A deceivingly simple, five-lettered state of being. As natural as breathing in and out. Yet, a good night’s shut-eye eludes many – for a plethora of reasons. To name a few, sleep disorders like insomnia, medical conditions that influence sleep patterns, 24/7 working lifestyles or even welcoming a new baby, are examples of what could eventually result in sleep deprivation.
Firstly, what is sleep deprivation? It is a condition in which we are unable to get adequate sleep (typically 7 to 9 hours depending on age is considered adequate) for a prolonged period of time. Lumbering ahead in this manner could result in a breaking point. Why? Because lack of sleep plays havoc with the body’s natural restorative functions. Think of sleep as a system downtime when important ‘updates’ (repair, rebuilding and rejuvenation) take place. If the body does not get an opportunity to carry out this essential, timely maintenance, it could mean a total shutdown (dis-ease) in the not-so-distant future.
The fall-outs of sleep deprivation can range from mild tiredness, fatigue, moodiness, to craving for instant pick-me-ups like caffeine/carbohydrates, to a diminished decision making capability that can have serious consequences.
As a mother of a 19-month bundle of joy, I have experienced sleep deprivation quite recently. Why, it still amazes me when my daughter allows me a comparatively undisturbed night! We have been through it all – night feeds that seemed to last till morning, sleep regressions, teething pains, fevers and colds, sleep training sessions that resulted in one of us crying! ‘Give it a few years,’ I am told time and again. All I can do is nod solemnly, and get back to my yoga mat.
Yoga says ‘relax’
So how does yoga fit into this fuzzy state of ours?
Let me begin by saying that yoga is not a quick fix to sleep problems. It will not magically help us get a good night’s rest, but it will most definitely aid the body in its quest for recovery, in spite of the scattered sleep. Result: The body will function at its optimum, even flourish, and not reach its snapping point (illness).
Yoga and its continued practice is known to reap tremendous benefits to the body and mind. Do not let those extreme postures scare you. The sole purpose of this ancient Indian science, in reality, is to relax in every posture (asana), such that our physical, mental and emotional selves are all tuned into one.
When we focus all our energies on a particular body part and achieve a sense of calmness or tranquility in that posture, we are aiding the cells in that region to seamlessly continue with their repair work. In short: we are helping the body heal. And what’s more, breathing into the asana, by synchronizing inhalation and exhalation with our movements gives further impetus to this internal cleansing process.
Breath is an exceedingly crucial aspect in yoga, whether we are performing an asana or sitting in meditation. Nowhere other than pranayama practices which involve retention (kumbhaka), are we expected to hold our breath. Thus, with yoga and its play between movement and stillness, we revitalize our cells, tissues and organs, the body as a whole, and the mind.
For better sleep
There are a few asanas and pranayama techniques, which when practiced right before bed, could result in better quality of sleep. Usually, forward-bending asanas are relaxing, while backward-bending ones are energizing. So, depending on how we feel, we could try Child’s pose (balasana), Happy Baby, Forward Fold (pashchimottanasa), Wide-Angled Seated Forward Bend (upavistha konasana), Bound Angle pose (baddha konasana), Legs up the Wall (similar to viparitkarni), alternate nostril breathing (anulom-vilom), diaphragmatic breathing, Bumblebee Breath (bhramari) and others.
Also, yoga nidra, a guided meditation in which we mindfully relax every part of the body, right from the tip of our toes to the crown of our head, is another effective way to bring the body and mind back to their most serene state.
Here’s to a more restful night’s sleep for all of us!
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