Yoga is one of our favourite workouts, relaxation techniques and meditation times. It’s funny how one word can mean so many things! Yoga is often misunderstood and only viewed at from one angle, which could be any of the three we mentioned. The point is that you can use yoga to solve a huge variety of health and wellness issues and to prove this, we decided to consult an expert. Lamya Arsiwala has been teaching dynamic vinyasa flow yoga and soft hatha yoga for the past five years. She currently teaches privately and at The Yoga House in Bandra. We caught up with the pint-sized yogi to understand more about yoga and how it connects to another favourite topic of ours, sleep.
What is it about yoga that makes one relax?
The practice of yoga is one that aims to bring the practitioner into a state of equilibrium. This means that at times one can feel energised and pumped up after a class but with a quiet and focused mind. This happens because of the breathing that is so central to yoga. The breath brings the body to its natural state, one that is relaxed. With deeper inhalations and exhalations, you can calm your body and mind and move into a more meditative state. This is why teachers often give the instruction to take long/deep breaths during your practice.
What is your favourite way to relax?
Yoga nidra or yogic sleep is my go-to activity. This cools the body down after a strenuous day or practice yoga nidra is essentially about effortless relaxation. You can find lots of videos and links online to help learn more about this.
How do yoga and sleep connect?
In order to have a deep and restful sleep, it’s key to first come into a relaxed state – which is the ultimate aim of yoga. People who struggle to sleep do so because of an active mind. Trying yoga nidra or a relaxing audio or guided meditation at bedtime can help calm your mind and allow you slip into a relaxed state and finally into a sleep state.
Are there any poses that could help improve the quality of one’s sleep?
For a beginner, I would recommend poses like:
– seated forward bend (pascimottansana)
– child’s pose (balasana)
– legs up at the wall (viparita karani)
– supine spinal twist (supta matsyendrasana)
For advanced practitioners, you can try poses like:
– plough pose (halasana)
– shoulder stand (sarvangasana)
– bridge pose (setu badhasana)
What is your sleep routine?
I usually like to wind down by taking a shower and playing some slow chants or some ambient relaxing music. Moby has released an amazing album called ‘Long Ambients1: Calm. Sleep.’ which has eleven 20 minute tracks. I either grab a book and get into bed or play an audio meditation. The key is to put off all the lights and charge your phone at a wall slightly further away from your bedside. A couple of years ago, I learnt reiki, and now more frequently, I ditch the book and music and I take about 15-20 minutes to give myself reiki and normally fall asleep during that process. Reiki is very a relaxing technique and for me, it has served as a gateway into meditation.
How do you stay inspired and what inspires you?
Getting away and spending time with nature keeps me inspired. Change and exploration, doing new things, all put me in a state of being awestruck and inspired. The word inspired comes from ‘in-spirit’ which means anything and everything that takes you away from the ego mind and into purest part of being. Things that inspire us will continue to change as we evolve and age.
What is the biggest misconception people have about yoga?
The biggest misconception about yoga is that it’s physical exercise. While yoga can improve flexibility, increase strength, balance internal systems and detoxify the body, yoga really is the practice of connecting to one’s breath. The breath is the most powerful tool we have to relax and purify the body. Hence doing any yoga asana without awareness or focus of the breath is merely just a physical movement and will have diminished benefit to the body.
What are some of the biggest health issues you find with people who come to your class?
Lower back and shoulder pain. This is directly related to stress in the mind. For women, it’s usually hormonal imbalances and skin issues also related to stress.
Your tips for living a better, healthier life and getting better sleep?
Get to bed early and try and get at least seven hours of sleep. Sleep is when the body repairs and heals itself.
Eat three meals and day and keep caffeine consumption to a minimum.
Get some form of exercise up to three times a week – I’m not a fan of high-intensity workouts as I feel that those movements are done without awareness and an increase our chances of injury.
Lastly, drink plenty of water through the day!