Before Yoga & Ayurveda I suffered from insomnia.

Every night I lay in bed in a sweat of anxiety, heart beating, mind racing with worries. It was through my regular practice of rejuvenating and restorative yoga to release deep tension, balancing my constitution, ujjayi prānāyāma, and regular Yoga Nidrā practice that the anxiety settled, and I was able to begin sleeping deeply, every single night.

There is PLENTY of modern research coming out now on the value and importance of sleep {hint: it’s VERY critical}, for our mental, emotional and physiological health. {scroll down to the bottom of this article for a video that demonstrates the current research}. A lack of sleep is one of the most primary causes of illness today, more so than diet or exercise. For our physical health, mental health and spiritual growth – regular, deep, dreamless sleep is not only helpful, it is imperative. 

The Vedic tradition has known since time immemorial how essential sleep is for wellbeing and has a great deal to say about how to get better sleep. In this article I’ll share a bit about the best sleep position. 

This addresses one of the most common question I received during my 18 years in private practice as a yoga therapist ~ 

“what is the best sleeping position?

It’s an important question…in order to rejuvenate the body and mind,  how you sleep DOES MATTER. ​

We’ll look at two aspects of  your anatomical “position” during sleep. The Vedic tradition also addresses your geographical position in the room {in terms of the cardinal directions}, which I’ll save for another time. 

To address anatomical position. There is in fact, a classical yogic expression… 

“A bhogi sleeps on the belly,

a rogi sleeps on the back,

a yogi sleeps on the side”. 

Let’s investigate each part… 

A bhogi sleeps on the belly…

Bhoga means enjoyment.

A bhogi is one whose life is centered around pleasure. Every action is dedicated to the procurement of pleasure {and the funds it takes to invest in pleasure}. This kind of person is described in the Bhagavad Gītā as ultimately suffering greatly. 

Imagine a person coming home late from a night of boozing and eating and literally FALLING asleep face down on the bed. That’s a bhogi sleeping on the belly.

Now, if you happen to have a habit of sleeping on your belly {and many people do}, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are staying out partying every night, just take that as an extreme visual example. The truth is, habits develop for a number of reasons: from repeated patterns and conditioning, to genetics, to past life karma.

But for a belly-sleeper, there may be a seed of a tendency to orient one’s life in a rajasic way, around self-interest, self-concern and pleasure. There may be a distaste for discipline, or doing things that are out of one’s comfort zone. There may be a seed of a tendency toward over-indulgence. Try to objectively consider… has your life any of these seeds? 

Now even if we can’t see the cause of a person’s belly sleeping, keep in mind, nothing is linear from the yoga perspective. Regardless of the cause, belly sleeping will also give the RESULT of excess bhoga – fixation on pleasure and distaste for discipline or discomfort. If you are sleeping on your belly, it could lead you toward more sensory excess in your waking hours, and vice-versa. In my experience as well, belly-sleepers simply do not get good quality sleep, and studies have shown that depletion of sleep leads to sense pleasure seeking during one’s waking hours {this is a specific hormonal impact of sleep depletion that accounts for weight gain and food cravings}

Belly sleeping can lead to neck and low back pain, contribute to differences between the two sides of your body and can increase pleasure-seeking during your waking hours. 

​A remedy is to add more discipline into your waking hours – such as an earlier wake-up time followed by a spiritual practice of some kind, regular bed time, and regular meal times.  


A Rogi Sleeps on the Back…

Roga means illness.

A rogi is a person who is physically unwell, the term also refers to a person who’s mind is stuck in a tendency toward bogginess, lethargy, neglect, avoidance and delusion. These tendencies lead to illness of the body and mind.

Imagine the last time you had a head cold. You probably slept on your back in order to breathe better. In addition, anyone who has ever suffered a back or shoulder injury knows, the only way they could sleep was on their back. 

Now, as with belly sleeping, the root cause of one’s back sleeping may not be readily seeable. It may be a habit developed over time. However, from the Vedic perspective, it will mean that there are seeds {whether due to karma, genetics, habits, conditioning} of the qualities of a rogi – a tendency toward avoidance, neglect {of self or other} and so on. In addition, in a cyclical manner, if you sleep on your back over time, the result will be illness. In other words, folks with back pain, generally find that sleeping on the back allow a few zzzz’s, but never really resolves the pain, or find they get sick more frequently or suffer from mental disturbance such as depression or anxiety. 

