You might not normally associate the words "sleep" and "exercise" with each other, as they each represent opposite states of being. From the perspective of acupuncture and Oriental medicine, sleep and exercise are perfect illustrations of yin and yang.
Sleep is a yin activity as it is quiet, passive and, at the same time, a rejuvenating state. Exercise and being awake, in general, is an active, warm and energetic state. When the forces of yin and yang are in harmony, a person can sleep well, and when awake, have adequate energy for exercise.
Exercises that enhance sleep quality can be utilized in two different ways:
One way is to engage in moderate to rigorous physical activity during the day to increase the chances for a well-earned, deep sleep. The second way is performing exercises at or close to bedtime to encourage a restful night. If you experience trouble falling asleep or have a hard time staying asleep for the duration of the night, a combination of the following exercises may prove helpful.
The best time to engage in strenuous activity is the morning or early afternoon. Too much exercise in the late afternoon or evening may stimulate the body, leading to a delay in bedtime. If you're wondering what to do for your workout, it's actually quite simple. Almost any aerobic activity you can think of is appropriate, as long as it is done consistently for at least 10 minutes. This includes walking, running, biking, swimming, tennis, dancing, and more.
The exercises performed during your bedtime ritual, to help you prepare for sleep, are of a different nature. The first thing you can do is soak your feet in warm water for 10 minutes. Adding 10 drops of lavender oil, another calming oil, or a tablespoon of Epsom salts is a nice luxury, but not necessary. Doing this prepares you for the next step.
Sit comfortably and massage each foot for a couple of minutes, especially the bottom of the foot and between the toes. According to the theory of acupuncture and Oriental medicine, specific areas of the feet correlate to different organs. When pressure is applied through pressing or massaging, the corresponding organ directly benefits. Not only do your feet receive special treatment, but your whole body as well.
Next, find a cozy spot near a wall to lie down on your back. Raise your legs in the air and rest them on the wall. Your body should be in the form of the letter L. Then, stretch your arms out to the sides, at the level of your shoulders. Hang out in this pose for 3 or 4 minutes. Experiment with wiggling your toes for 30 seconds or so, and then relaxing them. Or, try slowly bending and stretching your knees up to 5 times.
The purpose of this exercise is to give yourself a break from gravity. Most of the day is spent in an upright position, whether sitting or moving. Performing these movements takes pressure off your muscles and encourages a state of relaxation. For the next exercise, lie on your back in bed and make sure you feel snug and warm.
Close your eyes, take a couple of deep breaths and bring awareness to your feet. Start by wiggling your toes. Then, spend a few seconds concentrating on each body part. Move methodically and at a pace that does not leave you bored. Try to include major areas like ankles, knees, hips, belly, solar plexus, shoulders, hands, neck and jaw. These areas are prone to physical and emotional stress, so you may feel tension there. If you come across any problem areas, you can rub your hands together to generate heat and place your warm hands on the afflicted part.
A small source of heat placed on the belly can be very comforting as well. If you don't have a hot water bottle or heating pad handy, try a substitute. Potatoes retain heat for long periods of time, so you can put one in the microwave, then wrap it in a cloth for a quick, safe heat source.
For more serious problems with your sleep, or to learn more about improving your sleep through exercise and diet, contact a practitioner of acupuncture and Oriental medicine for an appointment today.
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About the Author: Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM, studied at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, and practiced acupuncture and Oriental medicine in New York for several years. Vanessa enjoys traveling the world, and has published articles on acupuncture and Oriental medicine and related health topics for websites and publications in both the U.S. and abroad.