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Sweet Dreams.....Try Yoga for a Better Night's Sleep

Sweet Dreams.....Try Yoga for a Better Night's Sleep

Time and again students tell me how well they sleep after yoga class. Music to my ears!

If you're feeling sleep deprived or not feeling rested when you wake, you're not alone. The good news: an evening yoga class can set you up for a restful night's sleep. Mindful breathing, stretching, working your muscles and the deep relaxation at the end of class calms the nervous system and paves the way for sweet dreams.

Remember the stories about the cavemen and how they had to be on alert all the time for the wooly mammoth or sabertooth tiger or who-knows-what that could threaten their lives or the lives of their clan?  The sympathetic nervous system kicks in, big time, when we feel threatened and helps us to stay alert, focused, and ready to fight or flee. Being on high alert when out hunting for food served a purpose for the cavemen: it protected them and helped them survive dangerous situations. 

The problem is, for many of us in the 21st Century, our sympathetic nervous system is on overdrive.  This puts us in fight, flight or freeze mode more than necessary and it doesn't serve our health or well-being.  Our muscles are tight, our breathing shallow and we're on high-alert much of the day; adrenaline and cortisol are coursing through our bodies and these chemicals can make it hard to relax and fall into the deep sleep that we all need.  We may not be worried about the ole sabertooth tiger, but we are worried about making ends meet, our relationships, our children, aging parents, job performance, the state of the world, damage to the environment, the cellulite on our thighs, the extra pounds we keep trying to loose to name just a few (or actually nine or so)  worries and concerns that can weigh heavily on our minds....and shoulders....and lower backs...

The good news:  yoga can help.  Yoga can help in so many, many ways. The conscious, focused breathwork that many yoga classses offer is big. Huge. By breathing deeply we invite the parasympethic nervous system to kick in. The parasympathetic nervous system tells our body and our being that we are safe, we can relax and in the time of the cavemen it told them they could "feed and breed."  Love that phrase.  

Feed and breed, anyone?  

When we add mindful movement to the breathwork, we start to stretch and open up tight muscles and joints, releasing tension that our body holds onto because that's become our default response to all the to-do's, stresses and concerns of our day:  carry on, keep busy, work the list, don't stop moving because then we'd REALLY be in trouble. Hold it inside because we haven't learn what else to do with it. It's familar territory for me.....truly.  I still find myself falling into that pattern at times. And then I remember.  I remember to get on my mat and breathe and stretch.  Or just sit quietly and focus on my breath for 5 or 10 minutes. Going to the chiropractor helps too, especially practitioners like Dr. Kelly Worster who works with your nervous system to activate the body's natural capacity for healing and relaxation.  But that's a post for another day.  

Moving with awareness of the breath also brings us into the present movement.  It helps us develop the muscle that brings us back to the present when our mind starts to race and we get carried into thoughts of the past or future.  Being present brings tremendous freedom.  And relaxation.  

Then there's the last 15 minutes or so of class when you're lying in savasana (relaxation pose).  I like to lead a guided body-scan that promotes deep relaxation and integration of the stretching, breathing and strengthening. This is when the parasympathetic system (relaxation mode) really takes the wheel.  The body sinks down into the mat, breathing becomes easier, tension melts away and most people drift-off into a mystical, magical la-la land somewhere between sleep and wakefulness. This is where deep healing can occur. This state of deep relaxation sets the body up for an easeful transition to a good night's sleep.    

Quick review of the yoga class trifecta that can help us sleep better:  1) conscious, focused, deep breaths; 2) mindful movement and stretching along with breath awareness; 3) a juicy savasana at the end of class.  

Looking to give your nervous system a break?  One option among many:  check out a yoga class near you.  

May your night be filled with sweet dreams, 

Here's more info about the state of sleepiness in our country and the many benefits associated with getting enough sleep:

The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) conducted surveys revealing that at least 40 million Americans suffer from more than 70 different sleep disorders; furthermore, 60 percent of adults, and 69 percent of children, experience one or more sleep problems a few nights or more during a week.

In addition, more than 40 percent of adults experience daytime sleepiness severe enough to interfere with their daily activities at least a few days each month — with 20 percent reporting problem sleepiness a few days a week or more.

On the flip side, getting a healthy amount of sleep is linked to:

Increased memory
Longer life
Decreased inflammation
Increased creativity
Increased attention and focus
Decreased fat and increased muscle mass with exercise
Lower stress
Decreased dependence on stimulants like caffeine
Decreased risk of getting into accidents
Decreased risk of depression
And tons more... Google it.

Read more at 8 Things Every Person Should do before 8 am

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