Updated: Aug 18, 2021
In these blog series we’ve covered how Yoga can be a powerful stress reliever and we’ve shared a small practice to help manage anxiety, so it’ not difficult to guess that Yoga can also help address insomnia, since stress and anxiety are often behind it.
Below we share four of the most helpful technical disciplines if you suffer from insomnia, from the 14 we cover in a Yoga Sámkhya class.
Pránáyáma - Energetic and neuro-vegetative breathing exercises
In our blog post Learn how to breathe - 3 tips & tricks from a Yogi we’ve explored how transformative learning to control our breathing can be and the long-standing effects it can have on our mental health and general wellbeing.
One of these effects is the activation of our parasympathetic nervous system, which allows us to rest and relax, therefore contributing to lower our anxiety levels and reduce stress.
Ten minutes a day of a breathing exercise, like the ones we’ve suggested in the above blog post, before you go to bed, is an effective way to slow down your mind and prepare you for a restful and restorative night’s sleep.
Ásana - Psycho-bio-physical poses
The poses are arguably the most well-known “feature” of Yoga and are widely recognised to help improve strength and flexibility. However, Ásana positions have a much deeper impact on the human body that go beyond muscles, joints and ligaments.
In fact, Ásana poses were designed with a profound knowledge of the human anatomy and directly influence vital organs - such as the kidneys and the pancreas, glands - like the thyroid or the adrenal glands, and the brain, contributing for the optimal functioning of the human body.
Each pose will therefore benefit and impact a certain part of our body and result in specific effects. Below you can check some of the poses that are the most helpful if you suffer from insomnia.
Thanks to our head hanging low, these Ásana help us relax and reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety, due to the flow of oxygenated blood to our brain, irrigating the latter and slowing down our body in general.
Side bends are incredibly beneficial for the adrenal glands - crucial glands located at the top of our kidneys, which produce hormones that help to control a number of key functions such as the regulation of our metabolism, immune system, blood pressure and our response to stress.
The adrenal glands also play a fundamental role in our sleep cycle, through the production of cortisol, a hormone best known for the impact it has on our stress response, functioning as a trigger and preparing our body to “freeze, flight or fight”. Cortisol influences our sleep, since sleep and our stress response share the same pathway to our brain, therefore spikes in cortisol - caused by our response to potentially threatening and stressful situations - will directly affect and negatively impact our natural sleep cycle.
Side bends act as a massage for our adrenal glands, contributing to an optimal regulation and production of cortisol.
Similarly to forward bends, inversions help take a lot of oxygenated blood to our brains - a well oxygenated brain is a more serene and cooler brain, capable of dealing with difficult and stressful situations in a calmer way.
Therefore, inversions are amazing exercises to relax our minds, reduce stress and anxiety, common causes of insomnia.
Yoganidrá - Physical, emotional and mental relaxation techniques
Yoganidrá is one of the 14 technical disciplines of Yoga designed to restore the body physically, chemically (hormones and neurotransmitters) and energetically. But more than helping us relax and completely recharge our body, emotions and mind, Yoganidrá is a powerful influencer and enhancer of the natural sleep cycle.
Through Yoganidrá, the neuro-vegetative automations take back control, repairing our physical bodies and our brain completely and re-establishing neurotransmitters, absolutely crucial to our personal development and well-being.
As for its effect against insomnia Yoganidrá is prophylactic, helping to reduce stress, strengthens our immune system, through the production of antibodies and peptides - natural “sleeping pills” - and works as a pain reliever, by encouraging the production of endorphins and bio opioids like serotonin - a neurotransmitter essential to our emotional balance and the control of anxiety.
Dhyána/Samyama – True Meditation through the control of the brainwave frequencies
We’ve explored before how true meditation can boost our immune system (link to blog) and how scientific studies are increasingly showing its effects on a molecular level.
The regular practice of Meditation helps to balance and slow down our minds, improves concentration, clarity of thought and productivity. A recent study from the University of Yale, has shown that meditation decreases activity in the default mode network (DMN), the brain network responsible for mind-wandering and self-referential thoughts – a.k.a., “monkey mind and "[...]since mind-wandering is typically associated with being less happy, ruminating, and worrying about the past and future, it’s the goal for many people to dial it down. Several studies have shown that meditation, through its quieting effect on the DMN, appears to do just this. And even when the mind does start to wander, because of the new connections that form, meditators are better at snapping back out of it".
Another study, this one from the University of Wisconsin - Madison, shows that the regular practice of meditation leads to biological alterations in the human body - an increase of the electrical activity in the frontal part of the brain and lower levels of anxiety.
It’s worth pointing out that regardless of how beneficial these technical disciplines are individually, their true impact occurs when combined with the 10 main other ones we cover in a Yoga Sámkhya class, the Traditional Yoga from India.
Therefore, if you’re looking for long-term results when it comes to insomnia, the ideal is to practice Yoga regularly, taking advantage of how the class is designed to help you slow down and discover the best version of yourself.
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