Guest Blog: Alyssa Ennis - Community Outreach - Purple.com
The simple act of training our minds is something that yoga practitioners discovered more than 2,000 years ago. Western medicine is only now beginning to catch up.
For insomnia treatment, medical researchers have found that "cognitive behavioral therapy" is a better approach than simply prescribing sleeping pills. Instead of adding chemicals to the body, cognitive behavioral therapy addresses the root causes of sleeplessness.
Mindfulness is a key component of cognitive behavioral therapy. Patients are taught to "challenge negative thoughts and replace them with more accurate, positive sleep thoughts," writes John Cline, Ph.D., in Psychology Today. Patients are also given techniques for "calming an active mind that won’t shut off," according to Stanford University Health Care. The insomnia treatment program of Virginia Runko, Ph.D., CBSM, of the Ross Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, includes training in diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization. Sound familiar? It will if you do yoga.
A recent study randomly assigned two treatment paths to a group of older adults suffering from poor quality sleep. Half of the group received a sleep hygiene education program. They were educated about sleep biology, and told about behaviors to avoid before sleep, such as late-night eating and overconsumption of alcohol.
The other half of the group received training in mindfulness awareness practices. Exercises included different types of meditation, including sitting meditation, and "mindful movement."
After going through their selected training, participants reported their sleep patterns in a questionnaire. Folks who went through the mindfulness training showed significant improvement in sleep quality over the sleep hygiene education group. The mindfulness group also reported fewer insomnia symptoms, fewer depression symptoms, and less fatigue.
Another study showed that cognitive therapy is so powerful, even online training can make a positive difference. More than 8 in 10 people with chronic insomnia who participated in online cognitive behavioral training reported improvement in sleep. Participants rated the cognitive therapy session, where they learned about "coping with an overactive mind and worries," as the most useful part of the training.
Poor sleep quality is a major public health problem. More than half of people 55 and over report some form of sleep disorder. Sleep studies of college-age students show that more than 60 percent suffer from poor quality sleep. The phone and tablet screens that people are increasingly glued to emit damaging rays that suppress melatonin production and disrupt sleep cycles.
Unfortunately, poor sleep quality often goes undiagnosed. People may not even realize that they aren't sleeping well. Losing the regenerative power of sleep can lead to higher levels of anxiety and depression.
By practicing yoga, we help free our minds from thoughts that cause suffering. We expand our consciousness beyond the daily frustrations that can consume us. We're training our bodies and minds to relax—just as we need to do every day to get to sleep.
More than 40 million Americans practiced some form of yoga in 2011—up from just 4 million in 2001. That's a good development for our overall mental health. But we could be doing more. If your friends or neighbors mention sleeping problems, suggest that they consider practicing mindfulness through yoga. It's scientifically proven to work.
Do Not Force. Do Allow.
Kriya Yoga is a practice that incorporates Tapas (discipline), Svadhyaya (self study) and Isvarapranidhana (dedication). Our lineage at Lake Tahoe Yoga is Rajahatha. Each class incorporates movement, self study and mindfulness in an effort to induce Kirya or cleansing.
Every posture clears away impurities and toxins in the form of sweat. While moving, you are guided to focus upon various aspects of the postures as well as your own body's experience. The more consistently you show up for the practice, the more you will feel the effects of Asana (poses).
During your next Yoga class notice in which postures you can feel the heat resulting from movement or stability within the pose. Become aware of the moment when your body begins to express that which you do not need.
Balance Effort & Release
Kriya is one of the most difficult aspects of Yoga because it requires that we release our grasp and detach from expectation. Our habit is to hold, grasp, clench and grip. More difficult is relaxation; to let go and to allow change to occur. Svadhyaya is the practice of observing, witnessing and then identifying the places in which we grasp or hold. Once we become aware of what we are doing, when, we can begin to release and detach.
The next time you are practicing Yoga Asana try shifting your focus and become a witness to your movements. Observe in each posture the places where you are gripping or clenching. For most of us, this happens in our jaws, hands and shoulders.
It's Not About You
Back bending is often referred to as Heart Opening in the Yoga world. We tend to find fear, frustration and agitation as we bend in reverse. Our bodies are tight and unwilling to open. We are fearful of what might present itself as we open our hearts. We are so used to hiding, stuffing away and repressing things that are hurtful or cause us sadness that when we are confronted with releasing these things we become tense as we are outside of our comfort zone.
Physically, as we work through the practice of cleansing (Kriya) you may notice that your posture changes, your attitude toward yourself and others may shift and you may find yourself more willing to receive and let go.
During your next practice establish Sankalpa (intention) bring to mind someone, somewhere or something that could use the benefits that the practice brings. Dedicate your practice to whatever it is you bring to mind. Let go of your desire to keep that which you create.