cultivate calm podcast

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If you’ve been having sleepless nights, you’re not alone. Many people struggle with insomnia, so today I’m sharing some tools that can help. In this episode, I explore some of the causes of insomnia and how the practice of yoga can be the key to achieving that elusive restful sleep. We’ll cover the science behind sleep, essential sleep hygiene practices, the role of stress, and how yoga can offer a path towards a peaceful slumber.

While the occasional restless night is annoying, chronic insomnia takes a toll on our physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Lack of sleep not only leaves us fatigued but also impacts our mood, cognitive performance, and even our overall health.

One of the keys to combating insomnia is practising good sleep hygiene. Today I share a number of helpful tips, including limiting screen time before bed, avoiding late-night dining and creating a dark sleeping environment. I also explain why my Cultivate Calm Yoga studio only provides Yin Yoga classes at night.

Stress often plays a significant role in the development of insomnia. Elevated cortisol levels, the stress hormone, can keep us awake when we should be resting. I share a calming breathwork technique to help combat stress throughout the day and also talk about the importance of dealing with any unprocessed emotions that are at the root of your restless nights.

The wonderful thing about yoga is that it offers a holistic approach to help tackle insomnia. Its mind-body techniques help calm the nervous system and reduce stress, creating the ideal conditions for restorative sleep. Yoga not only releases physical tension but also fosters mindfulness, enabling us to address any underlying emotional or mental causes of insomnia. Throughout this episode, I share some specific yoga poses that you can do in the evenings before bed to help you settle deeper into rest.

If insomnia is a persistent visitor in your life, remember that you are not alone, and there are actionable steps you can take to improve your sleep quality. By combining sleep hygiene practices, yoga, and emotional processing, you can unlock the door to restful sleep. Remember, prioritising your sleep is an investment in your overall well-being, allowing you to wake up each day feeling refreshed and ready to face the world.

[00:00:00] Monica: Welcome, friends. If you’ve been having trouble sleeping, you’re in for a treat. Because today’s episode is all about insomnia, uncovering its causes, and exploring how yoga can be the key to unlocking the door to restful sleep. But before we dive in, let’s take a deep breath.

[00:01:21] Now, insomnia can strike at any time. We either have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or both. Now one sleep disturbed night here or there is annoying, but when we go days or weeks without a decent night’s sleep, we can really suffer. Not just physically with tiredness and fatigue, but lack of sleep affects our mood and our mental performance.

[00:01:47] It’s really hard to concentrate and focus when we’re sleep deprived, and I’ve noticed with myself that I can be really impatient, moody, and my thoughts quite negative when I haven’t slept well. Maybe you’ve noticed this too. Some people think that they thrive on a lack of sleep and may even boast about it.

[00:02:05] But the science suggests otherwise. There’s a growing body of evidence that a chronic lack of sleep affects our cardiovascular health, our weight, our immune function, our cognitive performance, our mood, and even fertility. Sleep really is a foundation for both physical and mental health. And if we want to be at our best, we need to get some rest.

[00:02:28] So if you experience insomnia, you may have heard about sleep hygiene, which is basic rules to optimize our sleep. And I’m going to share these with you now. So the first one is limiting screen time at night. That’s because our screens or our devices emit blue light. Which keep us awake and suppress melatonin, the sleep hormone.

[00:02:52] So limiting exposure to blue light in the evening can improve our sleep. Don’t eat dinner too late. Going to bed on a full stomach means that our body is busy digesting food rather than preparing to sleep. A good rule of thumb is… Having dinner about 2 3 hours before you intend to go to sleep. Limiting intense exercise at night time.

[00:03:17] So, intense exercise raises our cortisol levels, cortisol being our stress hormones. And when our cortisol levels are high, we’re alert and awake, making it really hard to get to sleep. So this is why at our yoga studio all of our late night classes are yin yoga. We don’t believe in doing intense exercise in the evenings.

[00:03:39] We’re much more into winding down and relaxing so that we can get a good night’s sleep. If you struggle with insomnia, it’s a good idea to limit your caffeine intake in the afternoons and evenings. The reason why is caffeine is a stimulant and it raises our cortisol levels, keeping us awake and alert for longer.

