Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours in “fight or flight” mode.
Our days are tightly scheduled, and unexpected circumstances often arise that demand our attention.
In order to give our full attention to our work, our families, and our communities, we first need to care for ourselves and getting adequate sleep is one way to do that.
Keeping a nightly yoga routine can help wash away the inevitable mind-racing that occurs the moment your head hits the pillow.
The following poses are known to lower cortisol levels (i.e. the “stress hormone”), and activate your parasympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest”).
Mindfulness is a crucial component to this routine, and achieving the physical poses alone will not allow you to access the full benefits.
Therefore, be sure to follow the natural rhythm of your breath as you move through these yoga poses for better sleep. And if your mind wanders, just bring your focus back to your breath.
7 Yoga Poses To Help You Sleep Better
1. Cat and Cow
Begin on hands and knees in a tabletop position and take a deep breath in through your nose. As you inhale, tilt the crown of your head and tailbone towards the ground while separating your shoulder blades to create a c-curve in your spine known as “cat pose.” You should feel a gentle stretch in your upper back and neck. Inhale as you bring the crown of the head and tailbone towards the ceiling, reversing the c-curve and hollowing out your lower back. This is now “cow pose.” Continue flowing between these two poses, exhaling as you round our spine and inhaling as you reverse upward, for at least ten rounds. Be sure to move at the pace of your natural breath and to notice any tension in your neck or spine.
2. Wide Legged Child’s Pose
From tabletop, move your toes to touch without moving your knees. Push your hips back to rest on your heels and relax our chest and forehead to the ground. Your belly should fall between your thighs. Extend your fingertips in front of you to encourage elongation in your shoulders and arms.
3. Figure 4/ Pigeon
Your choice here will depend on your personal yoga practice and hip mobility. If you are not sure, Figure 4 is the way to go.
Laying on your back with the soles of your feet on the ground, cross your right ankle over the left knee. Your right foot should be actively flexed to protect your knee joint. Hold your left thigh by threading your right arm through the space between your legs and your left arm around the outside of your left leg. Keeping the right ankle crossed and foot flexed, gently guide your left thigh towards your torso until you feel a stretch in the outer right hip. Hold this for a few minutes, breathing deeply and then release. Now, repeat these steps on the other side.
Begin in downward facing dog, then bring the right knee forward and place it on the mat just behind the right wrist. Slide your left knee back and lower your hips down. The angle of your shin to the front of the mat is less important than the symmetry of your hips, so square your hips before folding your torso forward. You can rest on your forearms or extend your arms all the way out in front of you depending on your mobility. If this is too intense, feel free to stay upright in the stretch.
4. Legs Up The Wall
This pose serves as a gentle hamstring stretch, as well as restorative yoga pose that lowers your heart rate. To get into the pose, sit down on the floor and shimmy one hip as close to the wall as possible. Then, roll onto your back keeping your glutes tight to the corner and walk your legs up the wall until your hamstrings and calves are engaged with the wall. Your body should now be in an L-shaped position. You can release your arms out to the side, or place one hand on your heart and the other on your belly. Another option is to bring your hands into a prayer position at the center of your chest and close your eyes. Focus on your breathing and, with each exhale, release any tension your body is holding on to.
Remember, this is a restorative pose so your muscles should not be actively engaged. To receive the full benefits of this pose, stay here for at least 5 minutes. To get out of this pose, bend your knees and roll to one side before pushing up to a seated position.
5. Supine Spinal Twist
Laying on your back, bring your knees to your chest rock gently side to side to massage your lower back. Then, let your knees fall over to one side and rest your arms out in a “T” position (in line with your shoulders). To achieve a deeper twist, bring your glutes towards the center of your mat so that your spine is in a straight line. You may also want to rest a hand on your top knee to guide it closer to the ground.
6. Happy Baby
Begin on your back and bring your feet upwards until you can reach the outside of each foot (right hand holds right foot; left hand holds left foot) without lifting your lower back off the mat. Another option is to clasp your big toes with the index and thumb. Your heels should be reaching for the ceiling and your tailbone should be flat to the mat. Rocking back and forth a bit here will give you a gentle back massage.
7. Reclining Goddess Pose
Laying down on your mat, bring the soles of your feet to touch and allow your knees to gently fall open. If your knees do not easily fall to the ground (remember: this should feel restorative and not like an active stretch), you can place a block under each knee. You will feel a gentle opening in the pelvis, abdomen, and inner thighs. Just like in “legs up the wall,” you can bring one hand to your heart and the other to your belly as you follow your breath. Or, you can allow your arms to fall open with palms facing up.
Follow this sequence of poses to ease yourself into a restful night’s sleep, and take on whatever the next day may bring with a clear mind and calm body.