In today’s stimulus-laden, hyper-busy and stressed out world, many of us spend each day operating from our sympathetic nervous system to keep pace.
Otherwise known as our ‘fight or flight’ mode, sympathetic activation is the brain’s response to a perceived threat and as a result our heart rate, blood pressure and hormonal levels rise.
Spending too much time in this hyperactive state without rest and recovery can trigger a range of negative symptoms, including stress, anxiety and the inability to fall asleep.
A combination of restorative yoga poses and deep breathing can help. When we calm our minds and release physical tension, we tune into our parasympathetic nervous system – our ‘rest and digest’ state – which supports the regular functioning of our bodies and works to heal the adverse effects we experience from busyness.
We all know the importance of a restful night’s sleep. Countless studies have shown that a lack of sleep can result in difficulties making decisions, controlling emotions and behaviour, and coping with change. It has also been linked to depression, suicide and risk taking.
Further to this, sleep plays a critical role in maintaining our physical health, with deficiencies leading to disease, high blood pressure, obesity, higher blood sugar levels and a lower immune system.
Five poses to slow down and help you sleep:
1. Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
This pose is a great release for tension in the hamstrings, calves, hips and back muscles. The inversion will help calm your mind, improve digestion and stimulate your liver and kidneys.
2. Cat Cow
Synchronising breath with movement fosters intentional focus. This pose can increase emotional balance and stability of the mind. The lengthening of the spine also improves circulation to the discs between the vertebrae, which relieves stress from the back.
3. Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Replicating the fetal position, Balasana gently stretches the hips, thighs and ankles and releases tension in the back, shoulders and chest. It lengthens and stretches the spine, and works to calm the mind as it normalises circulation throughout the body. Balasana is known to alleviate stress and anxiety, and is recommended if you’re experiencing fatigue.
4. Supported Bridge
Lying with your head below your heart automatically calms the nervous system. In this pose, placing gentle pressure on your sacrum and releasing the weight of your front body onto a block activates the rest and digest response.
5. Reclined Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)
This pose can help you achieve a deep state of rest through increasing blood circulation to the lower abdomen, stretching the inner thighs and calming the nervous system. To create a gentle chest opening and support your muscles even more, you can lie with a bolster lengthwise underneath your back and head, and prop up your knees and arms with blocks.