[00:03:59] Also caffeine has a long half life so the coffee that we have at lunchtime, part of it is still in our system at midnight. Another thing to consider is sleeping in a darkened room. using blockout blinds or I use a sleep mask to block out the light and have noticed it improves my sleep. I wake up fewer times during the night and I sleep for longer in the mornings because I’m not woken up by light and sticking to a regular sleep routine can be really beneficial and that means going to sleep and waking up at.

[00:04:34] A similar time each night rather than sleeping at random times and waking up at all different times. Our body can’t get into a regular habit. And if you have young children, you’ll know how important a regular sleep routine is. Well adults are no different. We respond much better to a regular sleep schedule.

[00:04:54] Now, insomnia can have many different causes, but in my experience, stress is the main culprit. Stress increases our cortisol levels, and cortisol is the hormone that makes us awake and alert. during the day, we experience high cortisol levels. To, to wake us up and to give us energy to go about our day.

[00:05:16] And as we move into the evening and nighttime, cortisol’s meant to naturally lower and melatonin, which is our sleep hormone, that starts to rise in the evenings. But if we’re stressed, We maintain high levels of cortisol at night which keep us awake and alert and disrupt our sleep. And one of the ways that we can tell if our cortisol levels are high at night is if we need to pee more than once during the night.

[00:05:42] Frequent nighttime urination Can be a sign of high cortisol. One of the ways that we can lower our cortisol and improve our sleep is by having an evening wind down ritual or a way of relaxing and unwinding after a busy day. And that could be reading a good book, doing some craft, having a relaxing bath, basically anything that’s easy and relaxing and helps you to unwind.

[00:06:10] But for me, that’s gentle yoga and the emphasis here is on gentle because I don’t want to get my heart rate up, I don’t want to raise my cortisol levels, instead I want to calm my nervous system in preparation for sleep. that I’ve learned through trial and error that might work for you too is that a good night’s sleep also depends on what we do during the day.

[00:06:35] So for me, the more that I move my body during the day, the better I sleep. I also think and feel better too, but this episode’s all about sleep. So exercise makes me hungry for sleep, whereas being sedentary and not moving my body means that I’m restless and edgy at night. And I discovered this the hard way when I had knee surgery a couple of years ago and I was on crutches for three months.

[00:06:59] My sleep was terrible because I couldn’t exercise properly. I also ensure that I get sunlight during the day. Exposure to sunlight during the day increases our melatonin levels, melatonin being our sleep hormone. and also because I’m solar powered, I feel good when I get regular sunshine, in a safe way of course.

[00:07:20] So if stress and stress hormones affect our sleep, how can we lower them to better?, That’s where yoga comes in. Our clients sleep better when they practice yoga three times a week. And our yoga classes are so much more than a stretch. Yoga is a mind body system and is designed to calm the nervous system. It brings us into that parasympathetic state which then lowers our stress hormones.

[00:07:47] Yoga also helps us to release muscle tension so our physical bodies can relax. And our yoga classes. Really focus on mindfulness and mindful awareness. So if the cause of our insomnia is Mental stress or an emotional issue Because we’re becoming more mindful and aware We’re then able to do something about that issue.

[00:08:13] We can recognize that’s what’s keeping us up We can attend to that so that we can deal with the cause of insomnia at the root. So People often ask me what are the best poses for insomnia, and there’s, there’s quite a few. Firstly, there’s no set pose that’s going to do it. It’s going to be a bit of trial and error figuring out what works for you.

[00:08:36] And as I mentioned earlier, it’s not so much what we do in the evening, although that’s very helpful. It’s really important to remember what we do throughout the whole day can affect So finding opportunities to move the body during the day is also going to be really beneficial. Now back to the best yoga poses for insomnia.

[00:08:56] The first one I would mention is legs up the wall pose or Viparita Karani. And this is basically lying on our back up against with our legs up against the wall or with our legs resting on the bed or the couch. Having our legs elevated like this is incredibly calming for the nervous system. It lowers our blood pressure.

[00:09:16] It improves circulation, which can be really great for restless legs, and it activates the vagus nerve. And the vagus nerve is the primary nerve responsible for the relaxation response. And legs up the wall pose, you can do that for 10 or 15 minutes, or as long as feels comfortable for you. And you can also do it with…

[00:09:36] breathing exercises. You can do it while listening to a guided meditation or some relaxing music. It’s one of my favorites for a good night’s sleep. The other great poses for improving our sleep are any of the poses that help to release our psoas muscle. So our psoas is the muscle that connects the spine to the legs and it’s the primary muscle involved.

