I recently presented my thesis research on The Yoga of Sleep and Dreams at Moksha Yoga Center. I was so grateful for the opportunity to speak on a topic that has fascinated me for years, on both an intellectual and intimate level.
I suffered from insomnia for well over a decade, and it is tied to my earliest memories of sleep. I didn't realize for many years that I was experiencing disordered sleep, because I had no reference for healthy sleep. It was only when I started inquiring about the sleeping habits of family members and friends that I discovered how abnormal mine actually were. But this discovery only led to increased anxiety over inadequate sleep, which began a perpetual cycle. I had resigned myself to poor quality of sleep and its effects: decreased immunity, mood instability, decreased focus, memory loss.
When I began practicing yoga, my sleeping habits began to change. It was unexpected— I came to the practice for different reasons and had no awareness of the relation between yoga and sleep. And, it was gradual— like the practice, which unfolds slowly and steadily, my experience of sleep changed over months and years.
It was an honor to share what I have learned through direct experience and dedicated study, and I was humbled by the students who came to participate in the dialogue. The room was filled with fellow practitioners, dream enthusiasts, and people who were new to the practice but wanted to explore the connection between yoga and sleep— even a technician who works in a sleep lab. It was inspiring to consider the diverse interests and experiences that led everyone to attend, and to witness what happens when we create space for community.
In that spirit of community, I wanted to share some of the most practical applications of yoga for improving sleep quality. These are simple concepts to apply to a regular yoga practice to calm the nervous system and still an overactive mind:
- Seated or reclining meditation (use bolster or blocks as support)
- Extend exhalation (inhale for 4 counts, exhale for 6 counts)
- Seated poses (simple twists, side stretches)
- Grounding, calming sequences (cat/cow, moon salutation)
- Forward folds (head-to-knee pose, butterfly, straddle)
- Passive or reclining poses (supine crescent moon, supine pigeon, happy baby)
- Passive inversions (legs up the wall)
- Long holds (90 seconds or more)
- Long savasana (wear warm clothing, use heavy blanket, cover eyes)
Limit or avoid:
- Vigorous breathing techniques (breath of fire, holding after inhalation)
- Exerting poses (chaturanga, arm balances)
- Active sequences (sun salutations A, B, or C)
- Energetic poses (deep backbends, inversions)