Yoga is growing in popularity in many countries. Yoga schools, studios and teachers are abundant in western society and offer many options to the aspiring yogi. Many styles of yoga exist including Asthanga, Vinyasa and Bikram yoga but to name a few. The philosophy and intent of yoga is to promote health, less stress and improvement in sleep.
There are many benefits to practising yoga including:
- Improved flexibility
- Relaxation and calmness
- Ability to focus and I find a sense of grounding in the practice.
In yoga classes the instructor often talks about the benefits of yoga and sleep. In class the focus may be on the third eye, which is linked with the pineal gland. The pineal gland is responsible for the production of a number of hormones including melatonin. Melatonin varies in a circadian cycle (24 hrs.) and allows entrainment of circadian rhythm to the body’s biological system. This is a key component of a persons sleep cycle along with the suprachiasmatic nucleus and natural light exposure.
So can yoga help us sleep better?
Dr Jonathan S. Halpern (2011) discusses the scarcity in research surrounding the claims that yoga benefits sleep. In the summary section of his own research he cites less than a handful of studies relating to this topic including Manjunath & Telles, 2005, Chen et al., 2008 and Chen et al., 2009; Chen et al., 2010.These studies have shown yoga improved some subjective sleep quality and quality of life measures of older people. In Halperns research amongst older participants he did find that yoga as an intervention resulted in improvement in many aspects of quality of life. The improvement was strongly related to practice compliance level. It improved participant’s sleep and enhanced psychological and emotional wellbeing were amongst some of the benefits.
Gregoire, 2013 at the Huffington Post discusses the pace of modern life and the benefits that yoga has on our senses and nervous system. Vyda Bielkus, yoga teacher states;
“The yogic technique of focusing on your breath can be helpful -the exhalation stimulates the nervous system to release, the poses also help us relieve tension from the physical body”.
This may support relaxation prior to bed and promote sleep onset. Bielkus also recommends 10 relaxing poses at home to help you get a good night’s rest. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/30/yoga-for-sleep_n_3505226.html
If undertaking this approach the adherence to sleep hygiene principles and practices should be adhered to. This Huffington Post Info graph may be a helpful reminder.
The legendary Rickson Gracie in the movie “Choke” showed his yoga and breathing skills in preparation for his victorious bouts in Japan. During his Vale Tudo/Mixed Martial Arts career Rickson was unbeaten and remains a legend in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu today.
Jiu jitsu practitioner and the founder of the Jiu Jitsu Brotherhood Nic Gregoriades discusses his relationship with yoga in the Stuart Cooper documentary titled the “Spirit of Jiu Jitsu”. In this video clip you can observe Nic demonstrating his Jiu Jitsu skills and great flexibility on the beach. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mgjJWKV_36o
Nic also promotes the benefits of yoga including better strength, balance flexibility in his article titled “Yoga & Jiu Jitsu: A Natural Symbiosis” www.jiujitsubrotherhood.com/2013/05/yoga-jiu-jitsu-a-natural-symbiosis/
In review of scientific literature, magazines and popular on line sources, there does not appear to be many negative accounts of yoga. Yoga has many benefits and as discussed in this post including relaxation, breathing and focus can only be a positive in promoting sleep when needed.
Dr Jonathon Halpern (2011) YOGA FOR IMPROVING SLEEP QUALITY AND QUALITY OF LIFE OF OLDER ADULTS IN A WESTERN CULTURAL SETTING