Yoga to Rebalance Your Sleep & Wake Cycles

 
 Our head teacher, Alyssa, practicing Salamba Sirsasana in front of some cacti.

Our head teacher, Alyssa, practicing Salamba Sirsasana in front of some cacti.

 

Uttana Shishosana - Extended Puppy pose

This pose helps to lift tension and tightness by utilising a gentle backbend and opening the shoulders. It is also considered as an inversion, allowing oxygenated blood to circulate freely to the heart. The pineal gland receives a gentle massage due to the pressure on the head. This gland is known to produce and regulate melatonin and serotonin. Melatonin is responsible for regulating the sleep/wake cycle. Serotonin controls your mood and sleep.

 

Salamba Sirsasana - Supported Headstand

‘Ancient yogis believed that your pineal gland secreted a fluid called "amrita," which was thought to be the fluid of immortality. Keeping your body in a continuously upright position was thought to cause this fluid to drip down into your solar plexus, where it would evaporate. The yogis thought that you could retain some of this fluid by practicing inversions, since these poses would cause the fluid to drip back down into your head’.

In this pose, the head is lower than the heart which is promoting blood circulation to the head and therefore the pineal gland is stimulated. Since the pineal gland produces melatonin and serotonin - to regulate sleep - then this pose can effectively help to rebalance the sleep/wake cycle.

Inversions, such as Salamba Sirsasana, are said to encourage the process of haemodynamics - blood flowing to the organs - and draining of the lymphatic system. The combination of fresh, oxygenated blood circulating and the facilitation of toxin removal means the body is able to function optimally and rest once the job is done.

 

Urdhva Dhanurasana - Upward Bow pose

This asana provides a deep backbend component, therefore stimulating all the plexuses along the spinal cord. It is a very energising posture that stimulates the adrenal glands, pancreas and the Sympathetic Nervous System, allowing the body to be alert, active and prepared. It is all well and good to recommend relaxing, forward bending postures for a student who cannot sleep, but we need to be mindful that energising postures also have their place in the sleep/wake cycle. If the body is exercised then it is more effective in maintaining and metabolising energy throughout the day and achieving a restful sleep at night (as long as the energising postures are not performed too close to bedtime).

 

Padangusthasana - Standing Forward Bend

This forward bend gives the body a chance to release tension and tightness by accessing the Parasympathetic Nervous System. The liver and kidneys are toned with a nice massage. The PSNS is responsible for the rest and digest response and as a result the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, have ceased firing into the bloodstream. Reducing stress hormones in the body assists the pineal gland to decalcify and function more optimally. Heart rate and respiration have slowed down, the body is repairing and preparing for rest.

 

Viparita Karani - Legs Up the Wall pose

With your legs up the wall, you are draining stale blood and toxins from the legs that have been building up throughout the day. There is increased blood flow to the head, where the pineal gland is located and stimulated as a result. This posture requires no real physical exertion as the wall and floor are fully supporting you. This means you have the capacity to enter deep relaxation and the PSNS is functioning. All of these factors combined allow the regulation of melatonin and serotonin by the pineal gland in preparation for sleep.

 

By Alyssa McLeod

 

References

Ernesto Cardneas, YBC, Inc in Houston, Texas. 2016. Effects of Yoga Postures on the Glands - Your Body Center. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.yourbodycenter.com/Glands.htm

Lynn Jensen. 2016. Everything you need to know: Yoga for Healthy Hormones. [ONLINE] Available at:http://seattleyoganews.com/yoga-for-healthy-hormones/

Healthy Living. 2010. Yoga and the Pineal. [ONLINE] Available at:http://healthyliving.azcentral.com/yoga-pineal-8020.html

Yoga Journal. 2016. A Yogi's Guide to Winter Wellness. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.yogajournal.com/article/lifestyle/a-yogi-s-guide-to-winter-wellness/