How did you sleep? Yoga for better rest – part 2

“How did you sleep?” I burnt up the sheets!

Like Tara, my vata skewing friend whom I introduced in part 1, Cathy also takes a long time to get to sleep. Unlike Tara, Cathy sleeps in an intense burst, waking too early for a full night’s sleep but full of adrenaline energy, which burns out fast.

When we last spoke she had a sore throat but told me she sometimes welcomes getting ill because she gets the most and best sleep when she’s under the weather. Her normal patterns consist of being in bed at 11pm, asleep by 1am and awake again at 5am, which leaves her crashing in the late afternoon – when Cathy often finds herself reaching for a sweet treat for a boost of energy.

She gains weight but also loses weight easily and feels her digestion is fast and like she barely absorbs her food before it passes through. Often ravenous, especially after a night of short sleep, Cathy eats a lot of small meals and snacks throughout the day. She might eat just before bed so she’s not awakened by her hunger. She’s begun questioning her vegan diet as she recalls her sleep was more sound before she made the change.

Cathy is showing some classic pitta signs. Fast, fiery, directed, and ravenous. Metabolising a lot and quickly, she doesn’t seem able to switch off and rest. Unlike vata Tara, who needs to warm up and ground, Cathy needs to cool down and temper the flames: rest and digest.

She might start with eating fewer aubergines, tomatoes and spicy foods (that she loves) as part of her vegan diet and shifting to a pitta calming diet to get her system digesting more slowly and effectively to temper the metabolic peaks and troughs. Trading the afternoon sweets (again a boom and bust cycle) for herbal tea with cardamom, clove and cinnamon can satisfy her sweet tooth.

If she ‘gives in’ to the afternoon crash instead of fighting it – she should turn to yoga! A restorative pose will give her some real, sustainable energy for the rest of the day. My daytime favourites (slightly office friendly) are legs up the chair or wall (modified viparita karani) or child’s pose with the torso draped over a bolster. This will keep Cathy from being constantly ‘fired up’ and give her over-cooked nervous system a cool down period in the daytime.

Like Tara, Cathy’s yoga self practice could also help her with grounding, like putting dirt on a fire helps to extinguish the flames. But for Cathy’s pitta body type there’s another key area: the diaphragm/solar plexus (the chakra positioned just above the naval). This is where the ‘go-go-go’ sense of stress or anger can rest in the body. A few supine (lying on the back) twists (like jathari parvatanasana) done with the legs and hips stacked and deep slow breathing open up this area of the chest and diaphragm, releasing tension. This position can also help balance the kidney and adrenal areas, another essential area to quell and nourish for fiery pitta types.

Before I learnt the basics of yoga and ayurvedic practices, there were pieces of the sleep puzzle that mystified me. An elements-based, yoga-informed approach helps to identify the need and find the practice to suit. While many effective sleep treatments (like CBT) focus on not feeling anxiety around sleeplessness (which I confess can be a real sleep killer), this whole-body-mind approach gets to the causes of insomnia and promotes full wellbeing all day long. And to this day, with all I know and do, sometimes I still don’t get the best night’s sleep. With a yoga practice at the ready I can be assured that I know what to do to ‘mop up’ for a bad night’s sleep with things that boost my energy sustainably throughout the day.

If you have trouble sleeping or feel out of balance, ayurveda can provide a guide and yoga can provide the tools to help you make small (or big) changes that get you better quality sleep, so that you feel more alive and awake all day long.

This post was first published on the Triyoga blog.

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