Foundation Friday: Yoga for Better Sleep


This post is an instalment in a series that delves into the basics of yoga—looking at its postures (asana), breath (pranayama), philosophy, and all the other essentials—giving you the foundations upon which to build a solid practice. Today's focus is a little bit different—we're looking at how yoga can be beneficial in sleep. Because what could be more foundational for your yoga practice, your day—your life!—than a good night's rest?!

Foundation Friday: Yoga for Better Sleep

We all know the symptoms—dark half-moons under the eyes, lion-sized yawns, a lowered level level of alertness. If you've ever spent a night—or a string of them—tossing and turning, clock-checking, and worrying yourself awake, you're certainly not alone. According to the CHFA, one in seven Canadians have insomnia, or trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. And sleep deprivation is one of the leading causes of stress among American adults. As anyone who's spent a night sleepless in bed knows, counting sheep may be a somewhat entertaining attempt to lull yourself into a sweet slumber—but it's not always the most effective.

Bed-time yoga has been proven as an effective method of lessening the time it takes to fall asleep, and lengthening the time it takes to stay asleep—so much so, that even the U.S. Department of Defense has been using a yoga nidra derivative to help treat its soldiers sufferrering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder—an ailment that shares similar symptoms with insomnia, like anxiety, or the inability to sleep at night. While sun salutations and vinyasa are not particularly recommended, some gentle, calming yoga postures—done next to, or even right in your bed may help to soothe your mind and body into a sleep-state. Check out our top five yoga postures to help with sleep, below.

You'll notice that this list includes plenty of forward folds—forward folds, or extension promote a turning inwards, helping to rest and soothe the brain. Forward folds stimulate a cooling sensation in the body, and also help the digestive system to assimilate whatever hasn't yet been digested, whether physically or metaphorically.

1.Downward Facing Dog, or Adho Mukha Svanasana

Start from all fours, or a Tabletop position with your wrists outer-shoulder distance apart and your knees under your hips. Tuck your toes under, and press your hips skyward. You might need to bend one knee, and then the other to find some space in your back body to make this posture more comfortable. Bend both knees, and send your belly back towards your thighs. Lengthen your ears away from your shoulders.

2. Seated Forward Fold, or Paschimottanasana

Sit up with your legs extended in front of you. Remove the flesh from underneath your sit bones by manually sliding it out from underneath your seat. Extend your heart forward towards your legs, and then fold forward. Relax your arms beside your feet or legs and let your head be heavy. Use the physical feeling of turning inward to help guide your mind inward as well—turning your thoughts off from the day behind or ahead of you, and instead focusing on calm breath and the physical sensations you feel inside your body.

3. Supine Twist, or Supta Matsyendrasana

Bend your knees, scoot your hips slightly over to one side, and then lower your legs to the opposite side of your hips. This should help your hips to stack over top of each other. Turn your head opposite your legs if it's okay for your neck. If your knees are lifted uncomfortably away from the floor or your bed, you might support them with a blanket or pillow (bonus since they're so close!). Again, breathe deeply into your belly to invite a gentle compression into your internal organs, facilitating digestion both physically and metaphorically—helping yourself to integrate the happenings of your day so that you can rest and prepare yourself for the next. This posture may also help to alleviate any back and neck discomfort that prevents you from falling asleep.

4. Child's Pose, or Balasana

Fold your torso forward between your legs and allow your forehead to rest, on either your bed, or stacked palms or fists. Take slow, deep belly breaths. If you like, you can massage your brow by gently rocking your head from side to side.

5. Corpse Pose, or Savasana

Set yourself up into a final resting posture—you might try lying down with your arms right alongside your body and feet hip-distance, or maybe you feel more comfortable extending your limbs further away from your torso. Once you're completely comfortable and at ease, try a yoga nidra technique:

Work through your body slowly, one piece at a time—draw all of your awareness to that part, starting at your feet. Notice the way your feet feel, and if there is any tension or muscular engagement in your toes, the balls of your feet, your arches, your heels, your ankles. Consciously relax that part of your body, using your long, drawn-out exhales to soften. Work your way up through your legs, your arms, your torso, and your head. Once you've covered all of the areas of your body—if you've made it through all of them without dozing off!—notice the way you feel now, and see if you can tell your mind to relax in the same way you have your body.

Use these postures alongside a deepened, calm breath. If thoughts are giving you anxiety, or preventing you from falling into a sleepy state, you can try writing them down in a bed-side journal, or try to let them pass by you without getting attached. If these postures aren't enough, you might try making some small lifestyle changes—like avoiding caffeine after lunch, turning all your screens off at least an hour before bed, or settling into a nighttime ritual to help tell your body it's time to rest.

