This was published in ASANA JOURNAL on March 19th, 2016
Some of us know this only too well: laying in bed, eyes closed, it’s night. Time to sleep, right? But instead, we are wide awake beneath those closed eyelids.
Sleeping problems have been known to drive people crazy. The struggle to unwind the body while the brain insists on staying alert can be extremely frustrating.
Not only people who officially suffer from insomnia have difficulty sleeping deeply. Many of us stay in REM (Rapid Eye Movement, the dream state before deep, dreamless sleep) almost all night long. We wake up tired, force ourselves to get out of bed, and have low energy throughout the whole day long.
I’ve always slept with my kids, and often still do. I won’t go into the why and how of co-sleeping, suffice to say I got into a habit of waking up to tuck them in, adjusting the room temperature or their pyjamas… and it became a habit that was difficult to break. So wide-awake nights and I became very, very close.
This is not always a bad thing. My friend who’s a writer once used her quiet, sleepless hours to write a pretty dark book about motherhood (it’s sold fantastically all over the world, by the way).
I am a yoga teacher, and a yin-yoga(*) devotee, so I have often used those hours to practice long holds of different poses and check-in with how it effects my ability (or lack thereof), to fall back to sleep – and to deepen the quality of my sleep once I do in fact snooze.
Here is what I came up with as an antidote to sleeplessness: yin poses that open up and stretch the muscles and tissues around the spine really help to unwind the nerves system, relax the body and stop the brain from thinking too actively. It makes sense, since this system runs inside the spinal cord, that any stiffness in that zone effects our ability to be calm.
This is my favourite sequence to encourage and deepen sleep:
Sitting Forward folds: start in butterfly pose, legs bent sideways, soles of the feet together and knees apart. Bend the head and upper body towards the feet without pulling or forcing too strongly. Use a pillow to support the head in order to unwind and support the nervous system.
Different legs variations for other sitting forward folds, such as upavista konasana, paschimutanasaba and janu sirsasana, have a similar effect.
Another great one is the banana pose, which create speciousness along the muscles on the sides of the spine.Lie on your back and simply slide your straightened legs to the right side. The left buttock stays on the mat, hips remain level.
You can add on by reaching your arms back over your head and taking them also to the right side. You’ll end up looking (kind of) like a banana.
A mild spinal twist can help as well. Be gentle with it, and use pillows for support.
All of the above can be done without even getting out of bed. Stay in poses between 5-15 minutes. Sometime just one pose is enough to make you sleepy.
This has not only helped me sleep, but also reduces the frustration of being awake at night – giving me something useful to do while I wait to fall asleep, rather than just lying down, eyes closed, suffering.
So from me to you: good night, sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.
(*yin yoga, according to Wikipedia: “Yin yoga is a slow-paced style of yoga with poses, or asanas, that are held for longer periods of time—five minutes or more per pose is typical”.
My addition to this definition is, that the poses are held softly, while releasing muscular tension by letting the body be heavy, passive and relaxed.)