Many of us have experienced those restless nights, where those things that stressed us out during the day have somehow become a thousand times worse in our heads by 2am. Anxiety and insomnia can be completely debilitating, and cannot be ignored. There are many ways to deal with severe anxiety, from medication and counselling to meditation and exercise. Whether you suffer from crippling anxiety or simply can’t switch off at night, these eight yoga poses will help you drift off. However, if you do have a severe case, be sure to seek professional help.
The Impact Of Stress & Insomnia
Stress, anxiety and insomnia are common emotions that plague some people more than others. Certain circumstances, levels of health, and environmental pressures like work and other commitments can accelerate it. Yoga can be particularly beneficial in helping to ease the mind and relax the body, which are crucial for deep sleep. The physical asanas (postures) of the ancient practice, mixed with breathing techniques and meditation, can calm the mind, bring perspective and help you deal with anxiety-related insomnia for mental clarity and inner peace.
Anxiety and insomnia don’t just affect your mental state. There is a physical response to stress within the body that can actually cause physical health problems. And, everyone knows that not getting enough sleep has a detrimental impact on physical health and functionality. Our response to stressful situations comes from an automatic ‘fight or slight’ instinctual trigger, which releases a surge of adrenaline. This protected our ancestors from life-threatening danger, and remains a common reaction of chronic worriers. When the body issues this response, stress hormones, such as cortisol, are released by the sympathetic nervous system, which would be used as fuel in an actual ‘fight or flight’ scenario. The hormones boost blood sugar levels and blood fats. For people with chronic anxiety, night time can be a particularly challenging time, because when you are in bed and there is silence, your mind can run wild, and often takes you to those dark terrifying places. When you have dealt with chronic anxiety and insomnia for a while, it can even become a feeling you have, without an actual thought in your mind. Even bedtime can start to trigger that uneasy feeling when you’ve struggled to drift off to sleep for a while, because the body and mind knows you are going to be fighting with your conscience for the next few hours.
The short-term physical effects of stress can include difficulty swallowing, dizziness, dry mouth, nausea, fatigue, an increased heart rate, headaches, muscle aches and tension, lack of concentration, shortness of breath, sweating and hot flushes, trembling, nervous energy, and the thing we are concentrating on here, insomnia or difficulty getting to sleep. When the hormones and reactions continue on a repeat basis, more long-term health problems can actually develop. These include a weakened immune system, digestive problems, short-term memory loss, premature coronary artery disease, and potentially even heart attacks. If ongoing insomnia and anxiety is left untreated, it can lead to depression and suicidal feelings.
How Yoga Can Help You Relax
Yoga has many benefits beyond relaxing the body and helping you sleep. It aids with weight loss, improves circulation, increases flexibility and boosts respiratory function. When it comes to stress reduction and aiding with sleep, not all yoga poses are created equal. Some sequences are better for waking you up in the morning and increasing energy, such as heart opener postures. If you practice a morning heart opener class before bed, it could actually hinder sleep, rather than helping.
Yoga Poses To Practice Before Bed
There are a few particularly beneficial yoga poses for relaxation, winding down and restoration. Depending on what is keeping you up at night, some are more beneficial than others. For example, if you do tend to become anxious at night, breathing techniques and tension relieving poses can really help. Here are eight poses to try before bed. You can do all of them, or pick three or four each night.
But, before we get into the actual poses, it’s a great idea to relax and practice yogic breathing, or, ujjayi breath, beforehand, and you can then carry that through the poses. By slowing the breath, you can slow down your heart rate and draw focus away from racing thoughts in your mind.
Next, move into this restful, comforting, restorative asana. Child’s pose is designed to ease the mind and evoke a feeling of relaxation. It is a soothing posture that gently stretches the back while helping to calm feelings of stress and anxiety. Start by kneeling on the floor with your knees hip-distance apart. The tops of your feet should be touching the floor, rather than the toes or balls of your feet. Take a long inhale and then, as you exhale, slowly lay your torso down on top of your thighs, stretching your arms out in front of you. Place the palms of your hands down and relax, allowing your hips and buttocks to rest as close to your heels and the ground as possible. Your forehead should be touching the ground, or you can use rest your head on pillow if it doesn’t quite reach. Close your eyes and relax for about 10 to 15 long, slow breaths, releasing tension and stress with every exhale.
This pose has a number of benefits, as well as releasing tension, including increasing flexibility around the hips and groin, especially if you have tight hips. Tension and stress is often stored around the hip area, so any work you do to stretch and release that area helps melt that stress away. Start by sitting up straight with your legs out in front of you. Fold your knees out to open your hips and place the soles of your feet together so that you’re making a diamond shape with your legs. Bring your heels in as close to your groin as you can without arching your back. Take hold of your ankles, or your feet and start to gently and slowly flap your knees up and down like a butterfly to help release any tension you might be holding. You can also sway from side-to-side, gently pressing your elbows into your inner thighs. If you can, move your chest towards the ground, leading with your heart, to get a deeper stretch around your hips. If you are particularly flexible, you can also walk your hands out in front of you and rest your forehead and chest on the mat, but don’t force this – it will come with time and practice!
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