[00:10:01] In the stress response, it’s the first muscle that contracts when we’re stressed. It’s also the muscle that we contract when we’re sitting. So if we have a desk job or if we spend 10 or 12 hours a day sitting, our psoas is going to be tight. So releasing the psoas is going to help not just our physical body to relax, but it’s also going to help our nervous system and our mind to relax.

[00:10:25] And so if you’ve been to my yoga classes, you’ll know all about the importance of the psoas for stress and anxiety. And my two favourite poses are supported bridge pose and surfboard. So if you’re not familiar, supported bridge pose is lying on our back with our knees bent and placing a cushion, a block or a bolster underneath our hips so that our hips are slightly tilting towards our chest.

[00:10:52] This helps to soften and release through the psoas muscle, and we can hold this pose for 5, 10 minutes, 15, even if it feels comfortable. And just focus on our breathing, trying to calm the nervous system with our breath. Supported bridge is also really good for people who have any back injury or back pain.

[00:11:14] Now surfboard, if you haven’t heard of it, is where we take a bolster or a large cushion. Underneath our torso and we lie on our belly with the bolster underneath our torso. And this is a fantastic pose for stress and anxiety. It’s incredibly easy to do and relaxing, and it releases the SOAs muscle. I do this pose regularly before sleep, and I can really feel the difference just.

[00:11:41] Five or 10 minutes drops me into a really, really calm state. And it’s something that I regularly do in my yoga classes. So if you’ve never heard of surfboard, come along to one of my yoga classes, and you’ll experience it for yourself. So legs up the wall pose, supported bridge pose. Surfboard pose are three really good poses for insomnia.

[00:12:02] I’ll also add child’s pose into the mix. And this is where we’re on our hands and knees. We rest our hips back onto our heels and we lower our head down either onto the yoga mat or onto a bolster or a cushion. Whenever our head is lower than our heart. like it is in child’s pose. It has a calming effect on our nervous system, whenever we have a bit of pressure on our brow.

[00:12:27] So if we’re resting our forehead on our yoga mat, it stimulates an acupuncture point called yin tang, which is the point in between our eyebrows, which has a calming effect on our mind and also applying pressure to our brow brings blood flow to the front part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex, which.

[00:12:46] This helps the mind to relax. Childs pose is also great for any tension that you might have in the hips or lower back so it can help to release that muscle tension in preparation for a good night’s sleep. And the last pose that I’d add to the mix is reclining butterfly pose and you can do this one in bed lying on your back.

[00:13:06] Just bending the knees and bringing the soles of the feet together, letting the knees fall out wide and you can even prop those knees up with cushions or a blanket and you can lay on your back in this pose just feeling your belly rising and falling with your breath. You can do that pose for five minutes or even longer if that feels good for you.

[00:13:26] It can help to release any tension through the lower body. And it really promotes belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing, which can have a calming effect on the nervous system. Now talking about breath work, one of my favorite breathing techniques overall for stress and anxiety and also for improving our sleep is where we make our exhales twice as long as our exhales.

[00:13:51] inhales. So our inhales are energizing and our exhales are calming. And so when we deliberately extend our exhales, it sends a message to our nervous system that we’re safe, that we can unwind, that we can relax. And the beauty of this breathing technique is that it only takes a minute or two to start working.

[00:14:13] It has a really noticeable benefit. So, I like to inhale for a count of two, and then exhale for a count of four. you might inhale for three or six, whatever the ratio. You figure out what feels good for you. We want the inhale to be fairly natural. We don’t want to be forcing or straining or over breathing.

[00:14:35] Remember, we’re trying to relax. We’re trying to prepare ourselves for a good night’s sleep. What we want to do with this technique is just make sure the exhale is twice the length of the inhale. And making those exhales slow and doing that for a couple of minutes or maybe 10 or 12 rounds is enough to have that calming effect on the nervous system.

[00:14:58] And I’m going to have a bonus podcast episode for you soon that will guide you through my favorite yoga poses and breath work for a good night’s sleep. So stay tuned for that one. So, if you’ve tried all of this and you still can’t get a good night’s sleep, I know how frustrating it is, and I’ve been there myself.

