Is it me or have I been reading more about the importance of sleep lately? Sleeping is essential and as important for us as eating, drinking and breathing. Experts explain that a good night’s sleep is vital for maintaining good mental and physical health. But what do we do if sleep doesn’t come easily? Or it might come easily, only for us to lay awake a few hours later unable to drift to sleep again. At times when sleeping through the night was a struggle for me I used to feel really bad, not only tired and exhausted the next day, but guilty almost, knowing quite how important sleep is for us.
And as I am not a sleep expert, I reverted back to what I know best. Yoga. And taking control over my own well-being in ways possible to me.
Yoga teaches us to cultivate an awareness of the present moment, and this understanding has really helped me to deal with the phases in my life when sleep was interrupted.
Worrying about how much or how little sleep the night might bring is normal for the times in our lives that our sleep is disturbed. But this thought alone is a worry about a possible event in the future, it’s a fantasy really. It hasn’t happened yet. So thinking about it is not helpful either. When you find yourself in situations where you start to worry about the night ahead, step onto your mat and practice a little yoga, connect to your here and now.
Regular yoga practice can also help us find acceptance for our lives, for what is, including the challenging parts which undoubtedly we all experience to some degree. Not being able to sleep well, especially over longer periods of time, can have many impacts on our lives and our physical and mental well-being. Finding acceptance that this is a phase in our life (and this too will most likely pass at one point) can help lower our stress levels in a situation that can otherwise be very hard to cope with.
3 yoga exercises to help relax and unwind before bed
These are my three favourite yoga exercises which can be done before bedtime. They offer relaxation for my physical body and a connection to my present moment for my mind:
1. Step into a downward facing dog
Place your hands on your mat or floor, spread your fingers wide. Lift your hips up and draw your tailbone up towards the ceiling. Start to straighten your legs, maybe keeping a bend in your knees if the stretch is too intense. With you head being low, feel grounded, connected and take 10 long in and exhales.
2. Come lying on your front and bring your hands underneath your shoulders
Take a deep inhale and lift your shoulders off the mat, pressing your hands into the floor, we call this cobra pose. Keep your elbows drawn towards your body, engage your buttocks to support your lower back and draw your sternum towards the front. Take 10 deep inhales and full exhales and feel the space you create in your heart and chest centre.
3. Sit comfortably either cross-legged or come lying on your back
You can sit against a wall if this feels more comfortable. Notice your spine lengthening upon your inhales, and keep that length upon the exhale. Soften through your shoulders, chin and jaw and every time you exhale let go of the day and the week so far. Take a few rounds and then start to describe to yourself your present moment.
Say to yourself inwardly what you are experiencing physically and emotionally: I am sitting down. I am grounded. I am tired. I am relaxed. I can hear the traffic outside my window. I can hear the birds sing, and so on… make this as detailed as possible. It shifts your attention from worry about the future to your present moment. And with it comes a sense of calm, stillness and trust.
Dani Binnington is a yoga practitioner, family well-being expert and creator of Healthy Whole Me, which is full of delicious recipes, well-being tips and inspiration for a healthy family lifestyle.
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