They say that true yogis only sleep about four hours a night. I like to believe that, as it makes me think maybe I’m a real yogi.
Truth is, I’ve been getting by just fine on four to six hours of z’s a night long before I began dedicating myself to yoga.
My sleep patterns may not classify me in the league of a true yogi, but I can objectively say that I have been using yogic practices for decades, eliminating my need for eight hours of slumber a night.
Gary Kraftsow is a well known yoga therapist. Founder of the American Viniyoga Institute, he studied in India with one of the greatest yoga gurus, T. K. V. Desikachar, son of T. Krishnamacharya. At a workshop for yoga therapists in Austin, he rattled off the many ways to address insomnia and other sleep disorders. He classified the irregular patterns into a handful of buckets. Not surprisingly, disturbed sleep can be caused by stress, digestive issues, emotional states, medical conditions and age, just to name a few of the factors.
Many of his suggestions, I had incorporated into my lifestyle following my first immersion at an ashram.
- He says, reduce alcohol intake in the evening. Ashrams say NO alcohol, ever.
- He nixes coffee in the evening. Ashrams are usually caffeine free.
- Kraftsow recommends avoiding violent games or TV shows in the evening. My swami says turn off the tube at night. I don’t even watch TV during the day. Kellie Adkins, M.Sc., ERYT, director of The Wisdom MethodTM School of Yoga counsels her clients to turn off all screens (smart phones, laptops, iPads and TV) three hours before bedtime.
Furthermore, Kraftsow stores away the candy at night. I haven’t eaten any since my trick-or-treating days. Even back then, I think I only picked out the peanut M&Ms from the bag.
Kraftsow acknowledges that for some, they may never get a solid eight hours of sleep a night. But, he says, what’s important is that they use their time, while awake, meaningfully.
When I worked in the corporate world, I would wake up at 3 a.m., wound up, worrying about my deadlines. I would get out of bed, turn on my computer, and tackle pending projects. At some point, my yogic brain clicked on and, although it was difficult, restrained me from turning on lights or getting out from beneath the covers. Instead, I turned all my attention inward to help me relax using breath work and body work. Pranayama and asanas can be practiced any where, any time. For some, it may be most beneficial to focus on these two areas during the hours that everyone else is asleep.
These are precisely the methods urged by Kraftsow. In particular, he stresses, “Do not turn on the lights. Stay in bed.” He also prescribes alternate nostril breathing and simple yoga poses with breath work, in bed. My favorites for the middle of the night are supta bada konasana (supine butterfly) and half supine butterfly. Place your open hands on your lower belly if you have digestive issues, and you’ll get extra benefits. Hold these asanas for five to ten minutes as you focus on your inhalations and exhalations.
Kraftsow proposes pranayama at bedtime too. He recommends abdominal breathing, counting the breath, body awareness, visualization and/or repetition of a mantra. “If you follow your mantra, it doesn’t even matter if you sleep,” he says. The body will be re-energized and rested.
Both Kraftsow and Adkins take an Ayurvedic approach. Adkins likes milk (can be almond milk) with nutmeg and turmeric, and massaging the joints before bedtime. She also warns against bright bulbs. Kraftsow, too, says to dim lights, and suggests taking a bath by candlelight and massaging lavender oil on the head and feet.
Ayurveda stresses that everyone is different. For those with kapha constitution (see other blog posts/articles at TheNamasteCounsel.com on the doshas), they typically need eight to ten hours of sleep a night, whereas vatas function normally with scanty sleep.
Just as Goldlilocks had to search for her right bowl of porridge before bedtime, there are many ways to naturally induce a restful night. Search and you shall find.