The mainly physical and modern form of yoga that’s practiced today is a good way to exercise and improve sleep. But unlike other types of physical exercise like running or aerobics, yoga is even better at improving sleep, especially if you do it on a regular basis.
While its benefits include burning calories and keeping the entire body loose and flexible, physical yoga is also a form of meditation that sharpens your ability to relax and focus. In fact, its overall effects on the body and the mind make it the ideal exercise for people who struggle with anxiety and insomnia.
Before you call the nearest yoga studio to sign up for classes, you should know that there are various types of physical yoga, each with a different level of difficulty.
- Hatha and Iyengar Yoga offers Light to Moderate Exercise
All physical yoga practice is referred to as hatha yoga. Most of the classes available to the general public (at least in the west) teach only different forms of hatha or physical yoga.
This means that if you’ve signed up for a ‘hatha yoga’ class, it will most likely be a rudimentary class on basic and traditional yoga breathing techniques (pranayama) and poses (asana). Hatha is a good place to start practicing yoga.
But if you’re a true beginner or if you have physical injuries that limit your movement, you might be more suited for iyengar yoga. This practice emphasizes focused calmness, alignment, and stability, which means that postures are held for longer periods of time (compared to other yoga practices).
Additionally, iyengar classes sometimes use props like belts, chairs, straps, rope, blankets, and yoga blocks to help people with limited movement maintain the proper postures.
- Vinyasa and Ashtanga Yoga offers Moderate to Vigorous Exercise
Vinyasa classes are sometimes called flow classes, which is a reference to how vinyasa emphasizes continuous flow between postures. The rapid flow or change between postures as well as the practice of synchronizing movement with breath means that vinyasa can prove to be very rigorous.
Also, while vinyasa focuses on the 12 sun salutation poses, there is no order as to how they’re executed. No two vinyasa classes are alike, and if you find this approach to be too chaotic, you can try ashtanga yoga.
Each ashtanga class performs poses in the exact same order. Ashtanga starts with easy poses and ends with some of the most difficult asanas in yoga. While some say it’s boring, others say that the consistent routine as well as the smooth transition from easy to difficult poses makes it easier to advance in ashtanga than in other styles.
But be warned: while predictable, ashtanga yoga can be even more rigorous than vinyasa. Sometimes referred to as “power yoga,” ashtanga was in fact developed for building strength, stamina, and flexibility.
- Bikram and Hot Yoga offers Vigorous Exercise
A bikram yoga class is 90 minutes of doing 2 breathing exercises and executing 26 poses in a heated room. Like ashtanga, each bikram class executes poses in the same exact order. And since you’ll be doing it in a heated room, prepare to sweat buckets.
Apart from keeping yourself fully hydrated beforehand, bikram is also best practiced with the least amount of clothes on. You’ll just be sweating through everything anyway. The same is true for hot yoga, which is simply yoga in a heated room but without the strict order of poses practiced in bikram.
- Restorative Yoga offers Light Stretching and Relaxation
This form of yoga emphasizes relaxation and is perfect for dealing with anxiety and stress. It consists of various poses that require you to lie down and sometimes use props to assist with proper alignment. Restorative yoga is literally the lightest form of yoga and can be practiced before bedtime without disrupting sleep.
Why is it important to know the level of physical activity involved in each yoga practice?
The More Vigorous the Yoga, the More it Can Improve Your Sleep
A recent poll by the National Sleep Foundation has found that people who exercise vigorously on a regular basis are twice as likely to get a good night’s sleep compared to people who didn’t get any exercise at all. In short, exercise is the key to good and healthy sleep.
This means that the easiest way to maximize the bedtime benefits of yoga is to do moderate to vigorous forms of yoga on a regular basis.
However, if you’re coming from months to years of absolutely zero exercise, it might be best to start with light to moderate yoga. Remember: always honestly inform your instructor of your current level of practice, especially if you’re moving up towards more vigorous poses.
The Best Time to Do Yoga is Anytime
According to the same National Sleep Foundation poll mentioned above, there seems to be no ideal time for when you should exercise. While experts have previously advised not to exercise too close to bedtime, the NSF’s findings say that even exercise before bedtime is better for regulating sleep than no exercise at all.
However, keep in mind that it may take some time for the body to come down from vigorous exercise. So yes, exercise at anytime of the day and night, but not at the expense of sleep.
Also, chronic insomniacs and people undergoing sleep treatments are advised to still restrict themselves from exercising too close to bedtime, as this might be part of their ongoing treatment for insomnia.
But if you’re currently suffering from no sleep-related conditions and just want to improve your sleep, feel free to do any type of yoga throughout the day.
For instance, restorative yoga isn’t just for relaxing before bedtime. You can even do it during your lunch break. It’s the perfect way to quell anxiety during especially stressful workdays.
Likewise, go ahead and practice midnight bikram if you can find a class that offers that schedule. Sweating it all out right before bedtime could leave you positively ready to sleep as soon as you lay down your mattress.
No matter which time of the day you choose to do it…
Regular Yoga Helps With Depression, Anxiety, and Insomnia
The emotional and mental benefits of yoga almost outweigh its many physical benefits. A recent study has found that yoga can be a substitute to prescribing mood-altering medication in patients with depression, which is both a cause and effect of chronic insomnia.
As explained by Dr. Chris Streeter from the Boston University of Medicine, it’s because yoga targets the autonomic nervous system. By balancing out this system, regular yoga practice allows the rest of the brain to work better at regulating chemical imbalances.
While Streeter admits that more research on the topic is necessary, there’s no doubt that adding yoga to your treatment regimen (instead of prescribing another drug) can improve the condition of patients with depression.
Apart from coming with considerably less side-effects as compared to medication, yoga is also cheaper. You don’t have to do all your yoga in expensive gyms and studios.
All You Need to Do Yoga at Home is Practice, a Yoga Mat, a Mirror, and More Practice
Regular yoga classes can be expensive (depending on where you are), but with enough practice, you can start doing it at home by yourself.
Of course, this is only possible when you’ve had enough supervised practice under good yoga instructors. Once you get the fundamentals down and have consistently attended yoga classes for 1 to 2 months, you can start safely practicing poses at home.
However, no matter how good you think you are, it’s always a good idea to keep going back to classes from time to time. The more you pay attention to what your yoga instructor corrects during class, the better you can practice at home by yourself.