Have any of you been overwhelmed by this holiday season? Has it effected your ability to drop in and rest? A few students and private clients have been reaching out to me for tips on effective rest during this often crazy time of year. Living in a society of blue lighting, cell phones, laptops and virtual reality, it can feel almost impossible for us to find a calm before our sleep. Not to mention our pace! How quick do your days go by? We’re constantly encouraged to get more done, faster, faster and faster. One of the pillars of “yoga nidra” also known as sleep yoga is intentionally moving slowly and mindfully not only to feel a sense of calm but also to restore and balance our central nervous system.
Let’s talk nervous system! Your parasympathetic nervous system is the one in charge of your rest and digest functions. Your sympathetic nervous system is your awake, moving, and energized function. When we live in a society with constant stimuli and tech attached to our every move we work to overstimulate our sympathetic nervous system, which puts us at risk of imbalance. With an overstimulated sympathetic nervous system, it’s possible to experience a slower metabolism, risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, insomnia, anxiety and various other health detours. When your parasympathetic nervous system is balanced with your sympathetic you are able to metabolize your food and drink effectively and efficiently. You’re also able to sleep deeply and restfully! Since I’ve adopted yoga nidra in my life, not only have I been able to sleep so effectively, I’ve also been able to kick caffeine! No more tea or coffee to wake me up; I instead have opened up to the possibility of effective rest.
Here are three of my easy steps to balance out your nervous system by stimulating that parasympathetic function!
- Ocular cardiac reflex: One easy way to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system is by lowering your heart rate. And there is a direct link between our eyes and our heartrates! If you take the heels of your palms and press them against your closed eyelids applying a little bit of pressure your heart rate will immediately slow down. Did you know that’s why we have a reflex to rub our eyes when we cry? It’s because our body knows it feels good to stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system and it wants to calm us when we’re upset! Cool, right?
- Get those legs up: Send your legs right up the wall and be there for 15 minutes. You might feel a bit numb but that’s because blood is flowing opposite from how it normally does when your legs are elevated. Keeping your legs up a wall stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system and gets you prepared for the best sleep ever! If you find that getting your legs up the wall isn’t accessible you can also place a few pillows under your lower back and have your legs up in the air!
- Control your breathing: Have you ever been in bed waiting to fall asleep? Just rolling around waiting for that hint of sleepiness? Try counting your breath. This isn’t quite like counting sheep; see when you count your breath try first counting to three on your inhale and counting to four on your exhale. Try to lengthen your exhales, this will help you doze off much faster. If the 3 to inhale and 4 to exhale seems too short for you, you can increase your interval higher and higher (e.g. 4 counts inhale 5 counts exhale etc.) as long as your exhales are always longer!
These three steps will help you stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system so that you can find better digestion and rest! Your body will thank you, trust me! You can also try lavender spray on your pillow or the raw lavender flower in your pillow case. Try staying away from your phone before bed and if that’s too challenging make sure you apply night light setting in your smart phone so colours adjust to avoid blue light exposure. Try not to drink or eat before bed so your digestive system can rest too, keeping you less stimulated and readier for sleep! Goodnight and good luck!