By Malvika Hemanth
As we continue to grapple with the franticness of university and now, the uncertainty of COVID-19, it can be easy to neglect our self-care and mental health whilst keeping oneself afloat during these turbulent times.
With an estimated 25 per cent to 33 per cent of the community experiencing high levels of worry and anxiety during similar pandemics I thought I might share some of things I’ve learnt in terms of relaxation and sleep.
For an assignment last year, I delved into the world of non-invasive and alternative methods of achieving better sleep and relaxation.
This led me to trial herbal remedies including St John’s wort and valerian root, as well as ayurvedic relaxation techniques such as yoga nidra.
I was also fortunate enough to speak with Doctor Shweta, an Ayurvedic practitioner, about her top relaxation tips.
And if these terms sound foreign to you, let me explain.
St John’s wort is a yellow flower that was used by the ancient Greeks to support the nervous system and aid in sleep.
Nowadays, the herbal remedy’s active ingredients—hypericin and hyperforin—are used to treat mild depression and associated sleep irregularities.
Although how St John’s wort works in the body is yet to be fully understood, it is said to increase the level of neurotransmitters in the brain that are less in those experiencing depression.
Valerian root (like the name suggests) is the root of the valerian plant. It is native to Asia and Europe, and its active ingredient, valerianic acid is said to have sedative and sleep enhancing qualities.
Yoga nidra, on the other hand, is a form of traditional Indian yoga that induces deep relaxation.
According to Dr Gillian Ross, 30 minutes of yoga nidra can have the equivalent of several hours of sleep.
Its aim is to ease one into a state of consciousness that is between waking and sleeping, like a going-to-sleep stage. It is done by lying down and uses the whole body as a focus of awareness.
If you have ever been to a hatha yoga class, it is like the relaxation part that is done at the end of class.
I also did the yoga nidra trial for a week independently from the tea and supplements.
Anyways, enough with explanations and now to the results.
After a week of taking these herbal remedies I noticed a change in my sleep quality.
I started to feel drowsy 1-2 hours after ingesting the tea and supplement, and surprisingly, I did feel that I awoke the next morning less tired than I usually do.
However, a negative side effect that I faced was awaking with an upset stomach.
This may have been caused by the St John’s wort, which can cause gastrointestinal issues in some people. For the yoga nidra trial, I found that although it did not relax me completely, it was able to distract me momentarily.
I particularly liked how it allowed me to escape my own head in a way. It did this by forcing me to focus on my body and surrounding sounds rather than intensifying my own strong emotions.
Overall, I was most impressed by the yoga nidra.
Not only was it non-invasive, inexpensive and side effect free, I found it rejuvenating as it allowed me the chance to break free from 21st century overstimulation.
So, if you are planning to give any of these alternate treatments a go, why not try yoga nidra for a student approved, budget-friendly isolated remedy?
Now some relaxation and sleep tips from a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner, .
“Ayurveda is a science of strengthening; it doesn’t believe in killing the bacteria that might be attacking us. It [involves] improving the immunity of yourself and improving the vitality of your organs so that they become strong enough so that the external factors don’t affect them.”
Her top recommendation for increasing relaxation is doing abhyanga (or oil massage).
“It can be done by yourself or you can go to a therapist and get it done. If you are unable to massage your whole body then massage at least to your head, ears, and feet with warm sesame oil.
What we use for abhyanga is called Sneha. Sneha is love and affection you give to yourself.
Vata is one of the three processes that govern the physiological processes of your body—according to Ayurvedic medicine—and the head, ears and feet are said to be places of vata.
“An imbalance of these three processes can give rise to any illnesses including insomnia. When we think of vata… it is a combination of air and ether, and it is said to be responsible for movement of the body,” Dr Shweta says.
I also asked her thoughts about taking naps during the day to decrease tiredness because as a university student, there’s no denying it is a necessity.
Dr Shweta says that for example, if you slept six hours during the night and still felt tired, she suggests—according to Ayurveda—that you can take a nap of three hours to decrease your tiredness.
However, she stresses that ultimately you should listen to your body as it is the best indicator for any health issues.
Disclaimer: if you are interested in trialling St John’s wort, please do NOT take any other prescription medication with it as it can cause negative interactions with your body. Any advice in this article is general in nature and does not constitute medical or health advice.