[00:15:20] And I can tell you from experience that forcing sleep only makes it worse. The experts suggest that if you’re lying in bed and you’re still awake 20 minutes later, to get up and do something else until you’re tired. Read a book or do some other relaxing activity. Because if we lie in bed trying to force ourselves to sleep, it actually makes it worse and creates a negative association with sleep.

[00:15:46] in my experience, stress is the biggest culprit. And often that stress is emotional. And we can be really great at keeping busy during the day and getting stuff done, but at night when we have a bit more time and when things start to slow down. All of those upsetting thoughts and feelings that we didn’t deal with in the day come back to haunt us when we lay our heads on the pillow.

[00:16:10] So we can be physically exhausted, we can be yawning, we can be struggling to keep our eyes open, but as soon as we rest our head on the pillow, our thoughts start racing. We might replay conversations from the day. We might go over past events and ruminate on all the things that we’d wished we’d said or done.

[00:16:31] We might stress about upcoming events or imagine the worst case scenario playing out. And I know that when I can’t sleep, my thoughts tend to go to some dark places, some quite negative places. There’s definitely, for me, a link between the quality of my thoughts and the quality of my sleep. So I feel like insomnia is the mind’s revenge for the unprocessed thoughts and feelings from the day.

[00:16:58] And something that can make insomnia worse is when we stress about what time we need to get up the next day or how busy our day is. But I know from my own experience that I always manage to get through the day. I’ve gotten through every day. previously, even if it is hard. So my first experience insomnia about 10 years ago, and prior to that, I never had a problem with sleep.

[00:17:24] And thankfully right now I’m in a good place with sleep, but back then I would lie in bed wide awake and my mind would go to some really dark places. I would think things at nighttime that just didn’t occur to me during the day. And this went on for months, and I thought I was going to go a bit crazy, to be honest.

[00:17:43] And some people might say, Oh, just have a glass of wine or two to sleep. But, that doesn’t work for me. Alcohol doesn’t make me sleepy. It really, uh, ruins my sleep. And, now that I’ve had breast cancer, alcohol’s something that I really consume now as well. So back when I was having trouble sleeping, I tried everything.

[00:18:01] I bought those expensive blue light blocking glasses. I spent a fortune on supplements and sleepy teas. I got so desperate. I even did an online cognitive behavioral therapy course on sleep, which focused on sort of relaxation techniques before bedtime, which was nice. It was relaxing, but none of it worked for me anyway.

[00:18:23] I basically did everything but look inside of myself. And I remember talking to my acupuncturist about it, and she introduced me to the Chinese body clock. So, in theory, different organs or meridians are active for two hour windows throughout the day. So if you’re constantly waking up at a set time, it can point to the meridians that are most active and their associated emotional distress.

[00:18:49] Disturbance and for me waking up at 2 a. m. Was liver time And so it was a time that my liver was very active and the emotion associated with the liver is anger and frustration And rage and as it turned out I’ve been bottling up a lot of anger for a long time without realizing it So I started paying closer attention And really started tuning into what was going on for me and in the daytime I felt relaxed and calm but at night I was angry So I started to get up in the middle of the night and do something.

[00:19:25] I went downstairs, and I tried to move the anger, but then I burst into tears. And what I’ve since learned is that anger is often a surface emotion, and for me, beneath the surface was sadness. And I didn’t really know what I was sad about when this first started, but I’d have a good cry for about 20 30 minutes and then I’d go back to sleep.

[00:19:47] And this became a bit of a nightly ritual for me. I’d wake up at 2am, go downstairs, have a cry, then go back to bed. after a while I became aware of what I was crying about. It was dawning on me that I was deeply unhappy in my marriage. In the daytime I pretended everything was fine. but at night I couldn’t ignore the whispers from my soul that something was wrong.

[00:20:11] And in hindsight, I think it was my soul that was waking me up. Two years later, I was divorced, but that’s a story for another day. So the big advice that I want to share with you today is to process your emotions. Suppressed emotions don’t go anywhere. They stay in the body, in the back of the mind, and they fester until we feel brave enough to face them.

