Yoga and Ayurveda for Insomnia

Kripalu School of Ayurveda

Ayurveda, with its focus on rhythm, and yoga, with its ability to calm the nervous system, offer powerful techniques for promoting better sleep. One of the most essential ways to sleep better 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, 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 my 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.

As for yoga practices for insomnia, Nadi Shodhana pranayama (Alternate-Nostril Breath) is top-class; it’s an exceptionally relaxing, integrating pranayama that settles the nervous system, helps lower blood pressure, and quiets the mind—one of the best for reducing stress, anxiety, and insomnia. You can try doing five to 10 minutes of Nadi Shodhana before bed, or if you wake up in the middle of the night. If you can’t get back to sleep, you can also try getting out of bed and doing a standing meditation. Come to Mountain pose, with your hands on your belly, and do a full-body scan, gently breathing into your low abdomen. Try this for about five minutes, until your feet start to get warm—a sign that the prana is moving downward, reducing disturbance in the mind.

Find out about upcoming programs with Larissa Hall Carlson at Kripalu.

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Larissa Hall Carlson, E-RYT 500, MA, 20-year Kripalu faculy and former Dean of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda, guides retreats, directs trainings, and provides Ayurvedic consultations across the country.

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