SOUL SAVING STRETCHES: It’s True. Yoga can save your soul

Or at least stop your nerves from fraying and sleep from becoming one of those things you used to do before you left home
Publish date:
July 13, 2012
yoga, sara benincasa, alisande fitzsimmons

Last month, Sara Benincasa wrote on that practicing yoga can make people “happier and healthier”.

She cited the why in her piece so I won’t rehash them here save to say that, in my experience, her conclusion that yoga can help to decrease anxiety and improve sleep is very much true. Stretchy bendiness really can save your soul. Or at least stop your nerves from fraying and sleep from becoming one of those things you used to do before you left home.

The Balasana or Child pose, which is recommended to alleviate anxiety.

For reasons too boring to discuss I’m currently being treated for anxiety and a bout of insomnia that’s taken to keeping it company at night. Because my GP is amazing she refuses to just dole out beta blockers and a side dish of “see how you get on”, preferring to treat patients in ways that she believes which first teach them how to be calm again, and then how to manage their conditions. For this she recommends two non-pharmaceutical remedies: weekly counselling sessions and practicing yoga.

For the record, I’m all for talking things over with a professional but I can’t fit thirty to sixty minutes of that in to every day, as I can with yoga, particularly since I’ve taken to completing a set of exercises at home in front of a DVD or YouTube, rather than attending a class. (Full disclosure: I did go to one once. I forgot to turn my phone off and when it rang repeatedly during the meditation part at the end I just looked round at everyone with this really teenage “Omygod. Would someone please just answer that?” face ‘cos I was too embarrassed to admit it was mine. In any case, I’m too clumsy to exercise in public.)

My doctor recommends practicing yoga as close to bedtime as possible, as the sooner you go to bed afterwards the better you’ll sleep. Her thinking, supported by many a study, is that the relaxation that yoga promotes will contribute to not only more sleep but a calmer, better quality of sleep, as well as a greater sense of calm throughout the following day. Regular practice should- and in my experience does- have a culmulative effect, meaning that the symptoms of anxiety and insomnia continue to improve over time, making yoga an essential part of sufferers’ bedtime routines. I refuse to also encourage you to also practice what experts call “good sleep hygiene” ‘cos it’s a way of making simple common sense sound disgusting.

Me attempting the same pose, accompanied by two downward facing dogs. It's blurry 'cos my friend was too busy laughing at the dogs to hold the camera.

For the record, those of you who are- as I was - new to yoga should consult your own GPs before taking it up, lest you be vulnerable to injury or, I don’t know, tantric sex cults. You should also probably not do as I have done, and go to classes run by a trained and respected teacher who can show you the correct way to perform each pose. Anyone who’s not suited to practicing yoga- or doesn’t have as much time on their hands as me- could also benefit from practicing yogic relaxation and breathing of an evening.

My new best friend, a 'Yoga for Beginners with Patricia Walden' DVD

On nights when I don’t have time to perform a full routine, practicing these simple exercises has still helped me have a better night’s sleep, which always contributes to a better next day. I also favour acupuncture, reiki and drinking with my friends as ways to relax.

Does anyone have any other recommendations? Are there any other non-pharmaceutical methods I should be trying? What about cocktail recipes? List them in the comments and I promise to try them out, especially if they involve abseiling or the word “martini”.