Sleep is a gift from Nature

Sleep: an important consideration in personal practice design

A gift for maintaining health and wellbeing
A gift to assist in healing 

How is your sleep?

Sleep is an important area to consider in your self-care or healing regime. This is also a question that will be considered in some detail by a well-trained Yoga Therapist or Yoga Teacher, when working one-on-one with a client. 

Sleep is a vital aspect of our daily routine and a priority when it comes to looking after ourselves and others. Some sleep proponents express that sleep is one of the MOST important pillars for the protection and maintenance of health and wellbeing (Walker, 2017). 

Sleeping problems very common in adults

Despite the importance of sleep, experiencing sleep problems is very common in developed countries. Inadequate sleep (of either duration or quality) and its daytime consequences, affects 33-45% of adults in Australia. These problems occur across all age groups.

(https://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au/pdfs/surveys/SleepHealthFoundation-Survey.pdf)

So why do we need sleep?  

The reasons are many but the bottom-line is that sleep is a fundamental support for the vital functioning of many of our bodily systems. Put simply, sleep is integral to optimal functioning and health. Sleep is the process through which we rejuvenate, repair and revive our systems. This is the time when both our body and mind go through repair and rebuilding.

What happens when we don’t get enough sleep?

“…– routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer. Insufficient sleep is a key lifestyle factor determining whether or not you will develop Alzheimers disease. Inadequate sleep even moderate reductions for just one week – disrupts blood sugar levels so profoundly that you would be classified as pre-diabetic.” from Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker.

What is the perspective of yoga and sleep? 

In the context of yoga, sleep is considered an activity of the mind and is termed in Sanskrit as ‘nidra.’ In the state of nidra (sleep) there is “a tamasic state” of mind cultivated. 

According to yoga this ‘tamasic’ state is one of three states of mind. These states are referred to as the gunas:

  • Tamas – the ‘tamasic’ state is dull (heavy, stuck, sleepy)
  • Raja – the ‘rajasic’ state is excessive (racing thoughts)
  • Sattva – the ‘sattvic’ state is balanced (calm, ease, clarity, flow) 

As part of our humanness we all experience these mind states and they affect our functioning on both a physical (gross) and mental (subtle) level. These states of mind support us in our activities of daily life, they work individually and together to support balance and mitigate the effects of each other. 

How is your state of mind right now?

As you read this article – is your mind active and thinking about all that you can do with this information (rajasic)? Are you feeling sleepy and a little dull, ready for a nap (tamasic)? Or are you knowingly, calmly, present and focussed on all that I am sharing (sattvic)? 

The state of sattva is the middle ‘sweet’ spot – we aim to live in this state of balance as much as possible. Rather than a state of excess activity OR a state of excess inactivity. To live in these extreme states over extended periods is what leads to chronic imbalance and poor health.

Yoga and healthy sleep  

If we sleep in a state of pure TAMAS it is considered very healthy sleep. If our sleep is overpowered by tamas – no thoughts (abhava) then one wakes after a night’s sleep feeling fresh as a daisy!

A regular yoga practice can support us in reaching this deeply restful state during sleep and maintaining a ‘sattvic’ state more of the time during our waking hours.

national survey found that over 55% of people who practiced yoga found that it helped them get better sleep (Harvard Health). Other studies have looked at specific populations – particularly the elderly where insomnia is commonly experienced. It found the impact of a long-term Yoga practice had a positive effect on sleep quality and quality of life.

As always with yoga, the practices that best support someone to improve their sleep will vary considerably depending on the individual – there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer.

Sleep as an aid to healing in yoga therapy

Because sleep has such a key role in rejuvenation and healing it is an essential consideration for Yoga Therapists and Yoga Teachers working in one-one settings. As such it is an important component of what yoga teachers and yoga therapy trainees learn about in our Yoga Therapy Training program.

Questions to ask about sleep in developing a personal practice

Whether considering your own sleep or a client’s in relation to developing a personal practice, there are some important questions to explore:

  • How is the quality of your sleep? 
  • Do you wake during the night?
  • How many hours’ sleep do you normally get each night?
  • After a night’s sleep do you wake up feeling refreshed? 
  • Are you aware of / do you remember your dreams? 
  • If so, How often? What is the content of your dreams? 

As a yoga therapist, understanding these aspects of ones  sleep routine and experience is very much part of the history taking process. This information provides a holistic view and  will further assist with the  development of an appropriate practice to support a person and if required focus on better sleep.

If looking to improve your own sleep through a personalised yoga practice, exploring these questions with the help of an experienced yoga teacher or yoga therapist, will allow them to design a practice that best supports you. 

Written by Lisa Grauaug,
Course Director of our Yoga Therapy Training program

Upcoming 100hr Yoga Therapy Foundations Module CLICK HERE

Copyright The Yoga Institute 2020

Built by IRONIC3D in Sydney