Yoga and the Empty Nest

Yoga and the Empty Nest

by Yoko Yoshikawa

I’ve never been a good sleeper. When my husband and I first got together, he was startled; he would wake up and discover I wasn’t in bed.  Instead, I’d be in another room, practicing yoga in the dark. 


When I was in my mid-30s, I worried about not getting enough sleep.  Anxiety would dog me; I’m going to be exhausted tomorrow, how can I get X done?  But I learned that more often than not people get the sleep that they need, eventually. The best thing to do is something calming and quiet if you’re awake at 2 am.  Read something boring by low light.  Don’t get on the laptop.  


Cue yoga asana. I started studying yoga shortly after arriving in the Bay area in the 90s.  If the night is dark and deep and I am wide-awake at 2am, I pad, barefoot, to my yoga mat. For the first five years, I did sequences in the Desikachar tradition, with a strong emphasis on even, easy breathing, lying on the floor. Or restorative poses and pranayama.  Nowadays, I allow myself free rein. I’m not often inclined to do sun salutations but I will invert and do mild chest-opening poses like supta virasana and setubandha. 


These night practices can be quite elaborate and intense; they can go on for as long as two hours. I worried that the practice was keeping me awake.  But then I read that an hour of restorative yoga can be more effective in reducing cortisol levels than an hour-long nap.  


My daughter is now at school in Massachusetts; for the first time in 18-plus years my husband and I are not caring for offspring on a daily basis. I am standing at the threshold of a new life. Yoga in the middle of the night was important while I was actively parenting, in part because I couldn’t wake up early and have the morning to myself; I needed to make breakfast and bag lunches, had to roust her out of bed in time, needed to coordinate the use of the bathroom.  In the afternoons and evenings, I needed to be available for her.  I couldn’t find the time to take regular walks up in the hills; couldn’t attend anyone else’s yoga classes.  


What will happen now? There is something deeply soothing about being the only one awake (except for the cat) and practicing yoga in the dead of night.  A neighbor down the street told me that when their last child left home for college, they slept more. I wonder if I will.