Yoga can be very helpful for preparing the body for deep, sound sleep. This is important because sleep provides the body the opportunity to heal. This is especially true with chronic illness, such as diabetes or autoimmunity, because the path to reversing these conditions may require months of devoted attention to your treatment plan.
This evening routine is ideal for calming the mind, relaxing the body, and switching the nervous system from sympathetic (on alert) to parasympathetic (ready to rest and heal).
FOR OPTIMAL SUCCESS:
1. Be consistent with your practice. If insomnia is sporadic, it may be difficult to know if you’re about the have a poor night’s sleep. And if it’s difficult to squeeze a yoga routine into your evening, imagine mustering the motivation to do so in the middle of the night. So plan ahead and allow 15 minutes somewhere in your evening or bedtime routine to move slowly and patiently through this brief practice.
2. Begin each practice lying on your back and taking 7 slow, deep breaths to fill the lungs, keeping the belly flat. Then exhale for the same amount of time as the inhale, completely emptying the lungs.
3. For this practice, attempt all the poses during each session, but do not frustrate yourself if you have not mastered all of them. Just practice. Consider private instruction to master more challenging poses.
4. Ideally, end each practice by lying down in savasana or “corpse pose” in your bed, where you are ready to drift off to sleep. If you are not quite ready for bed, then take savasana for 5 minutes. Then keep a quiet environment and continue relaxing through your evening routine before you go to bed.
THE POSES (“ASANAS”)
1. Salamba Sirsasana or “Headstand”
This asana has so many benefits, that it will behoove you to master this at some point. It is best learned under the guidance of an experienced yoga teacher. Facing a wall from all fours, place the crown of your head on the floor and clasp your hands, wrapping the heel of the thumbs around the back of your head. Press into the forearms and lift the hips as in “downward dog”. Then walk your feet towards your elbows, kicking up to the wall behind you. Lift the torso and legs. Stay for as long as you can, but come down if you begin sweating or feel pressure around your eyes or neck.
If you have never learned this asana or have eye issues or high/low blood pressure, try Prasarita Padottanasana (“standing wide angle”). Take the feet 4-5‘ apart with the toes pointing forward. Bend forward at the hips, keeping the back straight. Rest your hands on the floor. Lower your head down onto the floor or a chair or stack of blocks, keeping some weight in the hands. Stay for 3-5 minutes.
2. Salamba Sarvangasana or “Shoulder stand”
Lying on your back with knees bent, roll your hip up into the air and catch your lower back with your hands, fingers pointing straight up. Move the shoulder blades towards the spine and continue stretching the legs up towards the ceiling. The sternum is brought close to the chin so that the nervous system and breathing become more calm and smooth after a few minutes. This is another asana that may require private instruction if you have never attempted this. It is well worth the effort.
An alternative is to press your feet into a wall to assist with lifting the hips. Once your hands are placed, you can practice taking one leg at a time off the wall and stretching it up towards the ceiling. Stay for 3-5 minutes or as long as you can.
3. Paschimottanasana or “Seated Forward Bend”
Sit on the floor with legs outstretched in front of you. Lifting the chest to keep the spine tall, reach forward from the hips and catch your toes with both hands. If this is not possible, use a belt or scarf around the ball of the feet as an “arm-extender”. Deepen your forward bend on a few successive exhales, focusing on keeping the spine straight and the torso lengthening along the legs. Ideally, rest your head on a block or pillow, or at least rest the arms on blocks either side of your legs. Stay for 1 -2 minutes, then sit back upright on an inhale.
4. Nadi sodhana pranayama or “Alternate nostril breathing”.
Sitting straight up on a block or bolster, with legs comfortably crossed, take a few slow smooth breaths. Create an even rhythm by counting to the same number for each inhale and exhale (it should take about 5-8 seconds per breath). Bring your right thumb and ring fingers to the base of the nasal cartilage. Pressing gently with the ring finger, breathe in through the right nostril to the same count as before. At the end of the inhale, release the ring finger and press the thumb, exhaling through the left nostril. Keep the fingers the same, inhaling through the left nostril. Then release the thumb and press again with the ring finger, exhaling through the right nostril. This is one cycle: In through the right, out through the left, in through the left, and out through the right. Repeat for at least 3 more cycles, working up to 10 cycles.
5. Savasana or “Corpse Pose”
This is the essential end to every practice and every day. It is simply lying down on your back with the eyes closed. The hands are relaxed at your side, palms up. In this pose, we learn to lie down in a way that relaxes the body, mind, nervous system and spirit. We also learn to let go of all types of tension, whether physical, mental or emotional, through sustained practice. If you are in bed, simply go to sleep. If you are not ready for bed, stay for 5-10 minutes, and then finish your evening quietly.