Asking someone about their sleep quality seems as common and acceptable as bringing up the weather.  This simple observation of social behavior tells me that we are keenly and openly aware of the impact of restful, fitful, or complete lack of sleep.  When I have a guest in my home, I am relieved to know they slept well, like I have been able to provide that all-important ‘good night’s sleep’. If a colleague tells me he had a terrible night of sleep, I may be more compassionate and offer to take some work off his proverbial plate, knowing that his poor sleep may make for a very difficult – and sluggish – day.  When I have a poor night’s sleep – tossing and turning or just not enough – I am not fully present and it takes me a few days to get back on track. And I’m not the only one.

People shell out huge amounts of money for mattresses that promise the perfect firmness for a perfect snooze.  Offices around the United States are installing ‘nap pods’ to ensure daytime rests for their workers because lack of sleep, in economic terms, leads to lower productivity. A study by scientists at Harvard Medical School estimates that sleep deprivation costs U.S. companies $63.2 billion in lost productivity per year.  And while we’re talking numbers, more than 6 million adults in the U.S. in 2010 reported using sleep medicines in the past month, according to research conducted at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Harvard University.  Furthermore, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US estimates 40.6 million American workers, or 30% of the civilian workforce, don’t get enough rest.  And according to the recent Great British Sleep Survey, more than half the population suffers from some level of insomnia.

Whether sleep issues result from stress or depression, caring for a new baby, or physiological changes, most people have trouble sleeping at some point in their lives.  In a culture where we have instant and perpetual contact with the outside world – through smart phones, tablets, internet – it is all the more difficult to ‘turn off’, to power down and to, therefore, sleep restfully, regardless of the root cause.  So how do we overcome this without the side effects that accompany common pharmaceutical interventions? Mounting evidence confirms that yoga and complementary techniques support better sleep, as they are highly effective in training the mind and body to relax.  While companies speak about lack of sleep in terms of productivity, and new mamas speak in terms of tried patience, there are much greater implications affecting a person’s entire experience – in body, mind + energetically.

Lisa Sanfilippo is one of London’s most popular yoga teachers and an expert on yoga for sleep. She will be partnering with our founder/director Heather Mason from 27th February – 3rd March in offering a training course: Yoga Therapy for Insomnia. Lisa’s powerful + popular Yoga for Insomnia offerings (workshops, courses + one-to-one sessions) grew out of her personal experience of a high-stress Ivy League education and demanding deadline-oriented work life, giving her a unique compassion for living consciously and healthily in an often-unrelenting world. She brings her 15+ years of research in better sleep to her courses, one to one sessions and workshops- helping hundreds of Londoners to rest better over the years.

Through assisting Lisa on two of her Yoga for Insomnia 6-week courses, I have found that her holistic and integrative approach is what leads students to better sleep.  Students have reported that even when they take on just a few of the practices, they see marked changes in their sleep.  Ex-insomniac Nicole Ettinger reviewed Lisa’s course in an article for the Daily Express, and reports: “I tried sleeping pills and although they worked they left me feeling like a zombie through the day. I tried every conceivable herbal remedy to no avail.” Upon taking Lisa’s course things shifted.  She writes, “I learned how to breathe slowly and deeply and feel my heart rate decrease, counting to three on inhaling and to four on exhaling… After four weeks of following the routine I found I could quiet my body and mind enough to achieve a full night’s sleep.” (A taster of the routine can be found here.)

Yoga, mindfulness and relaxation techniques are no quick fix, which is contrary to the way the world moves around us, and thus, the way we want things to be.  By developing these practices, along with evaluating habits during the day, we take a holistic approach to discovering better sleep.  This integration of mind and body in such practices allows the whole system to move at it’s own pace to find a more harmonious partnership between waking and sleeping. This approach makes for lasting changes over fleeting reprieve, i.e. the instant gratification route.

Sound a little “airy-fairy” to you? You’ll be glad to know that there is scientific research suggesting that these practices REALLY do work.  Guest lecturer Philip Stevens will join Lisa and Heather during the aforementioned 5-day course to offer a deeper understanding of the science behind sleep. Philip is a Consultant Neurophysiologist, holds an honors degree in Neurophysiology from the Centre For Sleep Research in South Australia and post-graduate clinical training in Mind-Body Medicine from Harvard Medical School in Boston, USA. He has explored the effects of certain yoga practices on the heart, brain and autonomic nervous system and runs clinical yoga sessions, courses and seminars on various aspects of science and yoga.  Aligning with the mission of the Minded Institute, Philip helps to bridge the gap between ancient yogic practices and the modern medical science supporting their efficacy.

As a new mama, the criteria for what constitutes a ‘good night’s sleep’ has been radically altered. I get less sleep, and I feel more tired than I did before my baby   But it’s also meant that I’ve been able to apply all of the things I picked up through assisting Lisa’s sleep courses and in helping to compile her forthcoming e-book. What I know more clearly than ever before is the power in the breath to wind down the nervous system after a late-night cry and feed (the baby, not me), and equally in a few simple asanas in the morning to lift my energy after a night only spotted with sleep. And that’s just the tip of the ‘Yoga for Insomnia’ iceberg. Come see for yourself:

Yoga for Insomnia: A 5–day Professional Development Course

With Lisa Sanfilippo + Heather Mason, with guest lecturer Philip Stevens.

Thursday 27th Feb – Monday 3 March, 10AM – 5PM daily

The Diorama Arts Centre, London NW1

Click here for more info.

Email to register:

Click below to see Lisa Sanfilippo’s yoga for sleep offerings, on the web and in London:

An ex-insomniac’s success story with Lisa’s course

Yoga for Sleep video on Healthista

Yoga for Sleep online classes with Lisa on Movement for Modern Life

Yoga for sleep workshops + courses with Lisa in London at triyoga and The Life Centre

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