Stress and Sleep

Stress and Sleep

I decided to start the year addressing stress and its various implications on our lives. In doing so, I looked at long-tail keywords for Ayurveda, stress and sleep. What I found were many searches by people asking how to fall asleep when stressed and anxious, how the lack of sleep causes stress, and tips for how to fall asleep fast.

Let’s begin by looking into the first result, from an Ayurvedic perspective: How to sleep when stressed and anxious?

Reflect on Your Sleep

The first step we should take, when thinking about how to better sleep, is to think about what each of us needs to sleep well. Do you remember the last time you slept deeply? Was there a time in your life when you got a good night of sleep consistently? If, when asking yourself these questions, you realize you haven’t slept properly for a long time, if ever, you need to dive deeper into what may be causing you such levels of anxiety.

In our Living Ayurveda course, we work with a lot of people who have deep-seated autoimmune issues. In such cases, there is often a feeling of fight or flight since the very beginning, from the in utero experience. When this happens, you might have never felt safe and, therefore, could never properly relax. This makes it extremely hard to enter deeper levels of sleep.

From an Ayurvedic perspective, we always need to get to the root of every issue. In this case, you need to understand why you don’t feel safe, in order to let go and achieve deep sleep.

Practice Finding the Pattern

In order to find the depth of trust, you need to be able to receive support from the universe you need to practice. Practice meditation, yoga, or any activity that allows you to shift your state of consciousness.

In my case, any sort of physical exercise shifts my state of consciousness. But in order to go deeper, into pattern-finding, it’s not enough to just exercise. It is not the same to go out into nature, without earbuds or distractions, or using the rower while watching TV.

Practices help us release the pattern of fear. This is because, during practice, when our state of consciousness shifts, we realize we are not the pattern. Some of the patterns we are currently in we chose consciously. Others are subconscious and a product of repetition. But during practices that help to unwind the pattern, you begin to see subtler and subtler patterns.

Go From the Source to the Manifestation

Ayurveda tells you to start from the most subtle and then go to the growth. I go from spirit, to cellular, to metaphysical, to the physical. This is basically going from source to manifestation. I’m going to teach you something that can help you at the source level. My friend Sally calls it the “Ah breath”.

You can look at it as the Prana/Apana pattern. You have two different directionalities of life force energy. Prana, inward moving energy, and Apana, outward moving energy. In the same sense, inhaling is creation and exhaling is dissolution. If you are trying to reach a deep state of sleep, you need to exhale. You need to dissolve yourself.

If you can’t completely exhale, there is probably a contraction and it comes from your mind or your emotional body. This happens because of that existential fear I mentioned earlier. This pattern can be felt in the physical body too, in the lungs. Anyone that experiences sleep problems, I would look at the lungs. How deeply can you exhale?

Practices like yoga help you assimilate a deeper pattern when it comes to breathing. Just like Ayurveda says digestion works instantaneous and then overtime. The same happens with breathing and your lungs. Your abdominals start working to breathe, your lungs open and, at the same time, you increase your ability to digest, absorb and eliminate. It is all connected.

When it comes to stress and sleep, as in other issues, an Ayurveda perspective helps you look at the root of the problem. If you are not sleeping you are arrhythmic. To get into a rhythm, start with the “Ah breath”, just before you go to bed or before laying down on your yoga mat. Bend your knees, feet on the floor and push gently into your heels to start to rock your spine. Don’t worry about doing it right, just experience yourself as the cosmos. The practice will help you unwind and the more the pattern unwinds the deeper you’ll drop into sleep.

Cate Stillman
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