Natural sleep inducing foods

Sleep disorders are conditions that affect how well and how much you sleep. Insufficient sleep is a very serious problem that poses immense risk to your health and well-being. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, you stand at a higher risk of heart diseases and cancer. Sleeping well, on the other hand, promotes body’s capability to self-heal and improves the brain function.

But if you find it difficult slipping into and remaining in Dreamland, don’t go running for prescription sleeping pills. They are habit-forming, harmful and bizarre to say the least. We would encourage you to try these natural food & drink based sleeping aids.

  1. Cherriescherry

A new research indicates that a morning and evening ritual of drinking tart cherry juice (about 8 ounces twice a day, for two weeks) can improve the quality of sleep and increase the sleeping time by up to 90 minutes in adults with insomnia. Cherries contain a naturally occurring amount of melatonin which is a hormone produced in the human body by pineal gland and is known to play a part in the body’s sleep and wake cycle.

  1. Seafood & Fishsalmon

Some seafood like shrimp, cod, tuna and halibut have naturally occurring tryptophan which is a natural amino acid. Tryptophan is needed to produce serotonin in the brain, which if deficient can lead to insomnia. However, since seafood has a proclivity of high contamination, it’s best to eat such foods in moderation.

  1. Carbohydrate and Protein Combomilk

It’s a known fact that warm milk promotes a good night’s rest. This is because milk gets you your tryptophan fix, but the key is to combine carbohydrates with it as it helps your body to utilize the sleep inducer better. So you can add some honey or sugar or whole grain cereal to your warm milk.

  1. Lemon Balmlemon balm

This lemon scented member of the mint family is a sleep inducing remedy since old times. Lemon balm also aids digestion and decreases restlessness and agitation. To consume it, you can make a tea by steeping fresh or dried lemon balm in a cup of hot water for 5-8 minutes. (Note – If you are on thyroid medication, it’s best to consult your doctor before beginning this regime. Lemon balm is known to interfere with the medication and the dose needs to be adjusted).

  1. Herb Teaschamomile tea

Herbs like sage, chamomile, valerian etc. are also known for their calming properties. To make a tea, you can add 4 tbsp of fresh or dried herb to a pot of hot water and steep for 4 hours. Strain and warm the tea before you consume it. An easier option is to just buy the teabags as they are widely available now.

Why can’t I sleep at night?

sleep poemThis week we are going to address sleep, issues related to it, the relation of diet to sleep and some exercises to help alleviate insomnia.

Now, we all need an optimal average of 7-9 hours of shut eye every night. The best way to gauge if you got enough sleep is how you feel the next day. Too much or too little sleep leaves you feeling tired and cranky. Growth hormones are released during the sleep and that’s the simple reason why babies, children and adolescents need more sleep than adults.

Things that are keeping you up at night?

(*crying babies not included)

  1. Eating too much or too little. A light snack before bedtime promotes sleep while late night heavy meals cause indigestion and heartburn and disrupt sleep. Lying down with a full stomach puts you at a gravitational disadvantage as the gastric juices and acids flow up the oesophagus causing heartburn.
  2. Alcohol is a double edged sword. Small amounts of it can put you to sleep but as it is metabolized, sleep becomes fragmented.
  3. Caffeine in most cases causes insomnia. Some people, however, do not get affected by it.
  4. High fat content in your meals leads to sluggish metabolism and disrupts sleep.
  5. Fluids near bedtime.

What can you do to get enough sleep?

  1. Establish regular timings to sleep and wake up to regulate body’s inner clock.
  2. Regular exercising.
  3. Avoiding long naps during the day.
  4. Regular light meals.
  5. Avoiding caffeine, smoking and mental stimulation before bedtime. Put that phone on silent and away from your reach.
  6. Establishing a routine which includes some or all of these – a warm bath, reading, calming music, meditation etc.
  7. Using the bedroom only for sleeping, keeping it devoid of TV and keeping it dark and quiet.
  8. Wearing comfortable night clothes.
  9. Drinking milk and honey before bedtime. Milk helps in releasing tryptophan, an amino acid which is a natural dietary sleep inducer. Tryptophan increases serotonin in the brain which is a natural sedative which in turn helps you get your zzzzzzs.
  10. Drinking teas of chamomile, hops, lemon balm, peppermint etc. (however, there’s not much evidence that they work in reducing insomnia)

What causes Insomnia?

Insomnia can be caused by anxiety, depression, stress, medical issues, obesity etc. Overcoming the underlying cause of these disorders is essential to improving the quality of sleep but attention to aspects like nutrition, sleep hygiene, exercises can definitely help.

