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Sleep Sensitivity

Yoga and the Benefits It Can Have on Sleep

Photos: Courtesy of Adam Dunne

How did you get involved in yoga?

I actually turned to yoga as a last resort. I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue in 2011 while training as an elite pole vaulter. I had just come home from competing internationally and was preparing for a big season. I was aiming for selection to the Australian Olympic team for the London Olympics. I fought with symptoms while still trying to train and eventually, with much regret I had to retire to allow my body to rest and heal.

I spent over six months unable to do any type of exercise. Even walking would exhaust me. Coming from a lifestyle where tough training was a fundamental part of my day-to-day life, I was devastated. It wasn’t until 2012, and a lot of time spent trying different recovery tools, that my symptoms allowed me to introduce gentle activity. I saw yoga as training that I could do that wouldn’t be so taxing on my body. What I didn’t realize was the incredible mental benefits it had and how much it changed my perception of health and looking after myself.

Eventually, the time I spent exploring yoga and meditation grew. I started to feel so much better, mentally and physically. By the end of 2012 it was a part of my daily life . In 2014, I graduated from Yoga Teacher Training and became a qualified teacher.

Why is yoga better to help heal your body than other practices?

I won’t say it’s better, because I believe there are wonderful benefits from many forms of training and therapy, but it does have it’s own unique mental and physical health benefits.

Essentially, yoga allows you to really connect with the mental and physical connection between you and your body. It puts you in the moment, allowing you to really feel and understand movements, feelings and emotions. I think this is really important to our health because we spend so much time disconnected. Yoga allows us to come back to ourselves and to really understand what our body and mind needs. This, along with the practice of meditation, creates a healthy mind. Much of our health concerns are linked to how we think and feel so the simple practice of yoga can be one of the best things we can do to prevent many heath issues.

The second benefit is of course the physical benefit. Yoga manipulates our bodies into postures and movements that positively stimulate us. It can improve circulation, breathing, hormone release, nerve impulses, reduce pressure from joints and muscles, challenge and improve coordination, stimulate the connection between brain signals and muscle movements and of course improve our flexibility and range of movement. There are so many physical benefits for the body I’m surprised that doctors everywhere don’t recommend it to every patient they see.

Any other tips for healthy living/philosophies?

Everything in moderation, including moderation. Your health and fitness shouldn’t feel like a chore. Try different types of activities you enjoy and incorporate lots of variety in your training to spice things up. Teach yourself about food and nutrition and experiment with different ways to prepare healthy food. And of course, invest in good sleep and mental rest. If you base your daily lifestyle around exercise, healthy fresh food and time to de-stress and recover you’re on the right track.

What are the best poses to help you sleep better? Why?

All the following stretches and postures are low to the ground to promote calm and rest before sleep. I also recommend reducing the amount of bright light in your household, turning off technology and finding a soft comfortable surface to practice on for the best sleep results.

Hold each posture for 10 long breaths. I sometimes repeat two or three times over, with a little rest in between, for a bigger release. If you find some positions challenging, remember to focus on your breathing and don’t hold your breath. Breathing will help to release tension and make the stretches feel more comfortable.

Want to improve the quality of your sleep? Check out the slideshow below to take your downward dog into a twisted puppy, or fly your pigeon poe into a lizard lunge.

For more yoga inspiration, follow Amanda on Instagram @amandabisk

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