Sweet Dreams: Yoga for Better Sleep & Daytime Energy

“When sleep escapes you and drowsiness and fuzzy thinking are your daytime companions, it’s time to evaluate what action you can take to improve sleep.  Mind-body practices, including yoga, can improve sleep and daytime energy.”  

The roots of sleeplessness may be related to age, stress, hormonal changes, pain, digestive distress, anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, other health issues, treatments, medications, exercise (lack of or timing), diet, or lifestyle.  Yoga is especially helpful for reducing symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, digestive distress and menopause that often make it difficult to fall asleep or interrupt sleep. In addition, yoga can be used to reduce daytime fatigue caused by poor sleep.

The tools of Yoga Therapy are skillfully applied based on the characteristics of sleeplessness and resulting fatigue.  Some people have trouble falling asleep.  Others wake in the middle of the night.  A common pattern that arises with age is early waking.  And some individuals sleep for 8 hours yet never feel rested and refreshed.

Yoga Therapy tools that may be used for sleeplessness include yoga postures, breath adaptation in the postures, breathing practices, guided relaxation, meditation, or sound.  The tools of yoga can be applied for your particular pattern of sleeplessness and might include:

  • Setting the stage for better sleep with exercise, nutrition and yoga techniques
  • Yoga techniques for falling asleep
  • What to do when you wake during the night
  • What to do if you experience waking early
  • Quick and easy techniques for dealing with daytime fatigue
  • Changing your relationship with your sleeplessness.

An important aspect of Yoga Therapy is to better understand what helps and what aggravates a particular condition.  Through newfound awareness, we can apply the highest value yoga tools in efficient and effective ways to improve your life.  Being able to fall asleep or having better daytime energy can drastically transform productivity and overall enjoyment of life.

One of the most common experiences of sleeplessness is not being able to fall asleep because of stress and repetitive negative or worrisome thoughts.  Some movement with adapted breathing may be helpful right before bed.

Try Apanasana (Gas-Relieving Pose) right before bed to relax, relieve any digestive distress and stretch your low back.  You can do it on your bed or on the floor.  Repeat the posture 6 times, lengthening your exhale every 2 repetitions.

Try Yogic Sheep Counting Method right before bed or if you wake during the night. Do the technique either in a seated position or relaxing on your back in bed:

Inhale 1 second, Exhale 1 second X1
Inhale 2 seconds, Exhale 2 seconds X1
Inhale 3 seconds, Exhale 3 seconds X1
Inhale 4 seconds, Exhale 4 seconds X1
Inhale 4 seconds, Exhale 5 seconds X1
Inhale 4 seconds, Exhale 6 seconds X1
Inhale 4 seconds, Exhale 7 seconds X1
Inhale 4 seconds, Exhale 8 seconds X1

Repeat this exercise for several rounds until you feel sleepy.

Whether you need better sleep, more sleep, or better energy during the day, your yoga toolbox has options for skillful action. You can learn how to use the tools for sweet dreams at night and vitality and clear thinking during the day.

Stick figures by Sequence Wiz

Getting Ready for Golf with Pilates

By Faith Wilfley, MD, Stott Pilates Trained in Mat & Reformer

“The practice of Pilates is wonderful for all sorts of reasons: balanced musculature, improved mobility, decreasing injuries, spinal alignment (posture), lessening low back pain, and a strong core.”

Who’s ready for golf?! We all may be mentally, but after a good old Wisconsin winter, we probably aren’t physically up to the challenge. So what’s a body to do? My suggestion is Pilates.

If Josef Pilates were trying to create the perfect exercise for golfers when he invented his method of controlled movement, he would have succeeded beyond all measure.  It may not have been his intent, but I believe he achieved that goal all the same.

The practice of Pilates is wonderful for all sorts of reasons: balanced musculature, improved mobility, decreasing injuries, spinal alignment (posture), lessening low back pain, a super-strong core. The list could go on and on. The practices in themselves are amazingly similar in some ways. They are both complex full-body movements. Just as every swing of the club requires many moving parts to work together, so every move in Pilates requires control of the whole body. If two sports were ever “pat-your-head-rub-your-tummy” kind of movements, these are it.

Golf, however, is asymmetric. The cruel trick of the game is that you swing only one way; only work the muscles on ‘one side’ of the body. If your game isn’t going well, you practice. Only swinging one way. Only becoming more imbalanced. Haven’t you ever found that the more you are practicing, the worse your game is getting? This is why. It also leads to injury.

For right handed people, the left (leading) side of the body is injured more than the trailing (right) side. Vice versa for the Phil Mickelsons out there.  Fifteen (15) minutes a day of golf-specific Pilate’s exercises can ensure your body stays balanced and can break the cycle of imbalance and injury.