Stay tuned, for we will soon bring to you a short yoga stretch sequence, suitable for all levels, to help you get a better quality, undisturbed sleep at night.

Yoga Nidra – Yogic sleep & why you need it?

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“Be like the melting snow – wash yourself of yourself.”

-Rumi

On the onset, allow me to ask you a simple question – How do you relax?

You might answer me by saying “I try to relax once in a while by listening to music or taking a nap.” Or one might argue that collapsing in an easy chair with a mug of coffee is relaxing, or a drink, or a cigarette induces relaxation. But this never suffices as a scientific definition of relaxation. These can be classified as sensory diversions. True relaxation is an experience far beyond all this. For absolute relaxation to happen, one must remain aware. Enter Yoga Nidra – a state of dynamic sleep.

Yoga Nidra is a powerful and systematic method to induce a complete physical, mental and emotional relaxation. Not unlike other Indian esoteric exercises and techniques, it had good reasons to have been kept secret, potentially for centuries until the 1960s when it was reintroduced to western students by Parmahansa Satyananda Saraswati, Founder of the Bihar School of Yoga. Jealous guarding of secrets aside, many aspects of yoga do have the ability to not only heal and provide means of evolving spiritually but to also cause damage to one’s physical, mental and psychological well-being. Hence a certain caution is always advisable when engaging in yogic practices. Fortunately, Yoga Nidra is an extremely safe practice with a plethora of benefits to offer. Let’s try to briefly understand the practice of Yoga Nidra.

 

Yoga Nidra usually takes 20-45 minutes to complete. Here’s a Technique Breakdown:

  1. Internalization or Relaxation – Preparation by doing a few Asanas and then lying on the back in Shavasana with the eyes closed. Remaining awake is important but even if you fall asleep, you will receive peripheral benefits as your subconscious mind remains aware of everything that you take in with your sensory inputs. Falling asleep during the practice, particularly for the beginners is very common so do not get discouraged.
  2. Creation of an effective resolve which needs to be a short positive statement about a particular aim in life
  3. Rotation of consciousness through different body parts in a structured fashion
  4. Breath awareness
  5. Manifestations of opposites to relax the brain
  6. Creative visualizations
  7. The resolve is repeated, now in a highly suggestible state of consciousness is programmed into subconscious mind
  8. Careful and gradual return to normal state.

Here are a few Benefits that Yoga Nidra brings to the table:

  1. Everyone, even beginners can practice.
  2. The most easily observable effect of this practice is the extreme deep relaxation of the nervous system and healing of the body by allowing it to rest and recharge.
  3. Physical stress and tension is removed. Yoga Nidra is a successful therapy for both recent and long standing psychological disturbances of all kinds – especially high anxiety levels and neurotic behavior patterns. It is known to work outstandingly well to cure insomnia and sleep disturbances when adapted along with a busy routine during the day and an appropriate asana practice.
  4. Mental stress and unwanted impressions are removed
  5. Emotional balance is restored.
  6. Faculties of imagination and visualization are practiced and enhanced
  7. Trains the Mind – by using the power of suggestion. Clears up the unconscious – the practice of rapid image visualization brings the unconscious repressed desires, experiences, conflicts and frustrations to the conscious level and then cuts off the personal identification with those experience. As a result, the unconscious is cleared up.
  8. Enhances memory and learning capacity
  9. Harmonizes the two hemispheres of the brain and the two aspects of autonomous nervous system – sympathetic and parasympathetic.

I can say from my own personal experience that this is an extremely effective technique to build up a calm disposition and develop a sense of inner peace. With a regular practice you can experience the world from a deep reservoir of calm stillness and self-love within. So, find a qualified teacher and try it out for yourself, it may just change your life in a profound way.

Conscious vs unconscious mind!

Antonio-Mora-Collage-Photography-1We all like to think that we are good at being rational and we live our lives with deliberate awareness. But I’m sure you’ve come across the expression “Trust your gut” more than once. How rational, how in-control is it to go with your gut? Would you believe me if I said that gut-trusting is as normal as any logically calculated response.

If you are a picky shopper or a wine connoisseur, chances are that this blog article won’t go down well with you.  We do not like to be told that we make our decisions, not on logical and reasonable grounds but for much less obvious reasons, sometimes not being aware of this.

Quoting Carl Jung – “There are certain events of which we have not consciously taken note; they have remained, so to speak, below the threshold of conscious. They have happened, but they have been absorbed subliminally.” How true and how aptly put.

In the words of Leonard Mlonidow, the famous physicist, author and professor – “There is an interplay between the conscious and unconscious. How much of one’s feelings, behaviour and judgements are due to each cannot be understood as we constantly shift back and forth between them.”

