by Portland Helmich Lately, I’ve been burning the candle at both ends—working a full-time job while supplementing my income with writing, acting, and voiceover work. I find myself driving hither and yon for meetings and gigs on top of my commute, which is at least 45 minutes one way. Meanwhile, I try to get to […]
Pranayama (breathing) practices are a great way to cultivate inner heat during the winter. Here are three warming pranayama practices sure to get your inner space heater thrumming. Anuloma viloma is a variation of Nadi Shodhana (Alternate-Nostril Breath), with a short breath retention. Breath retention stokes the tejas, an Ayurvedic term meaning “inner radiance,“ by charging […]
In his book Light on Pranayama, B. K. S. Iyengar writes: “Prana is the breath of life of all beings in the universe.” It’s no surprise, then, that pranayama, or the regulation of breath, is an essential part of yoga practice. In fact, it’s unusual to enter into a yoga class that doesn’t have at […]
Ayurvedic Answers: Ancient approaches to health and wellness
In this edition of Ask the Expert, Larissa Hall Carlson, Ayurvedic Yoga Specialist for Kripalu’s Institute for Extraordinary Living and School of Ayurveda, answers your questions on Ayurveda for better health.
What would an Ayurvedic approach for treating insomnia look like?
One of the most essential things is to create a routine around bedtime. Try to get to bed between 9:30 and 11:00 pm, before the second wind hits, and ideally wake up with the sunrise, between 5:30 and 7:00 am. This gets the body, the nervous system, and the mind in harmony with the rhythm of nature, which is key for deep and satisfying sleep.
It’s also really important to create space between dinnertime and bedtime—give about two hours to digest dinner or that final snack before bed. The same goes for drinks—don’t drink too much water, tea, or alcohol close to bedtime. Generally, avoid drinking anything caffeinated after about 3:00 pm. If you’re feeling depleted, you might try making your last drink of the day be a cup of warm organic milk with a pinch of ginger, a pinch of cardamom, and a pinch of nutmeg—maybe drop in a few soaked, peeled almonds or dates. It’s extremely soothing, grounding, and yummy!
Decompressing properly before bed can really help as well= try staying off the computer, the TV, and the phone for at least an hour before bed to reduce sensory stimulation. One of my favorite bedtime rituals is to massage the feet, lower back, and ears for a few minutes, using warm sesame oil in the cold weather and coconut oil in the warm weather. Another really helpful technique is journaling before bed—or in the middle of the night if you wake up and can’t get back to sleep—to clear out the chatter in your mind and get your to-do list down on paper. I love to write down a gratitude list, too, so my mind is clear and my heart is open.
Need a refresher course in establishing, or reestablishing, a pranayama routine at home? Here are some practical approaches for planning a regular routine and taking this self-nurturing, transformative practice into you daily life.
Begin by creating safe and sacred space for your pranayama practice. Choose a private place free from interruption and distraction, with good air circulation. If possible, find a spot void of electronics. In good weather, consider an outdoor location (this is my favorite and most frequent choice for my personal pranayama practice). Make it welcoming. Beautify your space with bits of inspiration (fresh flowers, mala beads, statues, photos of loved ones or teachers, sentimental objects, favorite quotes). Have fresh water, tissues, and a journal handy.
Choose a time to practice daily. Pranayama is best done in the early morning and on an empty stomach, but gentle techniques-like dirgha, ujjayi, and nadi shodhana-can be practiced just about any time of day. Consistency is more important than duration, so choose the most viable time to delve into the enlivening rhythm of your home practice.