Yoga + Focused Concentration = Less Stress
Stress from work, school, and family can build throughout the day until, when it’s finally time to get some much needed rest, you have trouble closing your eyes. You need a full night’s sleep, that’s a solid seven to eight hours every night, to rejuvenate, energize, and refresh the body for a new day. Yoga and focused concentration both offer ways to help clear your mind, slow your heart rate, and prepare your mind and body for better sleep.
Yoga, especially those forms that use directed breathing, reduce the inflammation brought on by stress. Focusing your mind and body before bed has measurable benefits by reducing the activity of proteins that cause stress-related inflammation. Yoga Asana also helps relieve tension and tightness in muscles.
Focused concentration that centers on mindfulness is another way to help center your mind, putting stressful events and thoughts in the background for better sleep. Mindfulness concentration encourages practitioners to focus on the moment so that thoughts and emotions center in the present rather than dwelling on the past or speculating about the future. This type of concentration helps relieve symptoms of depression, chronic pain, and conditions like high blood pressure.
Yoga for Better Sleep
Yogic and concentration techniques can be performed before getting into bed or after you’ve laid down. When doing poses in bed, your mattress type may prevent you from getting a stretch with the same intensity you are used to on the floor, but that doesn’t reduce the relaxing benefits.
Standing Forward Bend
Stand with the feet hip-width apart, folding from your hips toward the ground. Reach your arms to the ground. You can grab your elbows with your hands and let your arms gently dangle for a better stretch. Slightly bend your knees to relieve any strain. Breathe deeply using your diaphragm.
Seated Spinal Twist
Start by sitting on a mat or your bed with both legs out straight in front of you. Bend your left knee, bringing your left foot over your right leg. Gently hold your left leg with your right hand, and twist your torso so you’re looking over your left shoulder. You can keep your right leg straight or bend it toward your left hip. Take up to eight deep breaths, release, and repeat on the other side.
On your knees, sit with your knees wider than your hips and bring your big toes together. Lengthen your torso between your legs. Extend your arms out in front or rest them beside your legs. Let your forehead drop toward the ground or your bed. Take up to eight long, deep breaths before releasing.
Focused Concentration works well once you’re lying in bed. Start by focusing on your breath. Breathe deeply using your diaphragm and listen to the sound of the air entering and leaving your lungs. Focus your mind on the calming sound of your breath. If it helps, focus on a calming word with each inhale and exhale. As you continue breathing, keep your mind focused by pulling it back to your breathing when it begins to wander. Continue until you feel calm, quiet, and relaxed. You may even drift off to sleep.
Special thanks to TUCK for their contribution of this blog and active work in the study of Mindfullness, Sleep and accessing Dhyana (Meditation).
Tuck Sleep Foundation is a community devoted to improving sleep hygiene, health and wellness through the creation and dissemination of comprehensive, unbiased, free web-based resources. Tuck has been featured on NPR, Lifehacker, Radiolab and is referenced by many colleges/universities and sleep organizations across the web.
Why do you practice Yoga? Is it for fitness, relaxation? Is it because your friends do it? Yoga is not something that we do in order to get something nor is it a fad to be attempted and abandoned when something new comes along. It is a practice for life. If you've been practicing and haven't noticed any changes beyond the physical, perhaps it's time to find a teacher who offers more than postural instruction.
Yoga is an ancient practice and science. What was discovered long ago by the ancient yogis was that there was more to life than what they could see. With each new level of consciousness reached, they sought more, they reached further. Today, may of us begin the practice with the physical (Hatha). To do Yoga we must apply the system of practices in a way that improves us beyond the physical. We must seek that which lies beyond what we can see.
My teacher and I were speaking about the dilution of Yoga that has occurred over the past decade or so. She said to me, "Imagine someone deciding to go to school to be a chef. On the first day, the teacher tells them to get out a knife and cutting board, eat a hot pepper and then go take a nap. This is what is happening in many Yoga classes: the instructor has been told that there are things we do in the practice, but they are not taught why, how or when they should be done."