Let’s try to simplify this with the use of examples. What you might purchase at a supermarket for example, is influenced greatly by extraneous factors like packaging, advertising, price and discount rather than by quality or actual need of the product. So this is where the unconscious decision making comes into picture. The idea of unconscious information influencing our decisions can be interesting and controversial at the same time. Another example is when you are driving a car, a lot of decisions you might make are based on unconscious processing of information. When you learn to drive – you notice each turn, each bump and each pot hole on the road as you manoeuvre around them. As you begin to get more practiced, you can drive while multitasking like listening to music, talking to the other people in the car etc while manoeuvring each pothole, each bump without giving any notice to them – more like on an autopilot.

So I hope I am making sense to you when I say that mind is like an iceberg – 10% above the waterline and 90% below it which is invisible. However it is this 90% that the ocean currents act on generating the visible behaviour above the waterline. This 90% of your mind isn’t visible and it never sleeps but it is this 90% which shapes your ideologies, your behaviour patterns and hence your decision making. So if you have ever been puzzled by something you did which you had no intention to do and then later wondered – “where the heck did that come from?” Now you know the answer – it’s your unconscious mind.

How to deflect negative energies?

If you are a social empath like me, you’d easily get overwhelmed by negative energies surrounding you. You can sense negative energies like fear, anxiety and stress from other people, draw this into your own body and resolve them as your own physical symptoms and hence, turn into an emotional sponge. In my case, being an empath would mean getting exhausted and drained very quickly in the presence of crowds. Excessive noise, unpleasant smells alone can set off your nerves and anxiety. An emotional sponge is also less likely to intellectualize what they’re feeling and their feelings get hurt pretty easily.

Is there a way to protect yourself from all these negative energies?

  1. The first thing that one should do is identify the source of distress. Is the feeling your own or is it from another source?
  2. Distance yourself from that source, do not hesitate.
  3. Center yourself, connect to your deeper self. For a few breaths, inhale calm, exhale negativity. This will ground you and purify the negative energies.
  4. If nothing works, imagine or visualize a shield of protective white light around you. Think of it as a bubble that blocks out any discomfort – physical or mental but allows what’s positive to filter through.
  5. Learn to recognize and manage your feelings.
    1. If there are people or places that can bring you down, protect yourself against them. Remove yourself from such situations.
    2. Eat pure, healthy meals rich in proteins and other nutrients.
    3. Do not rely on others to help you out of situations. Be your own saviour.
    4. Set time limits on your interactions. These boundaries need to be kind, yet meaningful.
    5. Have your own private sanctuary where you can have some quiet time to read or meditate.
    6. Practice mindfulness and meditation.
  6. Seek out and interact with positive, hopeful people. Hear and relish their faith in themselves and others, their hopeful words, songs and art forms. Hope is contagious and it lifts your spirit.
  7. Practice Yoga and deep breathing. These draw upon emotional centering and provide safe harbour in times of storm.

Detoxing – The Yogi Way

Why do you need to detox?

Over a period of time, toxins accumulate in our livers and digestive systems from not only the food and drinks we ingest, but also from the chemicals from prescription and over the counter medications, hand soap, particulate matter in the air etc. As our systems get overloaded with these toxins, we develop migraines, irritability, rashes, tiredness, and we get sick and gain or lose too much weight. We begin to collect a toxic sludge made up of all the waste products the body hasn’t been able to break down, digest or expel. This toxic sludge forms the basis of much disease and emotional malaise.

You’d want to know why one should opt for Yogic detox when there are options like the juice detox, fasting detox and other fad detox diets available. The answer is fairly simple. Unlike some other popular cleansing techniques that ask you to undergo extreme fasts and dramatic measures, Yogic detox works to support instead of shocking your system to get rid of the toxins. It gently balances the whole person, so that they can detox without destabilizing the bodily systems in any way.

