Your rest practice will determine your success!

We have good news for you this Winter: a life full of healthy habits start with a good rest practice!

How exercise helps sleep habits

Selected mindfully, exercise will help de-stress, improve sleep, reduce inflammation and improve blood sugar. Not all exercise is the same, though, and for someone who struggles with getting to bed at a set time, some exercise is too stimulating. There are always benefits to energetic exercise. But strength and flexibility are only part of the equation. The science around engaging the body/brain relaxation response includes working with hormonal release that signals the brain to feel safe and allows space for the rejuvination process. Relaxation for healthy digestion is paramount and even inflammation and pain are reduced with proper mindful rest. Also, rest does not have to look like 8 hours of sleep from 9pm to 6am. There are many ways to move to a resting state through movement, including breath awareness and the mindful activation and release of specific muscle groups. Certain types of meditation and certain postures for 20 minutes or so are said to have as many benefits as a two hour nap.

The benefits of exercise are seasonal, too. In the summer when the body runs hot or in the fall the nervous system feels wirey, hard-hitting workouts, for instance, only serve to create more inflammation and feelings of anxiety. In the winter, however, we can get sluggish and could really use some more vigorous exercise to amp our metabolism.

Then there are times of day, workload, and other stressors to consider when looking at a personalized exercise plan. 

Benefits of developing a sleep practice

There are so many benefits to a schedule of regular sleep as part of our daily habit. Yoga and mediation can be supportive of a transition into better sleep habits or at times when relaxation and sleep feel a little bit out of reach.

To un-fry fried nerves, focus on Asana and mediation practices that focus on and support deeper, slower, longer exhales. Consider self-massage. Restorative practices and Yoga Nidra meditations will cue the nervous system’s relaxation response. Pranayama like Lion’s Breath will empty the body of stagnant energy and tone the vagal nerve (the “bearing down” on the exhale helps move the body out of fight-or-flight, or stress response.

It’s easy to be blind to tension we hold in the shoulders, neck, and jaws. Mindfully stretch and release physical tension around those areas before laying down, and even several times throughout the day.

The psoas is the large band of muscles that line the bowl of the pelvis in the area of the hips behind our reproductive organs. It is directly related to the amount of stress we carry and is a two-way street. When we are stressed, these muscles tense, creating thigh, hamstring, low-back, and hip tightness. At the same time, when we have tightness, our emotions respond by sending us the message “tension.” When we practice postures and movements that stretch the psoas, we send signals to the nervous system that it’s time to relax. Some examples are Pigeon Pose, Warrior I with slow, breath-inspired movement, low lunge (knee down)… all of these where one leg is extended BACK. Spend time feeling curious about the sensations in the hip during these postures. 

These are only a few examples of how yoga supports relaxation. In short, be very mindful about the type of exercise you do and ask “is this practice supporting healthy sleep, or keeping me from sleeping restfully?”

Some benefits of healthy sleep habits:

  1. Poor sleep can make you fat.
  2. Cortisol levels are higher in people who lack sleep.
  3. Good sleep maximizes athletic performance.
  4. People who don’t get enough regular sleep are more likely to suffer from heart disease & stroke.
  5. Better sleep reduces anxiety that creates blood-sugar imbalances.
  6. Good sleepers eat less sugar and drink less caffeine because they are less likely to crave energy from empty calories.
  7. Focus & creativity is dramatically improved with proper sleep, leading to less anxiety at work, home and school.
  8. Regular sleep/wake cycles are less disruptive to other people in the household.
  9. Regular wake-up and bedtime routines are very supporting to our overall self-care habits.
  10. 10)Irregular sleep habits are directly linked to depression.
  11. 11)Good sleep boosts our confidence in social relationships and just plain helps us look and feel better!

As steady a bedtime as possible and quality sleep are related, but they’re not the same thing. The two fit into the larger category of developing a rich personal practice, which supports healthy habits.

All other healthy habits are supported by healthy rest

Other forms of practice include breath and meditation practice, yoga practice, practicing a musical instrument, practicing an athletic training routine, journaling and writing practices. We can go without water and food for a time, but we can’t be productive without adequate rest!

What ARE habits & how are they developed through practice?

Without good sleeping skills, ALL other practices that we try to enlist will eventually flop. Healthy habits include those things we develop through practice that become somewhat automatic or even mindless, like teeth-brushing. Habits cannot generally be created without practice. When we practice, we push through SO many layers of inertia, triggers, procrastination, and other forms of mental and emotional resistance. We don’t always have to learn to “love” something… we just continue to practice until it becomes a habit; and sometimes once a habit, it becomes less fraught with drama. Discipline helps us with practice, but so does self-compassion and self-forgiveness. Hope, faith, and trust are helpful too!

The costs of NOT practicing healthy rest include that, eventually, unintentional behaviors and thoughts will slip into our lives creating unhealthy habits or patterns. They just will. So you are either intentionally practicing and choosing what to put in your practice, or you’re passively allowing unhealthy habits to get ironed into your life.

You get to pick if you’ll get some rest!

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