Monthly Archives: December 2016

5 Relaxing Yoga Exercises for a Good Night Sleep

Sleep is the golden chain that binds health and our bodies together – Thomas Dekker

Sleep is the best meditation – Dalai Lama

How yoga can help you unwind?

A very common cause of sleeping disorders is stress. Stress prevents the body and the mind from relaxing and keeps thousands of people awake at night. And this is where yoga can make the difference. A gentle, restorative yoga practice can help to calm down the mind and to release physical tension. This type of yoga practice activates the parasympathetic nervous system or the bodies “rest-and-digest” system, which helps to counteract physical and mental stress.

Below you can find five yoga poses to help relieve tension in the body and the mind. Ideally they are practiced one hour to 30 minutes before going to sleep, or you can even do them in bed. They are easy poses to be held three to five minutes for maximum effect.

 

  1. Savasana – Corpse Pose

1-savasana-corpse-pose

Savasana or Corpse Pose is a very beneficial pose to calm down the mind and to relieve stress. It is commonly the starting and ending pose of any yoga practice.

  • Lie down on your back
  • Feet are mat width apart, toes dropping out
  • Arms are relaxed by your side, palms facing up
  • Shoulders are away from the ears, relaxing on the mat
  • Back of the neck is long, chin slightly tucked in

People with lower back pain might like to place a cushion under their knees to relieve tension in the lower back. If you feel tension in the neck you can also place a blanket or a low cushion under the head to keep the back of the neck long. As you lie in this pose, bring your focus to your breath, observing each inhalation and exhalation. Feel the expansion of your belly as you inhale and observe your belly relax as you exhale.

 

  1. Anuloma Viloma – Alternate Nostril Breathing2-anuloma-viloma-alt-ernate-nostril-breathing

Anulom Vilom or Alternate Nostril Breathing is an excellent breathing exercise to balance the right and left side of the brain and to calm down your thoughts.

  • Sit in a comfortable position
  • Place your left hand in Chin Mudra (tip of the thumb and index finger touching)
  • Place  your right hand in Vishnu Mudra (bending the index and middle finger)
  • Place your right thumb on your right nostril and breathe in through your left nostril for four counts
  • Close both nostrils using your right thumb and your right ring finger and little finger and hold your breath for eight counts
  • Release your thumb and breathe out through your right nostril for eight counts
  • Breathe in again through your right nostril for four counts
  • Close both nostrils using your right thumb and your right ring finger and little finger and hold your breath for eight counts
  • Breathe out through your left nostril for eight counts

This is one round. Continue this breathing exercise for five minutes. Once you feel comfortable with this ratio, you can hold your breath for 16 counts. While practicing Anulom Vilom, keep your focus on your breath, following each movement of your breath. This breathing exercise activates the parasympathetic nervous system, slows down the breath and the heart beat. Because you breathe in and out separately through each nostril for the same count, both hemispheres receive an equal amount of oxygen. The hemispheres are balanced and the mind is calmed down.

 

  1. Shashankasana – Child’s Pose

3-shashankasana-childs-pose

The following pose in this sequence for a good night sleep is Child’s Pose or Shashankasana (also called Balasana).

  • Sit on your knees in Diamond Pose, back straight
  • Keep your hips on your ankles and bend forward until your forehead touches the floor
  • Arms are relaxed by your side, palms of the hands facing up

When you are in this pose the hips should be resting on your heels and the head should be resting on the floor. If this is difficult you can make two fists and place your forehead on your fists or place your forehead on a cushion. If required you can also open the knees apart or place a cushion in between your hips and heels. Make sure you feel comfortable. With each exhalation let go of any tension in your body.

 

  1. Supta Baddhakonasana – Lying Butterfly Pose

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Baddhakon asana is a very good yoga pose to increase hip flexibility. It is said that emotions such as tension, stress, anger, etc. are stored in the pelvis. By working on hip flexibility, the tensions in the hip joint and as a consequence also emotional tensions are relieved.

  • Place the souls of your feet together and let your knees drop out
  • Gently lean back and lie down on your back, keeping the souls of your feet together
  • Arms are relaxed by your side, palms facing up

If you can’t lie down completely on your back, you can use a bolster and lie on the bolster. Make sure your head and back are properly supported. If you feel tension in your knees you can place a cushion under your thighs to reduce the tension in the knees. Once you are comfortably in the pose, bring your focus to your pelvis. Use each exhalation to release the tension in your hip joints, and try to relax completely.

 

  1. Legs-up-the-wall pose

5-legs-up-the-wall-pose

The legs-up-the-wall pose is a very gentle inversion which improves blood circulation in your lower limbs. It is a very relaxing pose after a long day of standing on your feet.