[00:20:34] Now, personally, I’d much rather ignore my emotions, but I learned the hard way that ignoring them only creates bigger problems. Eventually, we have to face them. Now, a great tool that I discovered was journaling. I liken it to emptying my thoughts out onto a page. And it doesn’t have to make sense, and usually it doesn’t.

[00:20:57] It doesn’t look pretty either. But my brain can fit so many unhelpful thoughts and feelings in there that it can become a real cluttered mess. And for me, journaling helps me to declutter my thoughts and feelings and gives me some mental space. Now the trick to journaling is to, to get real. You don’t just say, oh dear diary, today I ate tacos and went to yoga.

[00:21:20] No, we have to get honest with ourselves about what we’re feeling and chances are if you’ve got chronic insomnia and you’ve tried all the things and it hasn’t worked, chances are my friend, there’s an emotional issue there beneath the surface. And being honest with ourselves about what’s going on is the only way it’s going to get better.

[00:21:38] So one of the things that I do is just write a list of everything that’s bothering me And that list can be pages and pages long and it might be something little that you know My new shoes don’t feel comfortable Or it might be something major going on at work or A relationship with a family member or worried about some other thing.

[00:21:59] But the point is I wrote it all down. And some of those things again might be really minor, but they’re occupying mental space and cluttering up my mind. So getting it all out on a page, translating it from thought into a physical, you know, seeing it on a page really, really helps me to process what’s going on and helps me to get in touch with what I’m really feeling as well.

[00:22:24] The other thing that really helped me process my emotions is to move them through my body. And this is something that I teach my yoga alchemy clients. How to process big feelings like anger, rage, shame and grief by moving our body to release the emotional charge. Because emotions are like Energy stored in the body and if we don’t have the chance to to move and discharge that energy It just builds up and builds up and causes tension causes insomnia causes anxiety so learning how to release the charge learning how to Take that edge off and move it through the body is a really powerful tool for emotional resilience So these days I sleep a lot better, but I really pay attention to what I do during the day to get a good night’s sleep.

[00:23:15] So the things that I do to optimize my day for sleep is moving my body daily. going outside, getting sunshine, moving my body, creates sleep hunger, and also boosts my energy, boosts my mood, and helps me think and feel better. Getting sunshine and fresh air is great for my mental health, my nervous system health, and also It boosts my melatonin levels.

[00:23:40] I do breath work throughout the day, so when I’m waiting for the kettle to boil, when I’m waiting for the hot water to warm up for the shower, when I’m sitting in a traffic light, whenever I remember throughout the day, I slow down my exhales. I do gentle yoga in the evening after dinner to help me wind down, mainly so as releasing poses, but it just depends on what my body’s feeling.

[00:24:04] I generally go to bed and wake up at the same time, so I’m usually in bed by about 9, 9. 30. I’m usually up by about 5, sometimes earlier, depending on my, daughter. I wear a sleep mask to block out the light and I don’t use my phone after 7pm. I also journal, not daily, but several times a week, just to clear out any of that emotional clutter.

[00:24:30] So they’re the things that I do. there are lots of things that we can do, lifestyle changes that we can make to optimize our sleep. So if you struggle with insomnia, I hope you realize that you’re not alone. You’re not the only one there are things that you can do that will make a difference.

[00:24:50] And if you’re in Brisbane, I’d love to see you in our yoga classes. Our yin yoga classes in particular are perfect for winding down after a busy day, for calming the nervous system and preparing the body and mind for sleep. You don’t need to wear fancy clothes, you can come in your pyjamas if you like.

[00:25:09] No one cares what you look like because they all have their eyes. Closed and they’re focusing on their own thing. Our community’s really down to earth and welcoming, and it’s filled with people just like you, who just wanna sleep better, think better, and feel better. So if you love the idea of an evening, wind down routine, but your kids or pets won’t leave you alone.

[00:25:30] If you need the accountability of a group session so you don’t check your phone for an hour, or if you just want to be guided by caring and supportive experts, then we’d love to have you in one of our yoga classes. And we have yin yoga classes 10 times a week, including 8 p. m.

[00:25:46] classes most nights. You don’t need to be young, you don’t need to be fit or flexible, you just need to be willing to try something new. So I’d love to see you along in our yoga classes and I hope you get a good night’s sleep tonight.