Guest Post by:
When I provide coaching to my clients on reaching their fitness goals, or recommendations for avoiding pelvic floor concerns like leaking, prolapse, and back pain, I constantly find myself coming back to an often overlooked component of healthy living… sleep.
More often than not sleep is one of the most underestimated ingredients in our health and wellness journeys. When we don't get enough sleep it can have a direct effect on a multitude of things from our mental state to our metabolism. We deprive ourselves of that much-needed respite necessary to grow both mentally and physically.
Now we've all been there, lying in bed, sleep eluding us, counting the proverbial sheep. It can be really frustrating, but I have a little secret for you. In addition to having the right mattress, a little bit of yoga can go a long way to helping you get some Zzz's.
Believe me, this isn’t some mystical "woo-woo", there have been a number of studies that show yoga can help you get a better night’s sleep. Now, not all yoga poses were created equally and some really weren't designed to be executed atop a comfy pillow-top. Despite that, rest assured, you won't need to contort yourself into a pretzel or do 108 Sun Salutations in search of a better night’s sleep.
So let’s cut to the chase and get to the reason you've read this far.
This classic yoga pose not only stretches the back of the body (including spine, hips, thighs and ankles), but when coupled with deep breathing it can help calm the mind. Applying gentle pressure to your forehead (such as when your forehead is resting on your mattress or backs of the hands) stimulates the vagus nerve, which activates your parasympathetic nervous system. In English, you’ll slow down your body’s stress response (fight or flight) and slide right into the rest and digest cycle.
How to: From a kneeling position, take your knees wide and bring your toes toward each other. Lower your torso between your knees and extend your arms overhead. Relax your shoulders and allow your forehead to come down to your mattress.
This pose is great for relaxing your pelvic floor. Tension in the pelvic floor can happen when we’re stressed, and in turn can lead to many pelvic floor concerns like back pain, leaking and more. #shamelessplug
How to: Sit with the soles of your feet together and knees wide. You can prop your pillows under the knees for more comfort. Option: bring your nose towards your feet - though your nose certainly doesn’t need to touch your feet.
Leg’s Up the Wall
On top of improving sleep, leg’s up the wall has a number of other benefits like:
- Improving circulation
- Balancing blood pressure
- Relieving headaches and neck tension
- Alleviating backaches
- Easing your tired and achy legs
- Stretching the back of the body
- Relieving leg and foot cramps
- … and more
How to: Bring your bum as close to the wall as possible from a side-lying position. Roll onto your back, and place your legs on the wall. You can have your legs together or apart - whatever suits your needs on this particular evening. Place your arms in a comfortable position - I like reaching my arms out to the side, with my palms facing the sky. Typically the more space in the back of your armpits, the more comfortable and relaxed you’ll feel. You can also place a pillow under your pelvis - it’s just a bit more comfy for some.
Spinal twists stretch a number of muscles in the body, but also improves mobility of the spine, alleviating back and neck pain, and relieving stress. Many yogis also say it helps to detox the body, though there haven’t been studies to prove this… yet.
How to: Laying on your back, draw your knees toward your chest, and allow both knees to go toward the right and come down toward your mattress - you can use your pillows (again). Prop one under your knees to bring the mattress closer to them, and the another between your knees. Arms wide, and option to look down the length of your left arm.
(preferably seated or laying in your favourite sleep position)
This wouldn’t be a great article about yoga and sleep if we didn’t talk about breathing.
You may have seen those GIFs that time your breath usually captioned with things like “the out-breath is twice as long as the in-breath”. In theory, this is great, but when we’re stressed or find ourselves unable to get to sleep, our breath tends to be very shallow. And when we force our exhale to be twice as long as the inhale more often than not we end up out-of-breath, frustrated, more stressed, and more sleep deprived. So let’s change the approach.
How to: Count the length of the inhale, compared to the exhale, and no matter how long your exhale is, extend it by one extra second. That’s it. Keep doing that one extra second, until it feels secondnature (see what I did there), then you can add an additional second. While you might not get that twice as long place - the in breath activates our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight), the out breath activates the parasympathetic nervous system (rest + digest). While we can’t just stop breathing in, what we can do is spend more time with the out-breath to help ease you into that restful state.
Now that you’ve got the yoga poses, you’re asking yourself, “But Dominique, how long should I hold these poses ?” I could tell you to hold each one for 4-6 breaths (pretty standard in the yoga world) - but this is where your own discernment comes in. Ask yourself - what experience am I having in this pose? Do I want to hold it longer? Am I antsy to get out of it? YOU GET TO MAKE THAT CHOICE. And I hope you do.
Give these poses a try if you’re having trouble getting to sleep and counting sheep just isn’t cutting it. With some luck, you may just experience deeper and longer periods of sleep, and practicing these poses as you’re winding down for the night could be exactly what you need to start enjoying the full comfort of your mattress.
Be curious and sleep tight, my friend.
Dominique Gauthier is a wife, mama and the founder of Body Mind Fitness. As a Personal Trainer and Yoga Teacher, she empowers women to build and reclaim their strength and confidence by lifting heavy, easing their back pain and ditching the pad for leak free movement both locally at her studio in London, ON and internationally