By: Eric Shaw, Yoga Teacher & Lecturer
A few days ago, one of my yoga students asked me how she could improve her sleep. I get this all the time. Lots of folks are dogged by difficult sleep patterns—and yogis are no exception.
But I think if he’d reflected a minute, sleep would have jumped in front of food. We can abstain from food longer, and a deluge of new research tells us proper sleep is key to avoiding many of our health problems. (An accomplished yogi that Krishnamacharya was, he probably slept well. He may not have thought of sleep as a big problem!)
Getting good rest, like doing yoga, eating right, and cardiovascular exercise, isn’t rocket science. We all know the right path. Choosing it is the chief challenge!
If you want to sleep well, here’s the good news and bad news: you just gotta change your lifestyle. Yoga and the Indian medical science of Ayurveda give straightforward advice on how to support sleep patterns, and the greater your sleep challenge, the more of these habits you’ll want to pile together.
In Indian myth, the sustainer god, Vishnu, brought forth the universe from his slumber. (Of course, he slept on the cosmic ocean—before all time and space boomed forth!) The myth suggests that effort, creativity and focus come from yielding to the deepest sleep.
Sleep gives us the peace of mind from which inspiration springs. It accelerates our reinvention of the world in which we live. Sleep and meditation both strengthen our nervous system. Ayurveda gets specific, telling us these activities produce a specific substance that stabilizes the nerves. It’s called ojas. Steady nerves and strong ojas are a prerequisite for effective mental and physical activity.
I suggest the following ways… almost 20… to cultivate the good rest we all crave. If you practice them, you will expand your health, stamina and inspiration.
For maximum effectiveness, use as many of these strategies as often as you can.
- Take a warm bath before bedtime.
- Go to bed before 10:20. Most people’s “wake” biorthythm resets after this time.
- Don’t drink coffee or other stimulants—especially late in the day.
- Do a forward bend before bedtime.
- Do a shoulderstand before bedtime–if your body handles this well.
- Drink warm cow’s milk or a vegetable-based milk before bedtime.
- Go to bed at the same hour every night.
- Move by degrees toward sleep, doing more and more relaxed, low-energy activities as your bedtime nears.
- Put uncooked sesame oil on your feet and/or head before going to bed (this is VERY powerful).
- Do Savasana or Yoga Nidra as you lay in bed before sleeping. Relax the body intentionally. Slow and regularize your breath.
- Do something strenuous and purposeful during the day. Do what you know you must do. Do what you love. Resolve unsettled issues with the people in your life—living or dead. Neurosis, unfulfilled potential and regret make the mind spin and keep you from good sleep.
- Drink chamomile tea before bedtime.
- Exercise at some point during the day.
- Do self-massage before going to bed.
- Take a calm walk before going to bed.
- As you sit in bed, review your day and say thanks for all of it. Accept and bless everything that happened in your life that day—all that is bad and all of that is good.
- Think of something that gives you pleasure as you fall toward sleep.
- Repeat a mantra.
- Play white noise, a guided sleep meditation, or binaural beats as you go toward sleep. Ex.: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WTIzIunvvDo
Do as many as these strategies as possible. Allow them time to work and trust they will be successful. Your simple intention to get a good night’s sleep and the fact that you are doing something (anything!) about it will be 50% of your success.
Go after what you want. The “placebo” is real!
Eric Shaw, E-RYT 500, YACEP, has been studying and practicing the Eastern traditions for over 30 years, earning 4 graduate degrees along the way—in Art, Education, Religious Studies, and Asian Studies. He is a deep student of both Western and Eastern cultures—their art, philosophy, history, and science. His work has been offered at major universities, conferences and yoga studios worldwide, as well as in the teacher trainings of the world’s most prominent teachers. His articles have appeared in Yoga Journal, Mantra Yoga, Yoga International and other popular platforms. Please see: prasanayoga.com.