I am a Yoga teacher who has battled with insomnia on-and-off for the last eight years, or so. I hope to share my story to shed some light on sleep issues and share the ways I was able to overcome insomnia through yoga.
Trouble falling asleep is something we have all experienced at some point. According to the NHS, one in every three people in the UK is currently suffering from insomnia. Living in the hustle bustle of cities like London means being pulled in every direction the moment we step outside. Leading a fast-paced life, surrounded by noise and imagery, dictating to us where to go, what to eat and what to wear, all whilst working a nine to five, can become exhausting. So here we are, overstimulated and overworked. Sound familiar?
A good night’s sleep is essential for our health and overall well-being. Whilst sleeping, the body works hard to repair itself, by eliminating toxins, keeping our hormones balanced and immune system strong. A good night’s sleep also helps us remain focused and productive throughout the day with sufficient energy.
A Sleepless Battle
At my worst, insomnia plagued my life. I had to take time off work and was prescribed Zopiclone by my GP. This drug worked for some time, but after a while, I had to increase my dosage. This is because your body gets used to it quickly, and after some time, it doesn’t have the same effect. Your body can also become dependent on it. I remember popping 4 Zopiclone tablets per night at my worst, as I was so desperate to sleep.
It was tough, but I decided to take action. The first step was developing good sleep hygiene, by improving my sleep environment. I got rid of my television from my bedroom and applied Feng Shui to create a calming environment.
One Step At A Time
These small steps also lead me to try yoga. The first time I stepped on my mat, I noticed an immediate state of relaxation, which was almost euphoric. Yoga encourages us to breathe consciously. As we move in and out of asana using our breath, the body is encouraged to relax while keeping the key muscles and alignment active. I left the studio looking like a wet, shrivelled-up prune but managed to sleep for 3 to 4 hours soundly without waking up (minus the pills) which was a miracle for me then. So I began to practice as often as I could, and soon after I started to sleep for longer and more restfully without medication.
Instantly, I recognized that I had discovered something special that not only resonated with me but also made me feel connected to something bigger. Stepping on my mat felt like I was facing my fears and fighting an internal battle with my demons, whilst moving from posture to posture. The beginning wasn’t easy, but the release and triumph I felt after each class was liberating.
A clinical trial study conducted by the Division of Sleep Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, on 20 participants showed evidence of cognitive and physiological arousal in chronic insomnia. They used yoga and meditation as a way to reduce arousal and results were profound. Results showed that a simple daily yoga routine of 30-45 minutes significantly improved sleep. Studies show arousal of the mind, or to put it simply an over-active mind, is one of the main components of sleep disorders. Yoga is effective because it calms down the nervous system, triggering a relaxation response and reducing the levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.
To those of you suffering, my advice is to take it step by step, remember you are not alone and there are solutions.
It’s a process we all go through and the last thing you want to do is put extra pressure on yourself. Pressure and expectations can cause anxiety, leading to further problems.
Start by being kind to yourself. Live mindfully and begin by working on creating a healthy sleep environment; get rid of televisions, laptops and phones from your bedroom. Don’t use technology for at least two hours before bed, and work on winding down to prepare for sleep. Make your bedroom a space for relaxing, resting and only spend time on your bed for sleeping. If you find yourself over-thinking whilst in bed, get up and leave the room. Don’t toss and turn for hours, as you develop a pattern of behaving awake on your bed.
Learning to meditate and practising Yoga has proven to be life-changing for me. If you are suffering from insomnia or stress, I would highly recommend looking into signing up for an online yoga studio like Yogaia or joining your local studio. If you are thinking, “But I’m not flexible,” you couldn’t be more wrong. Flexibility is just a by-product of Yoga. There are many styles of Yoga but I would personally recommend a Restorative, Yin or Yoga Nidra (Yogic Sleep) to help combat sleep issues. Below are some basic Yoga poses that you can do before bedtime to help you sleep more soundly.
My 3 Favourite Yoga Poses For Sleep
1) Seated Forward-bend
This is a great way to stretch the back of the body and create a lovely, calming effect on your system. Have a bolster or block nearby, begin by taking a deep inhale; feel the spine lengthen up as you press your sit bones down. Start to fold forward, moving from your hip crease, keep the lower back lengthened.
You can place a block on your shins and rest the forehead, your hands holding on to the outside edges of your feet, with the elbows bent, arms relaxed. If you can’t grab you feet just have your palms facing up by your sides. You can also use a bolster between or across your legs, to rest into with your forehead or chest. Relax for 2-5 mins.
2) Legs Up The Wall Pose
Sanskrit: Viparita Karani
This asana is a mild inversion which allows the blood to circulate into the parts of the body that need it, helping with many ailments. It also gives the digestive system a chance to relax. Have your blankets ready for this gorgeous, passive pose. Grab a folded blanket and place it down on the floor by a wall. Sit sideways to the wall with the knees bent.
Take a deep breath and swing your legs up while simultaneously lowering your head, shoulders and back down to the floor. The blanket is there to support your sacrum and lower spine as well as creating a bit of leverage. Stay here for 2-5 minutes and deeply relax. Close the eyes and focus on your breath.
3) Child’s Pose
Come to kneeling and bring your forehead to the floor, if your forehead does not touch the floor use a block or pillow, giving the head and neck a chance to relax. Knees together or apart to provide space for the ribcage. Arms wrapped around the body palms facing up, so that the shoulders are relaxed or extended out in front of you if preferred. If you have a bolster, straddle your bolster and place your left or right ear on it. After a few minutes’ alternate and turn and place your opposite ear and cheek. All the while breathing consciously. Try to stay for at least 5 minutes.
If you don’t fancy Yoga, try some sort of exercise. No matter how shattered you feel from your lack of sleep, the endorphins released from exercising will help you feel happier and more energized.
You will not look back I can guarantee this – but all of this starts with you.
Don’t be afraid of letting go, in order to create space for better things. Through the practice of Yoga and part of getting myself through this, I started to eliminate anything that I felt served no purpose for me or made me feel miserable. If you are in a bad relationship, let it go, if you are unhappy with your job, let it go. Don’t be afraid of the unknown, there is beauty in uncertainty and trusting the universe. Remind yourself daily that all of this is temporary and make positive affirmations.
I started discovering my truth and through the process of letting go. And I found freedom and the courage to be myself. Now, I truly understand that 8 years into my practice, I have genuinely found my freedom through Yoga.
Lokah samastah sukhina bhavantu: May all beings everywhere be happy and free.
Please feel free to join Yogaia, to begin your Yoga journey. There are Restorative, Yin, and Yoga Nidra classes every week that can help to release and relax your system.
Ozlem Dogan – Yoga Teacher
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