Detox Measures

  1. To undergo a yogic detox, you need to do a gentle cleanse of body and mind where you need to forgo the habits and substances which contribute to liver overload – e.g. Processed foods, alcohol, a rushed way of living life etc.
  2. You need to Slow Down – Habitual rushing, multitasking and an overload of information on the mind leads to an overtaxed mind and nervous system which in turn may result in health issues like adrenal fatigue, insomnia, irregular periods, indigestion etc. To begin with your detox, you need to take time and do things at a more relaxed pace, prioritize and procrastinate and avoid unnecessary cluttering of your mind space for the next seven days.
  3. Eat healthy, cleansing foods like fresh fruits and vegetables. Also, khichari – a simple dish of rice, mung beans and ghee (clarified butter), has the perfect balance of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Not only is it easy on the digestive system, it is also nourishing and beneficial for all the three Ayurvedic constitution types. A healthy detox diet is complete when aided with spicy teas and chutneys or herbs to stoke the digestive fire and eliminate toxins.
  4. Cleansing Yoga – A heating and twisting yoga sequence works best. This can move the toxins from tissues through the lymphatic and digestive system so they can be easily eliminated. This needs to be followed by a restorative sequence which relaxes the nervous system & mind and settles the body.
  5. Self-Reflection – Take time out of your busy schedule and take a walk outdoors with nature or meditate. Reflect on your own life and do some necessary de-cluttering. Ask yourself “why do I need to detox?” – is it for a better health, a simpler life or a deeper Yoga practice? You’ll be amazed at the insights you get when you slow down and listen – the key is to get out of your own way. Let go of the things that you’re doing to sabotage yourself. Use your energy in the right directions, perhaps even to help a larger cause.
  6. In addition to the above steps, ensure that you drink plenty of water, do a self – massage with warm oil suited to your Ayurvedic constitution, practice cleansing techniques like nasal irrigation, oil pulling and pranayama to complete the detox effectively.

Can Yoga make me happy?

“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude.”

If only life came studded with rainbows and unicorns, you’d chase the demons and darkness away with pixie dust of optimism. But of course, it doesn’t happen. Life is complicated, overwhelming and confusing to boot. Consider yourself fortunate if you’ve never been dragged down by the blues. I know that I have been. But, my yoga mat had a way to keep calling me back during the most tumultuous times – it gave me hope and balance. And as I settled into my body and mind – my life began to shift in my favor.

Like many others, before you write off the peace and happiness achieved on the mat as just another exercise induced dopamine high, dig a bit deeper. This mind – body connection which yoga brings to you via your practice, facilitates change at a cellular level. Your deeper breaths in the warrior II pose doesn’t just help you focus – it activates the para sympathetic nervous system, producing a calm and relaxing effect.

Much of our unhappiness as humans, comes from thoughts, feelings, experiences – which we judge as good or bad. We feel inadequate, powerless, humiliated and we keep track of what we don’t have more than what we do have.

Your honest and dedicated practice of Yoga has the power to release those weights from your body and mind. You will become more open to trying and less scared of falling. Physically – Yoga asks just ONE simple thing from you – Show up! Show up in mind, body and spirit on your mat. Leave the rest of it to your practice.

Here are five poses that can help you beat the blues.

  1. Camel – works to relieve anxiety.
  2. High Crescent Lunge – treats mild depression.
  3. Cat-Cow – alleviates insomnia.
  4. Warrior II – reduces the symptoms of vertigo.
  5. Reclined Bound Angle – relaxes the body and mind.

Things that your Yoga Teacher doesn’t (or shouldn’t) care about!    

meditation edit

I’ve been asked quite a few Yoga related questions – ranging from “Can Yoga help reduce weight?” or “Can Yoga improve my health?” to “Do you think I should buy branded Yoga clothes for my first class?” or the ever so outrageous “I am not religious, am I allowed to practice?”

Fret not, here’s some of your most awkward questions answered. This is a list of things that I, being a yoga instructor, DO NOT care about.

Your practice, is simply not about your belief, your weight, your diet, your spirituality, your religion or your flexibility….your practice is about YOU, it’s about you showing up and doing your thing on your mat. Rest are all details.

Here are some things that I, as a teacher, do not care about. Neither should you!

  1. I do not care what your hair looks like.
  2. I do not care if you are wearing Lululemon or Sweaty Betty.
  3. I do not care if you eat meat or survive on vegan.
  4. It doesn’t matter when you last practiced – 2 days ago, 2 years ago or never.
  5. I do not care if you practice on a manduka mat or a $10 drug store yoga mat.
  6. I do not care if you are in a zen zone or are cranky and exhausted when you show up for your practice.
  7. I do not care which religion you believe in, or if you wear mala beads.
  8. I do not care about the color of your skin or which gender you choose to love.
  9. It doesn’t matter to me if you are inflexible like a log, it doesn’t matter if you fall over in a pose and it doesn’t matter if you fart during the class.
  10. You can’t make it into a headstand? Can you still practice yoga? Hell, YES!
  11. Don’t want to say Namaste or OM? Sure, please don’t. Just be present in the class, in body and mind.
  12. I do not care if you can put your leg behind your head or lick your own elbow.
  13. I do not care if you smoke cigarettes like a chimney or you drink scotch. As long as you don’t show up drunk for the class.
  14. I do not care if 10 minutes into the class, you want to rest in child’s pose; or if you need to leave the class because you are dehydrated and nauseous. We’ve all been there.
  15. I also do not care if you have a jelly belly or a man bun, how old you are, or if you are tattooed and pierced and have blue hair.
  16. I understand if you look all strong otherwise but shake like a jelly pudding while holding your poses in the 60 minutes session.
  17. You can hate me, I’d understand .
  18. I do not care if you forgot to shave your armpits or if you sweat and stink.
  19. I do not care if you like Rumi, or if you can complete a 30 day instagram yoga challenge.
  20. I’ll be happy if you just show up. That’s all that I care about.

