By Polly Wilson
Does your mind race with incessant thoughts at 4 in the morning until you start to feel like you are going bat-sh*t crazy? Join the (very frazzled) club! According to sleephealthfoundation.org.au, around 1 in 3 Australians suffer from at least a mild form of insomnia.
For many, this relates to chronic worry, anxiety, or stress. For some, demands of work and busy life makes it feel almost impossible to switch off come evening time. For others, it could be a low level anxiety that is always bubbling away under the surface that the body and mind have forgotten how to relax and let go.
Many of us are in a constant state of fight-or-flight. Our poor adrenals. Ouch.
This has been my personal journey with Yoga. 12 years ago, I didn’t even feel relaxed in Savasana! My first few classes I snuck out before I was forced into stillness (and I know from teaching now I am not alone with this experience) Wow the difference in me now though - Savasana is without a doubt my favourite pose.
You guys, this Yoga thing really works.. I think it might catch on! ;)
The therapeutic sequence below is my go to if I need to wind down before bed and meditation, or if I just can’t get to sleep (I’ll hop out of bed and practice in my PJ’s!). It helps to soothe my nervous system, slow down my breath and thoughts, and brings me back to ‘self’.
Left Nostril Breath
You might be familiar with Nadi Shodana or alternate nostril breathing which is often practiced in a Hatha Yoga class. We naturally alternate breathing dominantly through one nostril and then the other periodically throughout the day. The issue is, when we are constantly on the go in body or mind, we stay right nostril dominant which keeps us in the sympathetic nervous system. So, by only breathing in and out through the left nostril, we help to reactivate the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest response)
Start in Sukhasana or a comfortable seated position of your choice (you can even use the wall to support your back), take a moment to consciously scan your body and relax any parts that feel like you are holding, shoulders, jaw, hips.
- Take your right hand to your nose, close off the right nostril with your thumb and breathe slowly (but not forced) in and out of the left nostril. I like to give the mind an extra layer to focus on by using the mantra So Ham. Hear the sound So on the inhale and Ham on the exhale.
Practice for 5 - 10 minutes, allowing yourself time with eyes closed after the practice by breathing through both nostrils with natural breath.
Seated Bidalasna (Cat/Cow)
Stress and over-thinking can create tension in the upper back and neck. This seated version of cat/cow pose helps to relieve tension along the spine including the neck. The rhythmic motion linking the breath with slow movement can also help to soothe.
-From Sukhasana with each inhale tilt the pelvis forward as the spine arches, with each exhale, rock back onto the tailbone and round the spine as you bring your chin to your chest.
Repeat for ten or so breaths linking the breath with the movement (you may even choose to use the So Ham mantra)
You can either take this pose seated as I am in the photo, or take Supta Buddha Konasana lying on your back or lying over a bolster.
For the seated version:
- Bring the soles of the feet together and take a moment to feel the sit bones and hips weighted on the floor. Either stay upright or hinge forward from the hip crease until you simply feel the first point of resistance.
- This pose can be more restorative by folding over a bolster, and you could also place pillows or even yoga blocks under the knees for extra support.
At least ten breaths. Count your breathe or use the mantra for that extra layer for the mind to focus on. When the mind wanders of just come back to the breath without stressing about it :)
This version is less about lengthening the hamstrings and more about the therapeutic benefits of calming and soothing the nervous system as you turn inwards.
- Hinge from the hip crease as you fold forward with length in the front and back body.
- You can have your legs straight out in front of you, or you may like to bend your knees a little (like I’m doing in the photo) and place a rolled up blanket or pillow for support so you can really allow the inward turning.
At least 10 breaths. Try and avoiding pushing here, this isn’t the time to find your ‘edge’ in the pose.
Long known as one of the most beneficial restorative poses to activate our parasympathetic nervous system.
- Slide in towards the wall with one hip and gently swing around so your legs are supported by the wall. If you don’t have a clear wall, you can use a bolster to elevate your hips.
- Allow your arms to rest wherever is comfy on your belly, or beside the body.
Take as long as you like in this pose (you may even drift off here), if the hamstrings start to talk to you, just bend the knees a little. You may like a gentle twist or to hug your knees into your chest before...
Climbing into your bed for Savasana
If your mind still feels a little busy you may like to try either a guided meditation or Yoga Nidra recording on your phone and play it through your headphones. Check out
http://www.yoganidranetwork.org/downloads for free Nidra downloads.
Finally, Be kind to yourself, practice self compassion and acceptance in the moment. Allow. Be.
And if all else fails there’s always netflix? (just kidding!)
The Yoga Social Team