I couldn't agree more. With few exceptions, every class I have recently attended has included aspects of the practice applied inaccurately or in incorrect sequence. It felt just as my teacher had described: like I'd eaten a hot pepper and tried to go take a nap.
The practice of Yoga is complete; it addresses body, breath, energy, emotion and thought. Through fitness, we find strength and balance in our bodies which moves us beyond our limits; beyond our fears. Pranayama (directed breathing techniques) connect body, energy, emotions and thoughts. Through mindfulness practices we find an inner calm that we can draw upon even in the most stressful of situations. These practices develop individual awareness and connections with others. They help us to discover the bonds between all things in the universe.
In the ancient texts these practices are outlined specifically. They are described and prescribed specifically. The names, techniques as well as time and place are included. To ignore these explanations is to ignore the practice of Yoga.
Ask yourself "why?" Why are we doing this breathing practice? Why are we holding this mudra? Why does this sequence of postures include crow? If you don't know the answers ask your instructor or teacher. If they don't know the answers, then it's time to find someone who does.
Seek more than what you expect, more than what want. Dedicate yourself more fully to the practice and be open to the experiences that arrive on your path. Include the practices of Yoga in your life and your life is bound to change.
Beyond your Body
Most people are now familiar with the word Yoga. The practice of Yoga Asana has become so popular that the word "Yoga" is often used to mean "the poses of Yoga." To truly describe the practice we have to deepen our understanding.
Yoga is the practice of eight limbs: asta anga. The first four are the most well known and accessible: Asana, Pranayama, Yama and Niyama. You can read more about them in another blog. In order to move beyond the physical (anamayakosha), we must practice the eight limbs of Yoga. The final four: withdrawing inward, concentration, meditation and divine consciousness are the paths which move us beyond our mind and body.
Pratyahara is the practice of moving inward. Our skills of asana and pranayama lead us toward a more quiet body and mind thus preparing us to release from the bondage of the physical. When we are no longer distracted by body limitations and the chatter of our thoughts we become able to connect more deeply with our selves.
There are many tools available for helping us to practice pratyahara: mantra, breathing and mudra are all physically and mentally engaging tools that draw our attention inward. The more we do so, the less distracted we are by our surroundings.
Dharana is that one-pointed concentration developed through consistent practice and dedication. When we detach from the physical, we are better able to look within and focus.
We can practice dharana by using techniques including tratak (gazing), pranayama, guided focus practices and spending time in quiet places. The more we practice these techniques, the more easily we can return to them when we need them. They are useful on airplanes, in busy offices, while in traffic, and when the quality of energy around you begins to become overwhelming.
Dhyana is meditation; stillness on every level. Meditation can occur while seated or moving. The key aspect of this practice is that you are one-pointed and still within.
I wish I could tell you exactly what to do to access meditation, but I can't, because you can't. Meditation cannot be done. It happens. It happens as a result of all of the other practices you do. Once it happens, it doesn't go away. You reach a state of liberation and are no longer drawn toward distractions. The only way to access dhyana is through practice of the previous six limbs.
Samadhi is the ultimate state we work to reach. It is similar to dhyana with the exception that you are not effected by emotions, attachments, etc. You are still and peaceful on all levels and move through life in this way at all times.
I like to use the word "integration" to explain samadhi: we become so aware of the interconnection of all things that we no longer percieve separation. Once again, this is something that happens, we can't practice it or make it happen. We just have to stick with our other practices and allow samadhi to occur.
At Lake Tahoe Yoga we integrate the eight limbs into every class. Our intention is to provide you with the tools to practice on your own so that you may access the deeper aspects of Yoga. Join us for group sessions that provide a general overview of how to practice Yoga. Book a Private Session to begin deepening your individual practice. Learn more on our website and blog.