Catherine Nathan, 68, from Chennai joined my online yoga class last month. She had three issues: insomnia, knee pain and back problems. But her topmost concern was lack of sleep for which she had started taking small doses of Restyl.
Within a month of alternate day group yoga, all three problems are almost gone. She is happiest about being able to sleep better. Earlier she managed just three hours of disturbed sleep. Now, she sleeps around 10 pm, gets up around 2 pm to go to the washroom but then she goes back to sleep and wakes up around 6 am. Her sleep too is sound and much better.
Here are some simple asanas, pranayama, breathing and mantra practice.
1. Shashank asana: Shashank means moon in Sanskrit. Like the moon, it induces calming, cooling and a tranquilising effect. It is also good for anger and anxiety management. It improves the functioning of the central nervous system which ensures better communication between the brain and the various systems and organs of the body, resulting in better health and well being.
· Sit in Vajrasana with the hands comfortably on the thighs. Close your eyes and relax your whole body. This is the base position.
· Inhale deep and raise your arms above your head in a straight line, shoulder width apart.
· As you exhale, bend forward from the hips, keeping hands, head and trunk of your body in a straight line.
· In the final position, the head and palms must be on the floor. If your spine is not flexible enough, then just go down as much as possible. Do not strain or force yourself into the final position. With practice it will happen.
· Remain in the final position for at least five seconds, holding the breath outside. If that is not possible then you can hold the position for five rounds of breathing and breathing out.
· Inhale and raise your hands, head and trunk all together just as you did while bending.
· Come back to the base position and relax.
· This is one round. Begin with three rounds and build it up to five rounds.
Caution: Those with high BP, slip disc, vertigo or upper back problem must not practise this asana.
2. Breath awareness: This is very simple and can be practised by all along with the yoga practice or anytime. Those suffering from chronic insomnia must practise this before sleeping, either sitting or lying down on your back on the bed. It helps create thoughtlessness. It evens the breathing which relaxes the whole body-mind system. It helps shut out the outside world and its problems, worries and chain of never ending thoughts. This helps in inducing sleep.
Practice: Whether sitting or lying down, just close your eyes and bring your awareness to your nostrils and watch each and every inhalation and exhalation. Do not try to manipulate or do deep breathing. Just watching the normal natural flow of breath should be the attempt. It’s not easy because the mind wanders off to other things. Then one has to keep getting it back to just observing the flow of each and every inhalation and exhalation.
3. Shambhavi Mudra: This directly impacts the pineal gland which releases melatonin hormone responsible for inducing sleep. The chanting cleans up the sub-conscious and unconscious thus resolving deep, hidden conflicts, fears. A combination of these two powerfully impacts your sleep and wake cycle. Anyone can practise this.
· Sit comfortably crossed legged, on a chair or a bed. If you have back problems, you can rest your back against the bedpost or the wall.
· Close your eyes and relax your whole body.
· Practise breath awareness for 5-6 rounds of inhalation and exhalation.
· Take a deep inhalation and as you exhale internally, mentally chant Om…A-O-M
· Then internally hitch your awareness on the eye-brow centre behind which is located the pineal gland thus activating it.
· You can chant Om 11 or 28 times.
4. Bhramari pranayama: This is again an excellent simple practice for relaxing the mind. It can be practised before sleeping. It directly impacts the brain and releases stress, cerebral tension and controls anger, anxiety all which directly impacts insomnia. It also impacts the healing capacity of the body.
· Sit in any comfortable position.
· Plug your ears with your finger.
· Take a deep inhalation and as your exhalation say an Om but with a short first and second syllable, that is A and O, then prolong the last syllable M as long as possible, creating a humming sound inside your head as you keep exhaling.
· This is one round. Do five to ten rounds.