Over the past 20 years, the practice of yoga has become firmly established in the mainstream. So much so that (unfortunately) it’s often about proving flexibility through fancy poses, or showcasing trendy yoga gear, or bragging about the latest ashram that led someone to enlightenment (for a very reasonable fee!)
There’s no doubt about it; yoga has become a pretty commercialised activity. And because of that, those who are new to the practice may not realise its true advantages. Luckily for you, I’m happy to share them with you now!
- What are the Benefits of Yoga for Body and MindHere’s the deal.
Aside from toning muscles to build strength and improving flexibility – which are simply added bonuses – yoga comes with a tonne of health benefits…benefits that are so much more than skin deep.
Yoga calms down a frazzled, stressed-out mind, for one. It strengthens the immune system and prevents you catching just about every bug going around, for another. It aids digestion, improves blood circulation and even helps you to get a better sleep!
This last one’s a biggie. Because getting enough, good-quality sleep on a regular basis is pretty damn important for our overall health and wellbeing. In fact, yoga impacts every aspect of our lives – our relationships, our work and our very happiness depend on it.
Without sufficient sleep, we become more irritable, less productive, more likely to get sick and just a little worse at everything we attempt to do. That is, if we’ve got the energy to attempt anything in the first place.
Sometimes the problem lies with the person sleeping beside us (snores that could lift the roof, anyone?!) Or sometimes it’s what we’re sleeping on. But too often we’ve no idea what keeps us up at night…and we don’t know how to put the problem to bed, so to speak.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, give yoga a go. Here’s how it can help:
1. Yoga tackles insomnia
Night after night, watching those digits click towards dawn on your alarm clock. Trying the usual tricks to relax your body and mind; drinking warm milk, counting sheep, soaking your pillow in lavender and still…nothing.
Sound familiar? By practising yoga on a daily basis, insomnia sufferers soon find themselves sleeping for longer, falling asleep faster, and getting back to sleep quicker if they happen to wake up in the middle of the night. Sounds like a reason to get your down dog on to me!
2. Yoga calms down the body and mind
Of course, this depends on what kind of yoga you’re into. Ashtanga lovers will know that it’s a more fast-paced workout that leaves you feeling pumped and on an energy high; amazing for the morning but not so great if you want to settle down soon afterwards.
But doing something like a restorative hatha or a yin yoga class can gently stretch out your body (in the right way) for night-time; easing away the day’s aches and pains from your tense back, neck and shoulders. And because the mind is focused on something other than the events of the day or the worries of tomorrow, it will start to become calmer as a result.
You don’t need to dedicate a full hour or even half an hour to a yoga practice before bed. If you’re pressed for time, stick to one or two postures and allow five minutes in each. One of my favourites is lying on the ground with my legs up against a wall (so my body forms an ‘L’ shape).
After a few minutes I bring the soles of my feet together towards my pelvis and let my knees fall out to either side (in ‘lying down supported butterfly’). As well as being amazing for blood circulation, this is a wonderful way of calming down your mind and encouraging a lovely sleepy feeling to wash its way over you.
3. Yoga includes mindful meditation
At least, it should. Because rather than flying through the postures in a tense, distracted fashion, yoga should be about focusing on the breath and tuning into your body.
In fact, the term ‘yoga’ actually derives from the word ‘yoke’ – and means the joining together of mind and body.
By taking time out to move your body in a mindful, slow and aware manner, yoga becomes a moving meditation. And meditation in any form comes with a heap of health benefits of its own; one of the major ones being improved sleep. Yay!
4. It can be an integral part of your evening routine
Sometimes poor sleeping habits can be the reason behind our poor sleep. We constantly change our bedtime, we scroll through social media or respond to emails in bed and we rarely give enough notice to ourselves that sleepytime isn’t far away.
If fairness, can you really expect to go from watching guns blaze in the latest crime drama one minute to falling into peaceful slumber the next?!
Sleep is a tricksy mistress; you need to play nice, pay her some attention and she’ll turn up when you need her to.
Turning off those electronic devices about an hour before bedtime is a great start. Your mind will be less stimulated and more willing to relax. Next, enjoy a slow, conscious yoga practice – however long you choose to do it – in a room that’s dimly lit, with candles or incense if you have them to enhance the calming atmosphere.
Continue this “you time” with a long soak in the tub and avoid the temptation to watch a movie in bed by reading your book instead. (Bring that warm milk with you if you want!) Do this every night at the same time and the combination of repetition, yoga and a relaxing environment will ease you into dreamland sooner.
So if you’re new to yoga, don’t worry – it’s accepted, even encouraged to start very slowly. Incorporate a gentle daily routine into your life (even 15 minutes can make all the difference) and watch those sleepless nights become a thing of the past.
May you have sweeter dreams, tonight and every night. Namaste.
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