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When we sleep our internal systems are busy at work repairing and renewing themselves. However, many of us find it difficult to wind down enough to enter the needed state of relaxation. Here are some simple, natural and holistic ways of calming your nervous system down and getting ready for a good night’s sleep

Mini Shastri

Sleep like food, water and air is necessary and like all good things should be enjoyed in the right amount. Too much can leave us sluggish and lethargic while too little is damaging to health. Our body’s rhythms start gearing up for sleep around 9 p.m. Ayurveda tells us that after 10 p.m. our bodies make a transition from the Kapha phase to the Pitta phase, which is a transition from the qualities of heaviness and inertia to functions of processing, renewing and repairing within the body, in effect preparing a good night’s rest. In our internal body clock the time between 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. in is the time designed to induce slowness, a feeling of being grounded so that the bodies most natural tendency is to sleep after which the Liver readies itself to detoxify the body in the Pitta phase that follows. Our tendencies and routines should not separate us from this natural flow of nature. Ignoring the body’s signals for sleep and winding down at that time of the evening, we risk riding a second wind which can keep us awake till late leading to imbalance.

Not sleeping in accordance to nature’s rhythms leads to many imbalances. As Dr Claudia Welch (author of groundbreaking work on achieving hormonal balance for women) says, although we may readily respond to our body’s hunger by eating and drinking when we are thirsty, we often ignore the body’s signals to rest. Sleep can make or break your ability to lose weight, age slower, strengthen immunity, prevent cancer and help you perform at a higher level of creativity. Sleep loss increases the production of the hormone cortisol, triggering inflammation. Cortisol is also linked to stressed looking skin.

Considering that the nervous systems of most adults are Sympathetic dominant, i.e., in a state of near constant hyper alertness, Yoga and other traditional schools of practice – Naturopathy and Ayurveda - prescribe natural remedies to activate our Relaxation Response, i.e., to Rest and Digest.

Yoga Can Help

Asanas are one of the few exercises that works on reducing muscle tension, which can affect both the ability to get to sleep and the quality of sleep. Yogis believe that the regular practice of inversions such as the Shoulder stand or Sarvangasana, when practiced safely and comfortably, are calming to the nervous system and the mind.

A pose for tired legs and overactive mind is a restorative yoga inversion often called Legs-up-the wall or the ‘Waterfall Pose’ (Viparita Karani). In this pose the abdominal area is nourished while relaxing the adrenal gland, the throat (and thus the Thyroid gland) and the blood pressure sensor receptors in the neck and chest. This pose also relieves the back of the brain, where congestion can sit causing headaches, shoulder or jaw pain. This pose helps prep the mind for a restful sleep.

Waterfall Pose: You will need a thick bolster to raise your legs up against a wall. This is an inversion with your hips raised and supported with a bolster under your lower back (sacral area - edging towards your hips) while your torso is at a 90 degrees angle to the wall, with legs pointing up and resting on the wall. Arms should rest by your side. Hold the pose for 5-10 minutes. Once the legs are up, you’ll immediately feel the blood rush from your feet and legs, reversing the effects of gravity on the legs, relieving tired leg muscles, and allowing your heart rate to slow down.

Conscious Breath awareness is a transformative remedy to activate the Relaxation Response. Yoga promotes slow, deep breathing, which can be a natural sedative. Try a few rounds of breathing practices such as Bhramari Pranayam (Bumblebee Breath), which takes your body from stress to calm or Chandra Bheda (Left Nostril breathing practice), which stimulates the Para-Sympathetic nervous system and helps release the clutter and impressions of the day.

Breath & Sleep

The energy channels through which our vital life force – Prana, flows are known as Nadis in the Yogic system. Ida and Pingala are the important Nadis linked to the nose.  The Yogic understanding of Nadis tells us that when we sleep on our side, we activate the side of the nostril that is higher. Since breathing through the left nostril (Ida Nadi) tends to be calming and bolsters the Para-Sympathetic nervous system, laying on your right side may be more conducive to falling asleep.

Conscious Breath awareness is a transformative remedy to activate the Relaxation Response. Yoga promotes slow, deep breathing, which can be a natural sedative. Try a few rounds of breathing practices such as Bhramari Pranayam (Bumblebee Breath), which takes your body from stress to calm or Chandra Bheda (Left Nostril breathing practice), which stimulates the Para-Sympathetic nervous system and helps release the clutter and impressions of the day. 

Chandra Bheda: Blocking the Right nostril lightly, breathe in through the Left nostril and out through the Right nostril. Repeat for 10-15 rounds, keeping the ratio of inhalation and exhalation equal, smooth and comfortable. The central premise behind Yogic breathing is to gradually build your practice to the point where the exhalation is longer than the inhalation. This slows the heart rate and calms the nervous system. 

You may also do the following practice lying in bed: Breathing through the nose, inhale for a count of 4 and exhale for the count of 4. Work on this equal ratio for some time. Then, inhale for 4 and exhale for 6, increasing the count of exhalation only till the point of comfort. If the following inhalation is not subtle and relaxed, you are probably pushing too hard.  This exercise can prepare the mind to release all impressions from the day gone by and bring restful sleep.

Bhramari Pranayama: A Brahmari is a large bee. The sound of the buzzing bee is made during exhalation in this exercise. Inhale through both nostrils, and exhale while imitating the deep, low pitched humming sound of a Bee. Repeat for two to three minutes. Bhramari has a soothing effect on the mind and the nerves.

Post Dinner Stroll

My Ayurveda mentor and friend Shri Arun Deva recommends a short stroll after dinner. This helps digest the meal, so it does not interfere with a restful sleep and keeps one away from compulsively checking of our phones and gadgets. He also recommends a minimum 2-3 hour gap between dinner and bedtime. One major cause of poor and restless sleep is going to bed with food in your belly. Even the deep sleep some achieve with a full belly, results in waking up still tired and dull.

Self-Foot Massage

Foot massage or an Epsom Salt foot soak are simple methods for reducing stress and stimulating the body’s natural relaxation response. Epsom salts replenishes Magnesium in the body through skin absorption. Stress depletes the levels of Magnesium. According to Dr Lad, all of the body’s stress accumulates in the connective tissue lining the soles of the feet. The feet contain reflex points that connect to the organs and other parts of the body and have over 7,000 nerves. Thus, nourishing and massaging the feet benefits the entire body.

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Comments (3)

Shalini Sood Sehgal

Very useful information articulated simply

This is a very useful and well written article. Thank you.
I shall be sharing this further

Thank you for the simple and clear explanation and guidance to include deep restorative sleep as a means to enhance our well being.
This is indeed very helpful!