  • Lie down on your back, hips touching the wall
  • Place your legs straight against the wall so your legs and upper body form a 90 degree angle
  • You can keep your legs together or open your legs wide for an extra stretch of the inner thighs
  • You can place your hands on your belly or relax your arms by your side, palms facing up

 

Tips and tricks for optimal sleep

Sleeping disorders can also be caused by improper sleeping habits or routines before sleeping. The activities you do prior to going to bed as well as the environment have a very big effect on your sleeping pattern. Therefore it is advisable to develop a regular, relaxing bedtime routine. This informs your body that it is almost bed time and gives it the chance to prepare. Here are some do’s and don’ts which might help you for a good night sleep:

  • Avoid watching TV or using the computer right before going to bed
  • Avoid coffee, chocolate or any other stimulating substance in the evening
  • Keep negative emotions such as worry and stress outside the bedroom
  • Avoid taking naps during the day
  • Avoid heavy workouts close to your bedtime
  • Take out 7-9 hours of sleeping time
  • Make your bedroom a cool, dark and quiet space
  • Use your bedroom for sleeping and relaxing only
  • Keep a notebook nearby to write down ideas and reminders for the next day

Developing a bedtime routine is very important to help you deal with insomnia for many reasons. It helps to calm the mind before bed, and it helps to condition your body and your mind in realizing that it is almost time to go to sleep. The yoga sequence in this article is a very gentle sequence suited for people of all ages and of all practice levels. You can play some relaxing background music and if you like you can also use some essential oils such as lavender to stimulate a relaxing and calming atmosphere. While practicing these yoga poses, avoid getting distracted with thoughts by bringing your focus to your breath, using each exhalation to release any tension.

Enjoy the relaxing yoga poses and… Sweet dreams!

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Yogi Ram, a renowned Yoga and philosophy teacher from India. He is the founding director of the Arhanta Yoga Ashrams in India and The Netherlands.

 

5 Best Yoga Poses for Runners

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Although running and yoga may seem like activities that are on opposite ends of thspectrum, they really are complementary activities that work together beautifully. Running is an excellent way to exercise your whole body aerobically at a high level of intensity. The main benefit of running includes gaining muscular strength, better cardiovascular health, and losing weight. It can also be quite meditative.

However, running can be stressful on muscles, joints, and ligaments. It’s estimated that after every mile, your feet will hit the ground around 1,000 times. This means if you run about 20 miles every week, each foot will hit the ground approximately 20,000 times.

This repetitive impact may affect your hips and legs, which can lead to stiffness and sometimes even pain. For you to get rid of these stressful effects of running, practicing yoga before and after you run will help you to stay flexible, limber, and less prone to injury.

Additionally, if you are looking for a way to not get tired when running, these five yoga poses will definitely help and improve your running.

  1. Butterfly1

This yoga pose helps in adding flexibility to your groin and hips by opening up your inner thighs. Lean forward a little and the activity also aids in stretching the back. Here’s how to do it:

  • Sit tall on a mat and make sure that the soles of your feet are together, from here interlace your fingers and keep them on your toes when still sitting tall.
  • Next, turn your shoulders back and try to look at a point past the end of your nose tip.
  • Lean forward until you can feel the stretch.
  • While breathing in, imagine that your head is moving towards the wall in front of you and then breathe out, allowing your body to sink close to the floor.
  • For the best results, ensure you hold this position for about thirty seconds.
  1. Thread the Needle2

If you need a yoga move to stretch the outside of your hips and the inner thighs, then this is it. Do the following:

  • Lie flat on your back on a mat and bring your knee towards your chest at a ninety-degree angle.
  • Position your right ankle on your left thigh and then interlock your fingers while keeping them at the back of your thighs.
  • Try to pull your left thigh towards your chest and hold in this position for about thirty seconds.
  • Allow yourself to relax when you feel the tension building and repeat the pose on the other side.
  1. Bridge3

This move will help in opening your shoulders and front of the body as well as strengthen the core. It’s a great activity to counteract the effects of running since the longer we run, the more we tend to hunch forward. Follow these steps:

  • Lie on your back and place your feet flat on the ground, hip-width apart.
  • Lift your hips up towards the ceiling while engaging the core.
  • Clasp your hands together underneath your pelvis and roll the shoulders blades towards each other.
  1. Seated Spinal Twist4

This pose not only helps to loosen the spine but also ease stiff shoulders and neck after a long run. Here’s what to do:

  • Cross one leg over the other while keeping your knees pointed to the ceiling with the sole of your feet on the ground.
  • Try to reach your opposite hand across your body while pushing it against the outside of the thigh and downwards to your knee to make the twist deep.
  1. Low Lunge5
  • From standing pose lunge the right leg forward until the back left knee touches the ground.
  • Raise the arms above the head and hold for 30 seconds.

These five poses are an excellent way to end any running session. They work the front and back of the legs, strengthen the core, and open the hips. Do them regularly and you should stay a happy and healthy runner.

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Emily Carter, founder of GoAheadRunner, where she and her team blog about everything a runner needs, whether you are a seasoned pro or an absolute beginner. The blog provides information on training, running gear, supplements and much more. Follow Emily on Twitter.