October 24th 2015
Kati’s Fit Kit –
Sleep Yourself Strong!
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- Saturday, October 31st, all classes will be cancelled due to the TSC that many of our members have been training for! The TSC will be held here at the gym, so come on by to cheer the participants on!
Sleep Yourself Strong!
We all know that lack of sleep can leave you feeling sluggish and dragging through your day, but how does sleep quality affect our fitness results? Obviously if you are tired from lack of sleep, you won’t be able to train to your fullest potential when you hit the gym. In addition, sleep is our body’s time to repair itself, and is also the time that we oxidize fat at a higher percentage than any other time. Not to mention that lack of sleep completely disrupts our hormonal balance, which can negatively impact every aspect of our health and well being, including our ability to build muscle and burn fat.
The topic of getting a good night’s sleep has been coming up a lot around Breakthrough lately… And who couldn’t stand to feel more refreshed and energized upon waking?! Because sleep is such an important topic, it’s also a very deep one. In fact, in starting to write this article I realized I was quickly accumulating too many ideas and suggestions, and it was tending towards being overwhelming rather than helpful!
Usually the simple solutions are the best place to start, so rather than giving you a multitude of different ideas to try, here is an easy yoga stretching and breathing practice that should take you about 15 to 20 minutes. You don’t need much space, so you can do this in your bedroom and then just transition into your bed when you are done.
For optimal relaxation, you want to make sure your bedroom is quiet and free from any TVs, smartphones and electronics of any kind. You can have a dim light for your practice, but as you make your way to sleep, the room should be as dark as possible. You also want to avoid having your room too hot or too cold – between 68 and 70 degrees should be about right. As you go through the stretches, just keep checking in to make sure you aren’t holding your breath. If you find you can’t breathe easily, you may want to ease out of the pose a little and not go as deep.
Standing Forward Fold – Start standing with your feet somewhere between hip width and shoulder width apart. Take a deep breath in, and as you exhale, hinge at the hip and fold over, letting your head get heavy and your spine decompress. You can bend the knees as much as you like if it is uncomfortable to keep the legs straight. Take opposite elbow with opposite hand, and you can sway gently from side to side if it feels good to you. Stay in the pose for 1 to 2 minutes.
Child’s Pose – Start on the ground on your hands and knees. Take your knees wide to the outside of your body and your big toes toward each other. Sit the hips back towards the heels and take your torso towards the floor, letting your forehead rest on the ground. If your forehead doesn’t reach the ground, you can support it with a pillow or folded blanket. If this feels uncomfortable in your knees, try placing a folded blanket in between your thighs and calves. You can either keep the arms extended forward, or let them rest alongside the body. Stay in the pose for 1 to 2 minutes.
Legs up the Wall – Start sitting sideways on to a wall, as close to the wall as you can get. Sweep your legs straight up the wall, and let your back rest fully on the ground. You want to try to get your glutes and legs as close to the wall as possible so that you are coming as close to a 90 degree angle as you can. Stay in the pose for 1 to 2 minutes.
Gentle Twist – Lying on your back, bend your knees and take the feet up off the ground, keeping the knees over the hips. Roll all the way over onto your right side, taking your right knee down to the ground. Keep the knees in line with the hips at a 90 degree angle. Hold the top of the left knee with your right hand. Then take an exhale as you reach your left arm back out to the left in line with your shoulder. Allow the left shoulder to reach toward the ground as much as you can – it’s ok if it doesn’t make it down all the way. Hold the pose for 1 to 2 minutes, then repeat on the opposite side. If your low back feels sensitive in the pose, you can squeeze a yoga block or small pillow in between the knees. If you are pregnant, or have disc issues in your back, you may want to skip this pose. Listen to your body and any doctor’s advise you may have been given.
Now you are ready to get even more relaxed by working with the breath. Pranayama is the yogic practice of working with breathing exercises to expand and channel prana – your vital life force. With the busy lives we live these days, most of us have unconscious breathing patterns that are tense and shallow. Think about how you breathe when you hear bad news, or when you are running late and stuck in traffic. Ugh! This type of shallow, stressed breathing stimulates our sympathetic nervous system – our “fight or flight” response. However, deep, diaphragmatic breathing helps support the parasympathetic nervous system and can activate a “relaxation” response. So checking in with deep breathing can be a great help in relaxing into a good night’s sleep.
While there are some pranayama techniques that should only be done once you are an advanced practitioner, the following are very safe to practice on your own. But of course if you feel light headed or dizzy, you should stop and return to your normal breathing immediately.
Belly Breathing – Lying on your back, bend your knees and place your feet on the ground in line with the hips. Allow your eyes to close and place your hands gently on your belly. Do several breaths just checking in with your normal breathing, without trying to change anything. Then start to deepen your inhales and exhales so that you feel a big expansion of the belly, rib cage and low back as you inhale. On your exhale, you will feel the belly gently contract and the rib cage draw back in. Having your hands on the belly will help you feel this. As much as you can, try to just allow for this deep expansion in the belly on the inhale, rather than forcing it to happen. That may be challenging at first, but with consistent practice you will find it’s easier to get out of your own way and just let the body breathe itself. Practice for 10 to 12 breaths, allowing the breathing to be as deep and long as possible.
If you found it challenging to breathe deeply during belly breathing, just conclude your practice here by returning to a few normal breaths, slowly opening your eyes, and transitioning to bed. Once belly breathing feels comfortable to you, you can move on to extended exhale breathing.
Extended Exhale – Stay lying on your back as you were with the belly breathing. Continue with the belly breathing and silently begin to count the lengths of your inhales and exhales for a couple of breaths. See if you can smooth out the breath so that you are breathing the same count on the inhale and exhale. Once you have done this for a few breaths, you can begin to extend the exhale to be longer than the inhale, building up to a 1:2 ratio one second at a time. For example, if you were breathing for 3 seconds on your inhale and exhale, you will start with breathing in for 3, and breathing out for 4 seconds. Then see if you can breathe in for 3 and out for 5. Eventually go up to a 3 second inhale, and 6 second exhale (1:2 ratio). Don’t worry if you aren’t able to double your exhale in your first practice. Just keep expanding the exhale a little bit each breath as you feel able, practicing for a total of 10 to 12 breaths.
After extended exhale breathing, return to normal breathing for a few breaths, slowly open your eyes and transition straight into bed.
Consistent practice is key, so if you decide to try this bedtime routine, give it a try for around two weeks to see what you notice. If you do, we’d love to hear how it is working for you, so please let us know!