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Yoga positions for a better sleep

Cheryl Tiegs joins yoga expert Angela Jervis-Read who shows us yoga positions for a better night's sleep.

Yoga Postures for Insomnia with Angela Jervis-Read

Hatha yoga is a holistic practice.  It is a combination of what we are thinking about, what we are doing with the physical body and how we are breathing that make this method so effective in treating problems like insomnia.  Insomnia means that we are unable to achieve restful sleep.  This could mean that you have difficulty falling asleep or that you wake up in the middle of the night and then can not fall back asleep.  There are many reasons why people suffer from insomnia but the most common reason is that one goes to bed with an over active nervous system.  The mind is racing and/or the physical body is tense and uncomfortable.  

The breath is the thread that connects the mind to the physical body so by working with our breath we are able to affect what is happening in the mind and how the physical body functions, particularly the nervous system.  When attempting the postures listed below please try to take long, slow, gentle breathes that reach right down into your belly.  Try to make the exhale longer than the inhale.  Count to 4 on the in-breath and then to 6 on the out-breath.  Make sure there is no strain here or you will activate the sympathetic nervous system.  Make the length of the breath a comfortable ratio that works for you.  The effort that it takes to concentrate will help alleviate tension in the mind as well as soothe the nervous system.  The breath is the most important part of these exercises.

1. Supported Childs Pose

Kneel down on a soft surface like a folded towel or blanket to cushion the knees.  Separate the knees hips width apart and bring your big toes together.  Place 2 pillows from your bed length wise in front of you and lean forward.  Start with you arms stretched out in front of you and allow you rib cage and head to be supported by the pillows.  We want the head and the hips at the same height so if necessary use more or less pillows.  Turn your head to one side and take slow steady breathes with exhales a little longer than the inhales.  After 3 minutes turn your head the other way and breathe slowly again for another 3 minutes.

Studies have shown that folding forward helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system.  This system is the ‘rest and relax’ system.  In turn it also slows down the sympathetic nervous system.  The ‘fight or flight’ response that is activated when you are under stress.    In Childs pose it is easy to hear the breath; the hips are stretched as well as the back of the spine.  You will feel grounded and more at ease.


Relieves stress
Stretches hip, back and ankles
Calms the brain

 2. Seated Forward Bend

Here is another variation of a forward fold.  Sit down on the floor with your legs stretched out straight in front of you.  If your hamstrings are very tight you could roll up a blanket and place it under the knees to support a bend in the legs.  You may also find it more accessible to sit up on a folded blanket to help you to roll on to the front of your sitting bones if your hip flexors are tight.  You could place pillows between your chest and your legs and lean into them to support the position.  Make sure the neck is in a comfortable place and relax.  Practice long slow breathes, again, with the exhales a little longer than the inhales.  

Hold for 1 to 3 minutes.

Helps to relieve stress and mild depression
Stretches the back of the spine, shoulders, hamstrings
The liver, kidneys, ovaries, and uterus are stimulated
Aids digestion
Helps relieve the symptoms of menopause and menstrual discomfort
Relieves anxiety and headaches
Therapeutic for high blood pressure and insomnia. 

 3.  Standing Forward Bend
Stand up with your feet hip distance apart and pointing straight forward.  Bend your knees and lean forward bringing your forearms to your thighs.  Let your head hang forward.  If this is comfortable for your lower back then release the arms from the legs and let your body dangle forward.  Hold the opposite elbow with your hands.  Relax completely down both sides of the spine.  Release the back of your neck so the crown of the head points down.  Hold for as long as you are comfortable with no strain and breathe slow and easy.
Studies have shown that inverting the body helps to lower the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, produced by our adrenal glands.  Here half the body is inverted and we are also in a forward bend so we are cooling nerves and bringing your physical body to a more relaxed state.  
Helps relieve stress and mild depression 
The liver and kidneys are stimulated
Stretches the hamstrings, calves, and hips 
Strengthens the thighs and knees 
Improves digestion 
Helps relieve the symptoms of menopause 
Reduces fatigue and anxiety 
Relieves headache and insomnia

 4.  Legs up the wall pose 
Place a folded blanket about 6” away from a wall.  Sit down on the blanket with your hip close to the wall and your legs stretched out along the length of the wall.  Swing your legs up the wall.  You may come off of the support, be patient and try again.  If the support is not working you can also do this without the blanket.  If the neck appears to be folding back and the chin is high, place a small pillow or folded blanket behind the head.  Come into your breath, making the exhales longer than the inhales.  If the hamstrings are strained then move away from the wall slightly to allow the knees to bend.  Hold anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes.  If the legs loose feeling than you can cross the legs and allow the feet to come down.  
Here the body is in a gentle forward bend which helps to bring our sympathetic and parasympathetic systems back into balance.   We are also inverted which lowers the levels of cortisol in the blood stream.  
Relieves anxiety 
Can help to soothe the discomfort of arthritis 
Aids with digestive problems 
Soothes tension headaches
Helps to control high and low blood pressure 
Relieves insomnia
Soothes migraine 
Alleviates mild depression 
Helps with varicose and spider veins 
Soothes menstrual cramps 
Calms symptoms of PMS and Menopause
Soothes tired or cramped legs and feet 
Gently stretches the back legs, front torso, and the back of the neck 
Relieves mild backache
Calms the mind

 5. Supported Shoulder Stand
Fold up a blanket and place it so the end furthest away from the wall is your shoulder to sitting bone distance from a wall.  Sit down with your hip touching the wall and then swing your legs up the wall as you did for legs up the wall pose.   You want your buttocks to touch the wall, or close, your shoulders need to come to the edge of the blanket and your head should be on the floor, not on the blanket.  Place this blanket on a yoga mat to prevent it from sliding away from the wall if you have wood/tile flooring.   Bend your knees and place your feet on the wall.  With your hands of the floor begin to walk your feet up the wall.  When the feet are level with the knees and the knees are at a 90 degree angle stop.  Interlace the fingers behind your back and press the forearms toward the ground or support your back with your hands.  Make sure the back of the neck is long; relax your jaw and throat.  Press your feet, flat into the wall to move your hips over the shoulders.  If you feel comfortable here you could release your feet one at a time from the wall and point your toes, with the legs straight, up toward the ceiling.  Hold for 30 seconds to start and then work your way up to 5 minutes.  To release walk the feet back down the wall and rest with your legs up the wall before rolling to the side.
Shoulder stand is one of the most therapeutic positions in hatha yoga. 
Relieves stress and mild depression as it calms the brain
The thyroid and prostate glands and abdominal organs are stimulated
Relieves tension from the shoulders and neck
Strengthens the legs and buttocks 
Helps with digestion 
Can ease the symptoms of menopause 
Can be effective in treating asthma, infertility, and sinusitis
Helps with insomnia


People with uncontrolled high blood pressure or glaucoma should not be practicing inversions. 

Consult your physician before starting any new exercise regimen.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

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