Let us know what's helped, and what hasn't in your journey to easy rest. Sweet dreams, yogis!

The Art of Napping


Many people have an incredibly busy lifestyle and barely have time for themselves. Here at Yogalife we are just as guilty! Here is a fun and insightful article about taking a break and learning the art of napping. Also remember that napping is much different than savasana, which is conscious relaxation. Enjoy! A leading expert on why a short bout of strategically-planned shut-eye just makes life better — and how to make it happen.Lashaun Dale, MA, MPH, NSCA, CHEK

Researcher and meditation guide Kelly Howell, known in her field as "The Brain Whisperer," has spent over 30 years studying things like mind expansion technology and brain wave frequencies with neuroscience heavyweights. But Howell's specialty is in meditation and sleep, making her the perfect expert to discuss the long lost art of napping. National creative manager of group fitness Lashaun Dale sat down with the guru to learn why we should all close our eyes for 20 minutes each day and how to make it happen:


We need to stop thinking of napping as a luxury and recognize it as a biological necessity.

LD:  What are the main benefits of napping? KH: Taking an afternoon nap is like pressing the reset button in your brain. In our information overloaded world, we need to power down and reboot consciousness daily. After a nap you’ll experience greater clarity of thought, a more peaceful state of mind, increased resilience, better memory and more creativity.


LD: How long should a nap be? KH: 20 minutes is plenty of time to thoroughly refresh your brain. The short nap is power-packed because you enter stage 2 of the sleep cycle, or Non Rapid Eye Movement (NREM), which is when sleep spindles appear. Sleep spindles are short synchronized bursts of electrical activity that last about one second and can occur 1,000 times per night during NREM sleep. Research shows that people who have more of these spindles, especially people who have more over a frontal area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, showed the most refreshment in learning capacity after their nap.


LD: The best time for nap? KH: Best time for a nap is between 1:00 and 3:00. Ideally 7 or 8 hours after you wake up in the morning. Taking too long of a nap, or napping too late in the day interferes with your nighttime sleep.


LD: How often should you nap? KH: Every day! Sleep is high quality nutrition for your brain. We need to stop thinking of napping as a luxury and recognize it as a biological necessity.


LD:  Powerful. Know of any famous nappers? KH: JFK, Salvador Dali, Leonardo da Vinci, Winston Churchill and Thomas Edison. Many professional athletes nap to improve motor skills, hand eye coordination and reaction speed.

LD:  How about the physical benefits? KH: Lack of sleep, literally causes us to crave high fat, high sugar body fuel. A University of Chicago study showed that subjects who were restricted to 6 hours of sleep per night for four nights increased insulin in the bloodstream that mimicked a pre-diabetic state. Insufficient sleep de-regulates the body’s ability to produce hormones that regulate hunger and breakdown carbohydrates.


LD:  Any advice to help start a napping habit? KH: If you have trouble quieting down your mind, focus on visual imagery. When the mind stops thinking in words, you drop down to the Alpha and Theta levels of brain waves—just one step away from sleep.


LD: Interesting. Can you explain how brain waves play a role in napping? KH: Brain waves represent the kind of electrical activity that is going on in your brain. We have many frequencies going on simultaneously, but the dominant frequency tells us what state of mind you are in. Gamma waves are the fastest and signify the highest state of focus possible. In Beta you are wide-awake primed to do work that requires your full attention. The Alpha state is a pleasurable and relaxed state of consciousness essential to stress reduction and high levels of creativity. Theta is known as the twilight state, which you normally only experience upon waking, or drifting off to sleep. In the Delta state, you are sound asleep. Delta waves are the slowest of all five-brainwave frequencies.


LD: And that’s why your Brain Sync Power Nap program works so well? KH: Exactly. We all have our own unique signature brainwave activity. It has a distinct rhythm and pattern that has developed over time and through habit. Brain Sync programs help listeners develop new patterns. They're downloadable MP3 files that blend meditation techniques with beat frequencies and music to block out external noise, slow down brain activity and wake you up with beta waves so you feel refreshed and alert instead of groggy when your nap is over.


Now you know more about the extreme power of napping!


Much the same way that napping can help to reset our body and mind, the use of yoga, meditation and acupuncture, can be paramount in rebalancing our internal energies. Join Lindsey and Brandy Buchanan at Yogalife Studios Edmonton North for their upcoming Yin Yang Rebalance workshop that combines yoga and acupuncture into one amazing workshop. For more details click here