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.
In the story of the Bhagavad Gita the main character, Arjuna, faces his family and friends upon a battlefield. The reason for the battle is ignorance; they are blind of the Truth.
Humans are often limited in their ability to view the world truthfully. We are limited in our capacity to see things without the shade of our own perspective. Everything we experience is based upon our past experiences, expectations and desires. We struggle to shift our perspectives and to accept other viewpoints.
We practice yoga in order to shift the dynamic; to invert our perspectives. Every movement, breath and focused practice gives us new tools for seeing the Truth.
We live our lives on shifting battlefields. We may be fighting for our job, our family, our beliefs, our morals. Every day we choose the battles to fight and the ones from which we must walk away. Every day the world is changing around us. Even the Earth is shifting at every moment and through every season.
Look around you. Things are never the same as they were. Every snowflake and raindrop causes change. The sun, the wind, rivers and lakes mold the Earth around you. What is molding you?
When you head out onto your battlefields you can choose what to bring. Do you carry with you anger, aggression and violence? Do you approach each battle defensively?
Practice yoga. Learn to carry different tools with you when you head out to battle. Use knowledge, wisdom, patience, devotion and love. Approach these battles differently. Shift your perspective.
Next time you come to your mat, consider the battle you are about to face. Consider the approach you usually take. Breathe, pause and shift your focus. Take a different approach. Perhaps you will be the one who begins the change.
Breathe in Autumn
I grew up in New England. There's nothing that can compare to the fall in the East. Maple leaves, maple syrup, pumpkin patches and apple trees, they all have a special place in my heart. Now, living in the land of arid climates and high alpine forest, I sometimes lament about what I used to have. And then, I remember, where I live.
After Labor Day, Lake Tahoe takes on a whole new vibe. As the crisp, fall air drifts in each morning and the warmth of the sun is felt later and later in the day, a peacefulness arrives. The hundreds of boats cris-crossing the lake are gone. The average driving speed has slowed, once again. All of us, who live here, take a deep breath and sit down to relax.
This is Yoga, my friends. This is honoring what we have and enjoying the present. As we sit back and review all the hard work of the summer, this is Yoga. Our lives in this community are cyclical, just like the flow of life. As yogis, it is our duty to recognize our habits, patterns and hurdles. Living in Tahoe offers a unique perspective on this practice. Every Summer, we work, we play, we sell. We rest, in the fall. Every Winter, we burn the midnight oil and rise with the dawn to hit the slopes. In the spring, we pause, again.
During these pauses, these moments of rest, there is an opportunity to learn. Yoga is the practice of understanding who you are. Of understanding our habits and changing them. As Autumn arrives and settles in upon us, enjoy the peace and quiet. Sit back and look upon yourself. As the seasons change, maybe you will, too.