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Yoga For Better Sleep

It's Neither Yoga Nidra Nor Counting Sheep

Lynn Crimando will never take a good night of sleep for granted again – not since a devastating bike accident in 1998 that left her body bent and broken. For a year, Crimando was forced to sleep sitting up because of the pain, never managing more than a few hours at a time.

Today she glides across a room filled with yoga students with such poise and ease, you'd have a hard time imagining her any other way. Teaching others how yoga can help them sleep better has become a mission for her. "The best teacher I’ve ever had was that accident," she says. "That accident forced me to learn yoga.”

To be clear, the yoga Crimando is talking about isn't the rigorous asana sequencing so many have come to expect of their practice. For Crimando, yoga is about the ability to access deeper levels of awareness in the mind and body. “People think about yoga and they think of a warrior series,” she says. "A lot of people can’t relax. They can’t let go of the day."

And while physical pain kept her from getting a good night of rest those years ago, even the average healthy and active person struggles with sleep issues. Up to 40 percent of adults have experienced symptoms of insomnia within a given year, according to the National Center for Sleep Disorders Research at the National Institutes of Health.

So what's the problem? “A huge element of sleep issues is managing stress,” Crimando told a group of students at her Yoga For Sleep workshop at the Breathing Project recently. "If you feel stress ringing your door at 2 a.m., chances are it's been waiting out on the porch since 2 p.m.”

At the workshop, she had students do a walking meditation around the room, focusing their attention on the soles of their feet. At first, the exercise may seem a bit silly. What does walking around and around a room filled with people, brushing past strangers, nearly crashing into one another have to do with sleep? “When you have a lot of stress, a moving meditation might be more effective in meeting you where your energy is,” she says.

Crimando also encourages students to pay close attention to their breathing as a way to calm the nervous system – in particular focusing on extending their exhales. She also teaches standing and supine sequences – each designed to help calm the body and prepare it for a night of sleep.

The standing sequence consists of these six movements:

1) A forward bend, sweeping the arms overhead and down to open the backs of the legs, reduces tension in the head, neck and shoulders and increases circulation

2) A standing side stretch with the arms overhead to lengthen the spine and release tension

3) A balance that involves rising up on your toes and lifting one arm up at a time to help increase focus and concentration

4) A cakravakasana – also known as the un-cat cow – a variation of the cat-cow pose that moves from a table-top position on all fours to a child's pose and back;

5) A sequence of movements from a table top position to downward dog to plank to child's pose.

6) A wide-legged forward fold lifted to a flat back and lowered again, repeating.

For a detailed explanation of how to do these exercises, click here.

Crimando recommends a 20-minute breath-based yoga practice in the evenings as a way to unwind from the stress of the day. “The idea of the standing sequence is to meet the person where they are when they come home from work," she says. “These kinds of movements force the body to slow down."

And then, nightly night.

--Jane Porter.

--Illustrator: Sally Mara Sturman, to see more of her work, click here.

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