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Yoga to Help You Fall Asleep

If you're one of the millions of sleep-starved Americans with a dwindling supply of fence-jumping sheep, try introducing a few Downward Dogs to your bedtime menagerie. A recent clinical study at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital confirmed that bedtime yoga can help chronic insomniacs significantly reduce their tossing-and-turning time.

The results are most likely linked to yoga's soothing effect on the central nervous system, says lead study author Sat Bir Khalsa, Ph.D., assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. In insomniacs, levels of the stress hormone cortisol are elevated," he explains. Yoga can reduce cortisol levels, which is why you have that feeling of calm after practicing it." And while the study's poses were selected for their sleep-promoting effects (see below for instructions), Khalsa says most types of yoga, practiced regularly at any time of day, should bring on more nighttime ZZZs. Sleep-promoting yogic breathing exercises

Exercise 1
Sit with a straight spine, with your head erect and chin lightly tucked in. Extend both arms up to form a 60-degree angle (almost vertical), with wrists straight and palms and fingers extended flat and facing up. Keep elbows straight. Begin slow deep breathing through the nose. As you inhale, let your abdomen extend out as though it were being filled with air. As the inhale continues, let your chest expand. At the end of the inhale, pause briefly with your breath suspended; do not to lock your throat to hold the breath, but rather suspend the breath by lifting and suspending the motion of the chest. As you start to exhale, let the chest contract first. As the exhale continues, pull in your abdomen slightly as though it were being emptied of air. Pause briefly at the end of the exhale before beginning the next inhale. The breath rate should be four breaths per minute or slower (15 seconds or longer for each complete inhale/exhale). It is important that this breath, as with all of the breathing in these exercises, is done through the nose. Keep your eyes closed during this exercise, and focus your mental attention on the flow of the breath. Continue for 2 to 3 minutes. At the end, inhale deeply and hold for 10 seconds. Exhale, and let your breath relax as you keep your mental focus on the flow of the breath for about 1 minute with eyes closed.

Exercise 2
Sit with a straight spine, with your head erect and chin lightly tucked in. Extend the arms out to the sides parallel to the ground. Bend the wrists with the fingers pointing straight up. (Your hands look like you're pressing out toward two walls.) Begin slow deep breathing as described in Exercise 1. Continue for 2 to 3 minutes. At the end, inhale deeply and hold for 10 seconds. Exhale, and let your breath relax as you keep your mental focus on the flow of the breath for about 1 minute with eyes closed.

Exercise 3
Sit with a straight spine, with the head erect and the chin lightly tucked in. Press the palms together in front of the chest. The fingers of the right hand fingers go over the side of the left index finger and onto the back of the left hand. It is a "cross-lock" with the fingers crossing each other at 90 degrees. Squeeze the hands toward each other with continuous pressure. Begin slow deep breathing as described in Exercise 1. Continue for 2-3 minutes. At the end, inhale deeply and hold with a final push together of the hands for 10 seconds. Exhale, and let your breath relax as you keep your mental focus on the flow of the breath for about 1 minute with eyes closed.

Exercise 4
Sit with a straight spine, with your head erect and chin lightly tucked in. Place your hands in your lap, palms facing up, right hand over the left. The thumb tips touch and point forward. Keep the eyelids half closed. Look downward past the tip of your nose. Inhale in four equal segments through the nose. Mentally recite the sound scale, "Sah Tah Nah Mah", with one syllable for each stroke of the breath. Then hold the breath by lifting and suspending the motion of the chest. As you hold the breath, mentally repeat the scale four times, for a total of 16 beats. Then exhale in two equal and powerful strokes out the nose. Mentally recite "Wah-Hay" on the first segment out, and "Goo-Roo" on the second stroke out. Continue for 5 to 31 minutes. At the end, inhale deeply and hold for 10 seconds. Exhale, and let your breath relax as you keep your mental focus on the flow of the breath for a few minutes. If you wake up in the night and have trouble falling back asleep, do this exercise for 5 to 11 minutes.

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