Savasana is the pose used to end Mona Therese's relaxation class. - Courtesy of R.P. Winston

Asanas of the night

About half of us have enough stress, anxiety and upsets during the day that we have trouble dropping off to sleep — a hang-up that can be relieved with some quick and easy postures designed to drain tension from tangled-up nerves and muscles of the neck, back and hamstrings.

Ashland resident Mona Therese Winston, who teaches yoga at Ashland Yoga Center and other sites, says 48 percent of Americans have some trouble sleeping at some point during the year — and 22 percent experience the problem every day.

"I can't believe this," she says, "but $35 billion a year is spent on insomnia."

Her remedies for sleep issues — and many other uses — can be viewed on YouTube, where she has a "channel" called "Starchild." These "asanas" (poses) are not the kind that involve straining and wondering how long you can hold it. Quite the opposite.

Get a bolster, which is a good, strong pillow shaped like a cylinder. In the "open twist" pose, place the bolster parallel to the body, lie flat on your back and bring one leg over to the opposite side, resting on the bolster. This brings a gentle twist to the spine and stretches the hamstrings, which in turn gently stretches muscles of the lower back.

In the "inverted lake" pose, scoot your butt against a wall and slide your legs up the wall — flat against it — giving the heart a rest from pumping blood "uphill" all day, thus "relaxing and calming the brain and heart."

In the "supported forward bend," sit on a mat, legs spread in a "V" and lean forward onto the bolster and ... just relax, no pressure on anything, except the sensation of stretching the lower back and backs of the legs.

In the "reclining bound angle," recline on a mat with the bolster lying under the spine's length, feet drawn up, soles together, legs allowed to flop open, arms out wide, head supported by a pillow, all relaxed — a self-nurturing pose.

In the "supported twist," lay your chest on the bolster, arms out and limp, letting hips rest on the mat, twisted to one side, very relaxing and gently twisting.

A good posture to end with is "savasana" — or "corpse" pose — which looks just like it sounds: Lie on a mat with the bolster under your knees, arms stretched out wide; just breathe and relax.

Conscious breathing is an important part of yoga. With these poses, breathe in through the nose and exhale through the mouth. If you can't breathe in through the nose, the mouth is OK.

"You feel the tension, you relax and your body disappears," says Winston. "The next obstacle is your thoughts. The mind doesn't like to quiet down. It helps to do a mantra: a simple group of words or a sentence, like 'peace, love, harmony,' and you meditate on each word. The mind begins to quiet. If the mind comes back, just say the mantra again."

These poses help immensely with sleep. To go to the next level, meditate in the corpse or lotus (sitting cross-legged on a mat) or just sit, straight-backed, in a chair.

"Most people are intimidated by the lotus, but you do not need to be in a challenging pose to meditate," says Winston. "It's good to empty your mind of the day and practice 'yoga nitra.' "

What is yoga nitra? It's "conscious sleep" — a place that's a lot like sleep, but still staying conscious and not slipping into sleep, says Winston.

"You wake to your higher self and begin to get information on how your life can be better, and you get inner wisdom," she says. "Eventually, we want to get away from thought, mantras, physical sensations and just be present. It makes you very relaxed, and you will feel happy. You will feel 'ananda' — bliss."

Winston is a former classical ballet dancer from Denmark, where she was a personal trainer and yoga teacher to Princess Mary. She also is a massage therapist, reflexologist and reiki healer.

For information, see www.theresewinston.com or call her at 541-499-5064.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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