Tag Archive: yoga for sleep

Breathing Exercises to Aid Sleep

A regular brought a friend to this week’s group house practice.  When I asked whether there was anything about her health or practice I should know to enhance her experience in the class, she advised me that she had been having trouble sleeping for the past few months in response to an event in her life.  I did not ask about the event, but offered some of my favorite practices when I am not easily falling asleep:

1.  gentle ujayi breathing with the exhale twice the length of the inhale.  We were sitting up, but this is great to do in vipariti karani (legs up the wall pose).

2.  chandra bhedana (the moon breath).  This is similar to nadi shodana (alternate nostril breathing) except that for every breath, the inhale is through the left (ida or chandra nostril and the exhale through the right (pinga or surya) nostril.

3.  This one I learned from work place yoga teacher Kathy Rowley with whom I took lunch time classes at the Department of Labor for a couple of years.  I am not sure I remember it exactly the way she taught it, but it works:

Start lying on one side.  Take sixteen deep breaths, keeping count of the breaths, with the exhales longer than the inhales.  Quietly roll to your other side and take another sixteen breaths.  Continue switching sides, slowly and without disturbing growing sleepiness, each set of two doubling the number of breaths you take.  After 16 on both sides, then 32 on both sides, then 64, and so on (though so on is unlikely).  Let the breaths get slower and deeper and when you get to the point where it does not seem right to switch sides, then you let yourself sink into deep relaxed sleep.

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Savasana

When I first started teaching, one of the things I found most inspiring was seeing my students in savasana.  It is such a rare and precious things to see a group of people deeply relaxed, especially for someone who came to yoga essentially restless and who inhabits a workplace that is, so to speak, rather caffeinated.  For me, the practice of savasana has been transforming.  After 10 years of steady practice, my sleep has deepened and become more consistently restful, which has enhanced my ability to come from a yogic place off the mat.

Savasana is in some sense for me always the so-called “pinnacle pose” of practice.  The pinnacle pose is not necessarily the most physically challenging pose in terms of combined strength and flexibility, although it is an essential component of the sequencing of any good practice to have the poses gradually open all the parts of the body needed to do the most physically challenging pose.

When thinking about any practice and determining whether a cooling or heating, expanding or inward-going, playful or serious practice would be most appropriate, I ask whether the practice will lead to a place where is will be possible to be completely free and relaxed for 10-15 minutes?  Will the practice enable the body feel open and released, strengthened and supported, integrated and aligned, so that lying on a hard floor will seem like being on the finest bedding?  Will the focus of the practice help simultaneously free the mind of thought and burden and yet keep it focused and alert so that body and mind can surrender to the full, blissful of conscious being in the moment?  Will the practice serve to align the koshas (or sheaths) so that the outer body is soft and relaxed, the energy body full and bright, and the mind and intuitive bodies one with the anandamaya kosha (the bliss body)?

Some teachers have said that savasana is one of the most advanced of yoga poses.  I would agree.

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