What’s the big deal with the breath?    

Meditate selfHave you ever stood in an asana in the middle of your Yoga class and wondered what the heck the teacher means when she asks you to “open the breath” or “bring the breath deep into the abdomen”? You’re not alone. All of us have been there – trying to figure out the “ideal” or the “perfect” way to breathe during yoga.

Fret not. We’re in this together. Simple things first.

  1. Relax your breath, no matter how difficult you feel the asana is. A quiet breath inspires a relaxed body and a quiet mind.
  2. The breath should voluntarily be slow, deep and even in nature. A breath like this simultaneously relaxes and energizes the body.
  3. Breathe through the nose, with inhalations and exhalations of equal length. One should draw the breath first into the lower belly, lower rib cage, then the chest and the throat.
  4. Keep the throat slightly constricted, mouth closed and tongue resting softly at the edge of the soft palate. This creates the subtle sound of Ujjayi Breathing, closely resembling the sound of waves in the ocean.
  5. Inhale as you move into a pose and exhale as you move out of it.
  6. Inhale to lengthen or expand or open in a pose and Exhale to twist or fold or relax.
  7. To undo a twist you first inhale and then exhale to return to the neutral position.

Now that we have the basics sorted out, maybe you should try to practice the breath a few times while sitting in a chair. Experiment with shorter and longer breaths and notice the effect that each has on your body and mind. Stay with the breath which feels “right” to you.

Do not worry if you are one of the zealous breathers with a breath so loud that it sounds like a steam engine. And also do not worry if your breath is not audible at all. Keep working on it until you reach that place where your breathing reminds you of the waves on the ocean – relaxing, calming and energizing you. Each person breathes at a different pace naturally. It will take you a bit of patience and practice to figure out the perfect breath for yourself – just keep breathing!

Five Yoga facts that will blow your mind!

If you practice Yoga then you would know that hitting back prayer handsthe mat not only gets rid of the blues, it helps you put that nagging back pain behind, it relieves insomnia and amps up your sex life in addition to sculpting you up. But here are five facts about your practice that can completely take you by surprise. Read on!

  1. Yoga is a 24/7 Practice

You don’t choose Yoga, it chooses you! You aren’t just practicing yoga when you are standing on your head. You are practicing when you delete the negative people out of your life so your mental energy is not consumed by hating or judging. You can direct it towards more useful stuff….like attaining enlightenment, say! J

  1. Turning Dust to Gold

Yoga changes you. Not instantly, but in a sure, gradual, wholesome, positive manner – body and mind. Sounds like a deal? I think this is what it means in alchemy when the shaman turns the dust to gold.

If you start your practice, your body changes noticeably in a year’s time – but almost immediately your mind changes, your emotions change, your presence in a room becomes stronger and almost everyone will begin to notice that radiant glow on your face.

  1. Kindness

If there is ONE thing by which you could gauge if a person truly practices Yoga and is deeply immersed in their practice, it is that they will be kind. They won’t treat you with disrespect, they won’t make you feel inferior, and they won’t be mean to you – not on the mat, not in person, not on the internet, not even behind your back. It is true!!

  1. Rest! No, Really!!

Do you know of Mr. BKS Iyengar, the Yoga Legend? He said that for 30 minutes of Asanas, one must practice 5 minutes of Rest or shavasana so the nervous system has time to come back to normal, and the body and mind become quiet and centered – reaching a balance. Did you know this? More importantly – do you respect this?

If you feel you can’t manage those five minutes of rest, then it’s a sure shot sign that you need to rest for ten. Take time to stop!

  1. “Body is not stiff, Mind is”

If I had a penny for every time someone tells me that they can’t practice Yoga because they aren’t flexible enough, I’d be rolling in dollars by now! Okay, not rolling. But I’ll be a bit less penniless than this.

When you begin to understand that it is the mind that starts the fear cycle, and the breath aids flexibility; with the help of right teacher – you, my friend, can make magic with your bodies!

Are you still thinking of an excuse to skip your practice? Read again!