We often think about the practice of yoga as helping us manage stress and as an aid to greater self-awareness. Most commonly, when we think of yoga practices that aid us in those endeavors, we usually think of postures, breathing and meditation.

However, it’s easy to overlook the yoga practices of lifestyle that are simple, yet have profound effects. Those choices can actually help support our other yoga practices (and vice versa) by keeping our mental attitudes clear. Lifestyle changes help us create a fit instrument – body and mind – so that we can lead a healthy and joyful life, and deepen our self-transformation process.

Sleep provides deep rest for the body and the mind, but most of us either don’t sleep enough or, when we try to sleep, we are restless because our minds are full of thoughts and worries.

There is an old story:

Someone asked the Master, “How do you practice Zen?”
The master said, “When you are hungry, eat; when you are tired, sleep.”
“Isn’t that what everyone does anyway?”
The master replied, “No, No. Most people entertain a thousand desires when they eat and scheme over a thousand thoughts when they sleep.”

Try these suggestions for better sleep:

  • What time you eat and what you eat affect your sleep – try to eat a lighter dinner not too late in the evening.
  • 30 min -1 hour before bed, end your day by engaging in something relaxing and peaceful (Watching the TV doesn’t count.)
    • read, especially something inspiring
    • meditate (by candlelight is especially relaxing)
    • listen to soft music
    • take a bath
    • do some breathing that focuses on lengthening exhale
  • Try to go to bed around the same time every night (ideally before 11pm) and get a full 8 hours of sleep.
  • Try this gentle breathing and counting practice if you are having trouble falling asleep. I call it “1 to 5 and 5 to 1”.
    • IN=inhale and EX=exhale.
    • Allow the breath to be gentle in both directions keeping your mind gently focused on the flow of breath and the number you are counting. Remember the goal is to relax the body and mind and to fall asleep. So gently repeat it until you fall asleep or feel relaxed enough to do so. 
      • As you IN internally say 1
      • As you EX internally say 2
      • As you IN internally say 3
      • As you EX internally say 4
      • As you IN internally say 5
      • As you EX internally say 5
      • As you IN internally say 4
      • As you EX internally say 3
      • As you IN internally say 2
      • As you EX internally say 1

Yours, in service, K.O.

Kathy Ornish is a practicing and certified yoga therapist (c-IAYT) and a certified yoga teacher (E-RYT-500). She serves as Senior Faculty at Gary Kraftsow’s American Viniyoga Institute where she is Faculty Specialist in the Viniyoga Foundations Program for Teaching and Yoga Therapy. Kathy’s yoga therapy practice involves addressing individual’s structural, physiological, and emotional conditions. Her primary emphasis in all her teaching is the breadth of the yoga tradition using the appropriate application of the many tools of yoga in hopes that she can help people realize their highest potential.  For more information, please visit her website at www.goodspaceyoga.com.  She also offers workshops and individual services through Sacred Treehouse.