Yoga, practised in its intended form, can definitely help! The practice of yoga calms the fluctuations of the mind "yogas chitta vritti nirodhah" (Patanjali's Yoga Sutras 1:2).
Maybe the first question should be "Why is it difficult for me to get a good night's sleep?" One thing that affects people when trying to get to sleep is that their mind is busy going over events, problems, and future plans. The busy monkey mind won't let you relax.
True yoga is about union of the mind, body and spirit. This is where we learn to calm the fluctuations of the mind. Effective yoga incorporates asana (postures), pranayama (breath control) and meditation (both sitting meditation and yoga nidra).
As well as the physical benefits gained from exercise, yoga asana prepares the body to be able to sit for a period of time to perform pranayama and meditation. While doing yoga postures, attention is focussed on the breath (using ujjayi) and focussed internally. Each person works at their own level of ability, without comparison to others.
Sleep is one of the most important bodily functions that operates at the level of instinct. We need yoga's "chitta vritti nirodah" to help us when sleep is elusive or ineffective. To learn to calm the mind in yoga we use breathing techniques (pranayama), the pose Shavasana (or Savasana), meditation and the relaxation technique yoga nidra.
One place to start is by really mastering Shavasana. It looks so simple and yet there is actually quite a lot to it. Watch this video for a good explanation on how to get into this pose https://youtu.be/286tIxYzikw
During yoga nidra we use focussed attention to achieve relaxation and centering, allowing us to transcend states of physical and emotional stress. Our attention is directed elsewhere, we have something to occupy our mind. During yoga nidra the aim is to stay aware, in a state between full wakefulness and sleep. The techniques used in this process can be utilised at bedtime to allow our body to fall into restful sleep.
We all require relaxation and sleep. In the sleep state, we are disassociated from thoughts, feelings, emotions and expressions. These things may creep into our dreams, but most often in a way that allows us to process them.
According to yoga, deep and refreshing sleep has a very important function: it helps us to stay balanced. When we are stressed and suffer from sleepless nights the rest of our body suffers and we are out of balance. This shows up in our body as tension headaches, increased heart rate, anger and sickness. These effects take a serious toll on the body. When the body is out of balance it will try to rebalance itself by such things as craving for sweet foods to obtain energy. Then the sugar overload in the body pushes other functions out of balance, those imbalances affect our sleep - and a circular effect is happening. We sleep less, causing ourselves more anxiety.
During yoga nidra we are guided into a hypnagogic state, the stage between wakefulness and sleeping, where our mind is receptive to suggestion. Attention is directed to our physical senses, the senses which may become overwhelmed during prolonged periods of stress, and we return to feeling and inhabiting our body.
The alternative used by many people, prescription drugs, can be dangerous and doesn't lead to a state of balance in the body. Here is another cause and effect circle going on, and it isn't a good one! When we depend on pills to get to sleep we are masking our problems. Millions of dollars are spent on these drugs without any resolution to the underlying problem.
Yoga Nidra - Deep Body Relaxation
We start by learning a deep body relaxation. Yoga nidra trains your body and mind to let go and relax completely while in a waking state. We use the breath to bring attention to various parts of the body.
In the Deep Body Relaxation, you will be reminded to stay awake and aware while you are guided through the stages of yoga nidra. You will be led into a deeply relaxed state which will nourish your body and mind. This relaxation practice will energise your body. While immediately afterwards you may feel "floaty" and maybe a bit vague, as you gradually return to full consciousness you will find yourself refreshed and energised.
It is a great practice to use at those times of the day when you feel sluggish, usually in the early afternoon after lunch, to provide a sense of renewal to complete your daily tasks. Also, in the early evening, if you have a social outing planned and feel too tired, try this practice to provide you with the energy to go out and enjoy yourself.
Please note: It is always a good idea to give yourself time to come fully back to the present after Yoga Nidra, before driving or performing any complex task.
Yoga Nidra - Relax into Sleep
Practising yoga nidra regularly will teach your body to switch off from the stresses that are affecting your sleep and inhibiting your ability to live fully.
During Relax into Sleep, you will be guided into a deeply relaxed state conducive to sleep. The instruction to remain awake is omitted and you are encouraged to gradually relax, let go, and sleep.
It is well worth trying! Most people, even those who experience great difficulty in getting to sleep, find they have difficulty staying awake during a yoga nidra practice. All you have to do is listen to the instructions, and you will be guided into a deeply relaxed state. If you find you wake during the night and can't get back to sleep, just listen again to "Relax into Sleep".
The ultimate aim is to learn how to deal with situations with a witnessing attitude, so that we don't get caught up in so much stress! Regular yoga practice really can allow you to achieve this.
There are many aspects to yoga, it has been practised in India for thousands of years. Practised correctly, under the guidance of a good teacher, yoga is a healing modality, not simply an exercise regime.
Many scientific research papers have been published about the effectiveness of yoga. Research is occurring around the World, including in Australia, the USA, India, the UK and many other countries. (See https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov for research articles.)
Obstacles and Victories
Obstacles! Always there are obstacles because we can be our own worst enemy, especially when it comes to making changes. Obstacles will arise when the conscious mind gets in the way, trying to thwart our best intentions.
It's not usually that we don't enjoy the practice, or don't think it is doing us good - it is that little negative imp on our shoulder telling us that we don't deserve the change we want, or won't be able to maintain good health, or that we shouldn't be spending so much time on ourselves.
It may be helpful to use a sankalpa (resolve) during your yoga nidra practice, to help remind yourself that your yoga practices will lead to good changes. A sankalpa should always be framed in your own words and, if you are experiencing some of the obstacles mentioned above, it could be "My life is changing for the better, as I deserve", "I treat my body well everyday and my health is improving", "I spend time on my physical and mental wellbeing for the good of myself and my family".
Sometimes others discourage us as they are jealous of the improvements they see, or maybe scared that the changes will cause us to find new friends, or a new partner.
When you feel discouraged, try telling yourself that you will do just one short practice. Once you have got yourself started, you will often find that you want to continue. If not, just go with the flow. Congratulate yourself on what you have achieved so far.
It's good to start the day with gratitude. Over your morning beverage, think of one thing you are grateful for and acknowledge it to yourself.