As a yoga teacher for first responders, helping firefighters to find better sleep is a top priority. When we feel stressed our bodies’ fight and flight mode is activated. When we are relaxed or sleeping our bodies’ go into a rest and digest mode.
Practices like diaphragmatic breathing, also called Ocean breathing in yoga, is a perfect tool to cool down our bodies fight or flight response and allow our bodies for a good night’s sleep.
I’ve listed my top 3 strategies used in the firehouse helping firefighters sleep better at the station and return to sleep after running a call in the middle of the night. Remember Yoga is not an overnight solution. However, with patience and persistence, you will not only be sleeping better but also feeling more refreshed and better equipped to handle whatever stressors come your way.
Top Three Yoga Strategies to Help With Sleep
1. Ocean Breath
Begin by inhaling deeply through the nose. With your mouth closed, exhale through your nose while constricting the back of your throat as if you are saying “ha” but keep your mouth closed. This exhalation should sound like the waves of the ocean. Practice Ocean breathing for a minimum of 3 minutes before heading off to sleep.
2. Legs Up The Wall Pose (Viparita Karani )
This simple pose is one of my all-time favorites. Not only does it help to recirculate your blood flow, but it also enlivens tired legs and varicose veins.
- Find an empty space on your wall and place your mat perpendicular to the wall.
- Sit down on the mat and bring your left or right side to the wall as close as possible, so your side body meets the wall.
- Lie back onto the mat, and gently place your legs up the wall.
- Relax your arms by your sides.
- Optional: You can prop your feet up on the couch or office chair.
- Kneel on the floor preferable on a yoga mat or with some padding under your knees, and bring your big toes together.
- Separate your knees hips width apart or as wide as the edges of the mat.
- Exhale and sink your torso onto your thighs.
- Let your hands relax out in front of your with your elbows resting on the floor, or alongside your torso, so your arms are pointed to the back of the room, palms facing up.
- If your forehead does not touch the floor then consider placing a yoga block or pillow underneath your forehead. This will allow your neck to release.
- Practice Ocean breathing in this posture.
Shannon McQuaide, FireFlex Yoga founder and director, grew up in a fire family. Shannon is an educator, functional and resiliency expert with 20+ years’ experience creating empowering instructional programs for corporations, public schools, community groups, and first responders. She's coping with Shelter in Place by hiking in the mountains near her home and utilizing Active's online fitness programs!