The best thing is, if you can golf, (or even if you can’t) you can do these exercises. All of the exercises are done standing, wearing sneakers and comfortable clothes. Some people hear ‘Pilates’ and think I’m going to have them prancing about in spandex. I swear that is not what it is. It was actually invented using only men’s bodies.

One of the first male clients I ever had accompanied his wife (I am sure, unwillingly). He was so nervous, he was visibly sweating. He was a golfer though, and so most of what we did that day was golf-specific. At the end he was laughing and relaxed. He looked at me and said, ‘well that was just moving’. Exactly. I still wonder what he thought I was going to make him do. By the way, he called me the next week and said he had had the best golf game of his life that day. Maybe a coincidence, but I like to think he learned something that helped.

What I think helped the most was that he became more aware of his body. Especially the core. And when you initiate every shot by moving from the core first, your movements become repeatable and consistent.

There’s a reason why professional golfers like Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods do Pilates after all. If you are interested in finding out more, please join me at 5 Koshas Yoga & Wellness for our “Getting Ready for Golf” sessions on Mondays at 5:30 pm or for individual training. Here’s to a great season!

Faith Wilfley is Stott Pilates Trained in Mat and Reformer.  Dr. Wilfley enjoys helping people with different bodies and ways of movement be able to optimize mobility and achieve their goals. She received her undergraduate degree from UW-Milwaukee, M.D. from Medical College of Wisconsin, and did her joint Pediatric residency at UNMC/Creighton in Omaha, NE, and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.  Dr. Wilfley is a Medical Doctor and was a practicing pediatrician for 12 years. She has good anatomical knowledge and is very safety conscious. Her philosophy in Pilates is the same as that for medicine: ‘First, do no harm’.

Yoga Stress Busters for the Holidays

3 Quick and Easy Yoga Tips for Energy, Calm and Clarity for the Holiday Season

Tis the season to get really stressed out!  We tend to compress a year’s worth of entertaining, professional networking, cooking, baking, connecting with family and friends, extra school activities for kids, family traditions, shopping, and decorating all in one month.  It’s a lot of activity and mental clutter akin to snow on the windshield.

All of this activity happens at a time of year when the lack of light in northern latitudes creates a loss of physical energy and mental clarity for many people.  Yoga can be individualized and adapted to meet your needs whether it is energy, mental clarity, or calming influences.

Here are 3 quick yoga tools to help you moderate your energy and stress during the holidays:

  1. Breathe – Take 5 minutes to breathe deeply. As you inhale, try to feel your chest and belly expanding.  As you exhale, pull the belly inward.  Deep, smooth breathing is one of the quickest ways to shift distraction, fatigue, anxiety, stress, and the tendency to overindulge.  It’s the invisible game changer and it can be adapted to what you need at any given moment.  You can do it in bed before you get up, at your desk, standing in line, at a Christmas concert, or in bed at night.

To energize:  Make your inhale and exhale equal in length.  Pause after the inhale for 2 to 3 seconds.  Example:  Inhale 6 seconds, pause for 3 seconds, exhale for 6 seconds.

To calm down:  Make your exhale at least 2 – 3 seconds longer than your inhalation.  Example:  Inhale 4 seconds, exhale 6 seconds.

  1. Move – Do a favorite yoga posture, first with 6 repetitions in and out of the posture, then stay in the posture for 6 full deep breaths.

To energize:  Do Mountain Pose (Tadasana).  Stand with your feet hip distance apart.  On inhale, sweep your arms out to the sides and up as you raise your heels.  Pause for 2 – 3 seconds after the inhale. On exhale, lower your arms and heels at the same time.

To calm down:  Do Table to Child Pose (Cakravakasana).  Kneel in a table position, placing hands on the floor below the shoulders.  On exhale, lower forearms to the floor as you lower hips toward heels. On inhale, return to the table position.   Make your exhale 2 – 3 seconds longer than inhale.

  1. Hit the Pause Button and Contemplate – Take a minute every hour or two where you just sit and do nothing. Put the electronics away.  Just observe and feel.  There are often a lot of society- and family-imposed thought patterns and obligations that creep in over the holidays.  Becoming a witness to your own thoughts is helpful.  Ask yourself what is most important for the holidays.  What events, social gatherings, rituals and obligations reflect your most deeply held values and priorities?  As you clarify and prioritize, it’s much easier to say “no” to what isn’t as important to you and your family and to say “yes” to what is deeply nourishing.

If you take time to move and breathe deeply as well as contemplate your highest priorities, it will be easier to stay grounded, be clear and calm, and act in integrity with what’s most important to you and your family.  Turn on the windshield wipers several times daily with these quick and easy yoga practices.

HolidayDe-StressSequence