Back sleeping can lead to sleep apnea, illness, head fogginess,  and while it is at least better than not sleeping at all due to discomfort, long-term back sleeping can prevent someone in pain from actually getting better, keeping your aches and pains in a holding pattern. Back sleepers, like belly-sleepers are not getting high quality sleep. 

A remedy is to take more action in your life, starting with waking up earlier and gently moving the body. It is also advised to avoid daytime napping, and save the sleep for a deeper nighttime sleep. 


A Yogi Sleeps on the Side

Yoga can be clearly defined in a number of ways, depending on the exact context. For our purpose here, we will define a yogi as an awareful person, consciously pursuing life in a dharmic way, in accord with the laws of nature.  

One who is a yogi sleeps on the side, naturally. But… sleeping on the side consistently may also lead one more toward a yogic life. 

Side sleeping is ideal for the physical body, according to both the timeless vedic tradition and the modern science. When we feel well, we naturally sleep on our sides. Sleeping on the side, we stay well. 

Side sleeping supports the natural sleep cycles from waking into deep sleep, into dreaming sleep and so on. The good sleep that results from side-sleeping, will lead to better physical and mental health, and this supports greater spiritual growth and overall happiness and a sense of well-being. Win. Win. Win.

And yes, it doesn’t matter which side, and you can switch sides throughout the night. 

You can increase your wellbeing during the day, to increase your chances of side sleeping comfortably at night. You can increase your side-sleeping hours at night to increase your wellbeing during the day. 

You may even recall that you used to happily and comfortably sleep on your side, but that you can no longer do it since your ________ . {shoulder injury, back injury, sinusitis, allergies, alcohol consumption increased, etc.}.

Comfortable side sleeping can be a good gauge of your overall state of wellbeing.

 

To Wrap up… 

A good night’s sleep is imperative {watch the video below!}

AND… if you are going to sleep well, whilst preventing your body from being twisted and arched in all the wrong ways, your sleep position matters… AND if you are sleeping on your back or belly… you might need to pay attention to what is going on in your life!

Deep, restful, dreamless sleep is natural … though for some of us, it takes some simple remedies and lifestyle practices. 

The absolute best way I know to help your sleep is through ayurvedic lifestyle practices. I always give my clients personalized bedtime routines based on their individual body-mind constitution… PLUS specific sleep times, sleep herbs and wake up rituals. How you sleep deeply effects how you live, and vice versa!

In Lesson 1 of my Nectar of Nidrā program {a Yoga Nidra training for teachers and holistic practitioners} we go in-depth into the power of nighttime sleep from the Ayurvedic and Allopathic perspective {including all the many health risks of sleep depletion, which is a growing chronic across modern cultures}. We also spend time learning how to assess sleep and remedy sleep issue with Ayurvedic measures. Better sleep, leads to deeper Yoga Nidrā {in which you don’t fall into unconscious sleep}. We also spend a full lesson on the Vedāntic description of the different states of consciousness – waking, sleeping and dreaming. 

In the meantime… at least try sleeping on your side… “like a yogi!”


Video {14 min} on HOW Critical sleep is!

The link between sleep deprivation and cancer is so strong that the WHO now considers poor sleep a carcinogen”

“We can’t find a single psychiatric disorder in which sleep is normal”.

“How to get good sleep? Return to the past, when we slept well. The modern defamation sleep is a silent epidemic. Let us return to a full night of sleep, and you may experience what it is like to truly be awake during the day”.

I now understand the deeply rejuvenative power of a Yoga Nidra practice for myself and my students. The healing power of Yoga Nidra to resolve trauma patterns is significant, and so important for me and my students. I’m thrilled to now have a clear understanding of how to offer this practice in private sessions, group classes and retreats. The course was so rich in content, I love that I can go back and review the classes over and over again!

Barb, Nectar of Nidra Grad