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The Sleep-Better Yoga Regimen

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The day is waning, your warm bed beckons…and yet your mind continues to race, making peaceful slumber a far-off dream. What’s the best way to bring on the z’s?

Many Americans opt for a powerful sleeping pill or even a nightcap to help drift off at bedtime. Even though these so-called sleep “aids” may help you doze off, they leave you vulnerable to wee-hour awakenings…or pose dangerous side effects such as dizziness that make you prone to falls.

An under-recognized solution: Yoga is a safe approach that can easily be added to your sleep-hygiene toolbox. Here’s how… 

THE YOGA SOLUTION

Yoga is a perfect sleep inducer because it is designed to quiet the mind—targeting the racing thoughts that can keep us from drifting off. Yoga is also a proven pain-fighter, easing backaches, arthritis and other common sleep saboteurs.

When adults over age 60 who had insomnia took three months of twice-weekly classes incorporating yoga poses, meditation and daily home practice, they reported significant improvements in their sleep, according to a 2014 study in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. 

HOW TO BREATHE RIGHT

When we are drifting off to sleep, the pace of our breathing naturally slows. But when our racing mind keeps us awake, turning our attention to our breath and deliberately slowing and deepening the breath can trigger a cascade of relaxing physiological changes—the heart rate slows, blood pressure decreases, muscles relax, anxiety eases and the mind calms.

Surprisingly, many people do not know the basics of correct deep breathing. What to do: Put yourself in a comfortable position—lying on your back, for example—and place one of your palms on your belly. Relax your abdomen, and invite your breath to completely fill your lungs. You might notice that when you inhale fully this way, your belly rounds and your hand rises. With the exhale, your belly gently drops inward and your hand falls.

To get the most from abdominal breathing: Go a step further by making the exhale a bit longer. This type of breathing sends a clear signal to your central nervous system that everything is fine…just let go.

THE SLEEP-INDUCING POSES

Once you have become comfortable with the relaxed breathing described above, here are some sleep-better yoga poses to do right before bed. For each pose below, start by lying on the floor (on a yoga mat or carpet for comfort) or on your bed with your knees bent and your arms at your sides. If your chin juts up, place a small pillow or folded towel under your head so that your chin is at the same level or slightly lower than your forehead.

• Knees to chest. What to do: Do the relaxed abdominal breathing described above for several minutes.

Once you’re feeling relaxed, bring both knees toward your chest, holding onto your thighs or using a yoga strap (or a bathrobe tie) to catch your thighs and bring them toward your chest. Notice where you feel the sensation of stretch, and use your breath to help relax any tension. On the exhalation, draw your thighs in toward your body…on the inhalation, allow your thighs to drift away from your body. If it’s uncomfortable to hug both legs, hug one leg at a time. Continue for six to 10 cycles of breath—each inhalation and exhalation is one breath cycle.

• Neck release. What to do: Take an easy, full breath in, then as you exhale, rotate your head to the right. Your eyes can be open or closed, whichever feels better.

Inhale as you bring your head back to center, then exhale as you turn your head to the left. Continue for six to 10 breaths, moving with your breath. Next, turn your head as far as it will comfortably go to the right and relax your left shoulder toward the ground. Linger here for three to five easy breaths, then bring your head back to the center and repeat to the left.

• Arms overhead. What to do: With your arms alongside your body and your palms facing down, tune in to your breath. As you inhale, extend your arms up and back so that the backs of your hands move toward the surface behind you. If your hands don’t reach the surface behind you, that’s fine. As you exhale, return your arms to their starting position along your sides. Repeat six to 10 times, moving with your breath—inhale your arms up and over…exhale them back down to your sides. Sleep tight…

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Source: Carol Krucoff, a yoga therapist at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, North Carolina. She is cofounder and codirector of the Yoga for Seniors trainings and network, Yoga4Seniors.com. Ms. Krucoff is also author of several books, including Yoga Sparks: 108 Easy Practices for Stress Relief in a Minute or Less and Healing Yoga for Neck and Shoulder Pain. HealingMoves.com Date: March 1, 2018
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