 15 minutes. To come out, slide back off the support, turn to the side, and stay here for a few breaths before sitting up. You can do this right before bed or earlier in the evening. Make sure you don’t fall asleep in the pose; save your sleep for when you are in bed.

Eric BeardEric Beard, who works with elite level, junior and recreational athletes as a massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist, agrees with Hanna. Beard would suggest staying away from the more strenuous or intense forms of yoga and focusing in on the relaxation poses for the best results.

The more relaxing forms of Yoga may enhance relaxation and help people fall asleep more easily.

Meditation: From Om to Zzz

Yoga certainly is a popular and time-honored practice, but next to meditation it looks like the new kid on the block. It’s likely that some iterations of the ancient practice predates written history by a big margin. Cave drawings discovered in the Indus Valley have indicated to researchers that meditation was being practiced as much at 7000 years ago! And no one knows how old it already was when those drawings were made.

Just as with yoga, if it has been around this long, there has to be something to it. If you ask Kimberly Rex, she’ll say there most definitely is. Rex is a certified Master Life Coach, Resonance Repatterning and Person-Centered Expressive Therapist, and she feels that snore-free and healthy sleep may be a few Oms away.

Kimberly RexMeditation is a practice that helps people achieve balance both mentally and physically as well as emotionally. Breath Meditation is a way to improve the quality of your sleep. Breathing meditations support decreasing anxiety and allow you to relax. It’s important to check with your MD about breathing exercises if you have been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea. In this case, do your meditation sitting in a chair rather than lying down for ease of breath. To start, sit in a chair or lie down before sleep. Put one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. Then, for several minutes, feel the rhythm of your breathing. Do you breathe mostly with your chest? Mostly with your belly? Or both? Most adults breathe mostly with their chest. To correct this breathing pattern, lie on your back and place a small book on your belly. When you breathe in, make the book go up, and when you breathe out, make the book go out. Shifting the center of your breathing to lower in the body will help you feel more relaxed. Practice this diaphragmatic breathing for 5-10 minutes a day to relax. This process also trains your body-mind system to calm down, and this is especially useful before sleeping.

Jennifer Reis, a faculty member of both Kripalu and Integrative Yoga Therapy and Director of Kripalu Yoga 200-hour Teacher Trainings, has been teaching for 17 years and is the creator of Divine Sleep Yoga Nidra and Five Element Yoga. Yoga Nidra, which actually means yogi sleep, borrows a bit from both yoga and meditation. Yoga Nidra is a sleep-like state which yogis report to experience during their meditations. As a teacher Reis would probably say that if it works for the yogis it can work for you.

Jennifer ReisYoga and Meditation practices vary widely, ranging from postures and breathing techniques, and can cultivate relaxation, improve sleep and help snoring issues. Yoga nidra is a guided whole body meditation that can be self-guided or practiced by listening to a CD or MP3. Yoga nidra helps relaxation at every level of being, including the physical body, energy, mind and emotions. This restores the body’s ability to self-regulate the nervous system, improving sleep. To start, without moving or trying to relax, bring awareness to each individual body part from the crown of your head down the body to the feet. Then count your exhalations backwards from 10 to 1 and repeat. Yogic breathing is designed to unblock energy pathways, encouraging vital energy to flow. This helps to free restriction and improve control of mouth and throat muscles involved in snoring.

Relaxed Mind & Body, Peaceful Sleep

Both the fields of yoga and meditation are varied and wide and there is much to know, but getting your start can be as simple as sitting cross-legged on the floor. The best part? You have nothing to lose by trying. These exercises, unless you pay for classes (which can be very useful), are free to try. It’s just another natural option to make an attempt at before considering something more drastic like the Pillar procedure. Personally, I am big on trying all other options before going under the knife.

Later this week, we’ll discuss some exercises that might help you sleep better. Check back in soon!

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