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Sunday, March 7, 2010

Top Five Yoga Exercises to Help You Sleep Well

By Ntathu Allen

Have you ever arrived home from work feeling stressed, tired or fatigued? When you feel like this it is tempting just to slump down in front of the TV, pop a pizza in the microwave for dinner and pray your children occupy themselves chatting to their friends on Facebook.

In the long-term this behaviour is detrimental to your health and family well-being. Apart from the fact you increase the likelihood of developing stress related illness, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and being overweight, your ability to unwind and have a restful sleep is affected.

Sleep is something your body can't very well do without. During sleep, your body relaxes and vital repair work is carried out.

Lack of sleep leaves you feeling ratty, short tempered and emotionally drained. On a physiological level, your immune system functions below par, which means you are more likely to feel run down, lethargic and pick up bugs quickly.

To counteract these negative effects of stress, you can practice yoga.

The following yoga exercises are ideal to practice at the end of a stressful day. They will help your mind to calm down and release tension and strain from your body. As with all forms of exercise, listen to your body and work at a pace which is comfortable for you.

Top five yoga exercises to help you have a good night's sleep

1. Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)

Lie on your belly with your hands flat on the floor, under your shoulders with your legs straight out behind you and close together. Press your feet and toes firmly down into the floor. Have your forehead resting on the mat. Breathe in and slowly raise your forehead, nose and chest up from the floor, keeping your hands down and pressing your hips into the floor. Hold this pose for 3-5 rounds of deep breaths, then slowly exhale and lower yourself down.

2. Extended Child Pose

Start in a kneeling position, sitting back on your heels. If this feels uncomfortable, lace a folded blanket or pillow between your buttocks and your heels.

Breathe out and slowly lower your body forward until your head touches the floor. If your legs or back are stiff and you find it difficult to place your head on the floor without your hips coming up, make a fist with your hands, place them one on top of each other and rest your forehead on the top fist. If your stomach feels uncomfortable or gets in the way, just spread your feet apart.

Keep your buttocks on your heels. Stretch your arms out in front of you. Each time you breathe out let your chest go closer to your knees. Keep your shoulders relaxed and take your arms back so your hands are close to your feet.

Stay in this position for 10 - 15 rounds of deep breathing. Gently breathe out, slowly kneel up again and be aware of how you feel. Stay still for a few more moments before you get up from this position.

3. Practice Deep Breathing

Lie on your back, close your eyes, focus on your heart centre and take a full deep breath in through your nose. Feel your rib cage expanding and your lungs filling up with fresh rich oxygen then slowly breathe out through your nose. As you breathe out, allow your lungs to empty completely and abdomen to relax. Repeat this calming deep breathing at least 5 - 10 times. You will feel energised, calm and focused.

4. Rag Doll Pose

Simply bend at your waist and flop forward, keep your feet firmly on the ground. Allow your knees to be soft and make sure your head is soft and wobbly. Relax your jaw and allow your arms to swing and flop from side to side. Stay in this position for 1 - 2 minutes.

5. Legs up the Wall Pose 1

Lie on a soft blanket or yoga mat on your right side with your buttocks against a wall. Roll on your back and stretch your legs up the wall. Keep your buttocks against the wall and lie with your back on the floor and your legs elevated against the wall. Keep your legs together. Breathe slowly and deeply and feel your back relaxing and releasing into the floor, whilst gently stretching your heels up the wall, away from your hips. Take 10 - 30 deep steady breaths.

So next time you come home from work, stressed, tired or fatigued, make time to practice at least 2 - 3 of the above easy yoga exercises before you go to bed.

Your mind will feel calmer and your body relaxed and ready for a good night's sleep.