Can Yoga Help You Catch Some Zzz’s?

Jill Miller by Jill Miller | July 22nd, 2010 | 17 Comments
topic: Fitness, Health & Wellness, Yoga

Woman with insomnia

Perhaps you’ve heard the claims from your neighbor, “yoga cured my insomnia.” Or maybe your co-worker boasts, “I practice three times a week and my back pain is gone.” It’s possible that your 11-year-old daughter squeals with delight because she can now touch her toes and no longer gets “homework headaches.”

With 16 million Americans practicing yoga, the anecdotal evidence is exponentially favorable to the curative benefits of yoga. But skeptical and scientific minds still want to know, is yoga really a remedy?

I began practicing yoga at age 11, and can say from my personal experience that I rarely get sick, I’ve never broken a bone and I sleep like a baby 97 percent of the time. In a purely unscientific poll of myself, yoga has been and continues to be a remedy for my aches and pains and a preventative from getting them in the first place!

I also have hundreds of stories I could share with you from students who work with me in my specialized yoga therapy format, Yoga Tune Up. A range of students from 17-77 come to me with chronic conditions like MS, scoliosis, breast and chest surgeries, metal implants in their tissues, migraines, car accidents, obesity and more.

The good news is that there are studies that confirm the benefits of yoga for many health conditions. We can rejoice that yoga’s curative powers are not just a myth! Yoga helps and it heals.

In part one of this three-part series on Yoga as a Remedy,  we look at insomnia:

Your neighbor’s insomnia

Insomnia is a plague. When we cannot sleep well, our stress levels skyrocket and this can lead to accidents, greater fatigue and weight gain. When your neighbor tosses and turns all night, her mind is not letting her body enter into the healing phases of deep sleep.

Perhaps your neighbor tried out a Yin Yoga class at the local YWCA. Her class promised to help reduce stress and enhance her ability to sleep.

So how did it work its magic? Yoga enhances a body’s ability to sleep by consistently inducing the relaxation response in the body’s tissues. Yin Yoga especially promotes a very relaxing environment by holding static or still stretches for long periods of time (two to 20 minutes), with the body often supported by bolsters, blankets and other props. These stretches are done with the help of gravity’s pull on the body. She is instructed to breathe deeply and rhythmically. The result is that the long-held stretches, combined with the breathing, turn her “fight or flight” response off and her “rest and digest” response on. Ultimately, this resets the resting tone in her muscles and her mind is reconditioned to be more mellow .

Yoga help for insomnia

This classic yoga pose works wonders for those who are challenged with anxiety or difficulty getting their Z’s.

Savasana or “corpse pose”

This macabre sounding pose is very simple and can be done in any quiet environment. To minimize light and other distractions, place an eye pillow over your eyes.

1. Lay down on the ground, bed or sofa with your legs a couple of feet apart, knees propped over pillows or a yoga bolster, hands about 1 foot away from your sides and palms facing up.

2. Lightly touch your index fingers and thumbs together on both hands to create jnana mudra. Place your attention at the fingertips and begin to feel the heart’s pulsation there.

3. Inhale for a count of three heartbeats and exhale for a count of six heartbeats.

4. As you relax more deeply, increase the counts to inhale for four heartbeats and exhale for eight heartbeats.

5. Practice for a minimum of 10 minutes daily at the end of the day to induce relaxation and prepare the mind and body for sleeping.

Sweet dreams! For more insomnia remedies, watch this video on proper breathing or check out my blog on travel tips to  explore the wonders of Veeparita Korani Mudra as taught by Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman. Let me know which pose works best for you!

Comments

  1. I have used yoga for insomnia with great results except … I really like twisted stomach pose (chair pose in bed on your side) but if I fall asleep in this pose the stretch goes way beyond what is comfortable … ouch.

    Namaste,

    Steve

    steve (yoga dvd man) | July 27th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  2. Thanks Steve! I taught this same twist last weekend at my Yoga Tune Up® Breathe In Bliss Out workshop at Pure Yoga in NYC. It is deeply relaxing over a bolster…the pressure on the abdomen provides a deep abdominal massage which is profoundly sedating. Sleep well, and sweet dreams!

    Jill Miller | July 28th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  3. Thanks Jill. I’ve had a few students fall asleep at the end of class during Savasana, so I can attest for its effect on insomnia.

    yoga reno | August 2nd, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  4. This is just in time; I have been having an insomnia bout while on vacation. I gonna try both tonight!

    Iluvyoga | August 10th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  5. I’ve been an insomniac since I was six. Yoga can help, when I can remember to slow down to do (tried the ritual, bath, lavender, cool room, etc.). Savasana helps, but I usually end up in a modified child’s pose if I continue to not be able to sleep. Usually coming from a cobbler’s pose to help keep from rocking, and lots of boosters. And it seems to help everytime. This works even after the Ambien and Temazepam fail. so I put some stock it in :-)

    Best wishes.

    carol | August 12th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  6. Jill,
    I know Yoga helps me sleep better and reduces the flare ups with my Lupus.

    Heather | August 12th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  7. Bridge is also a great posture for insomnia, as well as the shoulders also.

    Beverly Blake | August 12th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  8. Here’s a slight variation: In corpse pose, make sure the tip of your tongue is at the back of your front teeth throughout the excercise. This connects your Central and Governing meridians inside your head. Inhale through your nose to the count of 4 heartbeats; hold your breath to the count of 7 heartbeats; exhale through your mouth (tongue in place) with a “whooshing” sound to the count of 8 heartbeats. Repeat 3 more times. I’m told this will increase the level of carbon dioxide in your blood just enough to make you sleepy — sort of like when you are breathing very shallowly during a boring lecture. At that time, you are not exchanging enough carbon dioxide for oxygen, and it puts you to sleep. After this exercise, you will drop off to sleep very soon, so DON’T do it anywhere but in bed. Pleasant dreams!

    granny gloria | August 12th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  9. Amazing timing! I was just sitting here bemoaning how my awful insomnia has impacted my practice in the last week. Thanks for the 2-in-1 kick I needed!

    kcerda | August 12th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  10. I have been teaching yoga for 10 years…”child’s pose” on the florr next to the bed, is what I recommend for trouble sleeping…seems to work every time.

    Deb | August 12th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  11. Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only one who has no problem falling asleep.

    janine | August 12th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  12. [...] Try yoga’s Savasana or “corpse pose”. [...]

  13. Granny Gloria, I LOVE your variation! I just tried it…and it’s a DOOZY, guaranteed to help you doze! Thanks so much. :)

    Jill Miller | August 13th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  14. Interesting about holding a pose for a few minutes to induce muscle and mind relaxation. I’ll have to try it. Thanks.

    Val | August 16th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  15. YES – yoga definitely helps one catch some zzzzz’s! I have students who knock out snoring during savasana. And when I teach privately, I have clients who want me to let them be when they fall asleep during savasana and quietly walk out the door. I love it!

    Antoinette | September 7th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  16. Beautifully written Jill. I used to have sleeping problems myself. All my life actually. It wasn’t until my 16th birthday when I was puzzled when I was introduced to the fact that most people just put their head down and fall asleep. I was certain that everyone takes about one to three hours to fall asleep, and that I was normal. :)
    Well, I have long worked on fixing that, and if there is one thing, besides regular meditation and my kung fu studies that can help – It Is YOGA. So to everyone who reads this – Yoga is a Super Solution for sleeping disorders. It changed my clock within a couple of months – and now Not only do i sleep like a log, I wake up fresh and as early as 6:30am. No problem.
    Go catch those “Zzz’s” :)
    Namaste

    Anonymous | October 16th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  17. I can vouch for this 100%. I never have a problem going to sleep, but when I used to wake up in the night, I would try to hard to get back to sleep. I guess. Now I do almost exactly this method and it works great. I’m going to try to refine my breathing though. Thank you.

    Seth | February 3rd, 2011 | Comment Permalink

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