Slow, gentle yoga and deep, rhythmic breathing can be the perfect way to unwind (your muscles and your mind) at the end of the day. Here is a routine that can allow you to release the stress of the day, relax, and prepare your body and mind for some good sleepzzzz.
Many people find that exercising in the morning can help to energize them and prepare them for the day. Conversely, exercising at night, especially too close to bedtime, can have a negative effect on your ability to get some deep and restorative sleep. While a vigorous workout can help ease stress, if it is done too close to your bedtime, you may have some trouble falling asleep afterwards.
I know that there are many issues that can cause sleepless nights (and most can’t be solved with a supplement or essential oil). We all have busy lives, heavy responsibilities, tight schedules, looming deadlines, and demanding families. We may also have more positive things in our lives that affect our sleep such as piles of new creative ideas, exciting events that we are looking forward to, or a new bike that we are itching to ride. We might also disrupt our sleep by socializing too much and too late in the day, or by simply trying to shoehorn too much into our day, which can bump rest and relaxation down the bottom of our to-do list.
Our lifestyle can indeed disrupt our best intentions and disrupt our slumber, which can, in turn, disrupt our sense of well-being.
So, here is a tip for you: try keeping a yoga mat beside your bed (or in front of your TV) and spend about 15-20 minutes performing some of these yoga poses to enhance your ability to truly sleep like an extremely relaxed log.
How the heck Can Yoga Help You Sleep?
If you set aside an area or space for your “before-bed stretching practice,” you can outfit it with things like candles, pillows, music, and other things that help you (and I mean you in particular, not necessarily what you see in magazines) feel more relaxed and at ease. That might be a statue of a yogi, but more likely it might be putting on a certain song, or simply wearing a t-shirt that you have owned so long it’s more holes than shirt. This is completely up to you and what makes you feel relaxed.
If you have aching muscles or joint pain, gentle stretching and breathwork can help work the aches out and allow you to get better sleep. It can also help release the tension you built up all day. When you go to bed feeling relaxed and at ease, you’ll have a much better sleep than nights where you carry your anger and stress to bed.
The 15-20 minutes that you are spending focusing on yourself is also 15-20 minutes that you are not focussing on the TV, email, or your phone. These devices have been shown to disrupt your sleep and even impair your body’s ability to secrete the sleep hormone called melatonin.
Bedtime routines are not just helpful for children, we all benefit from giving our mind and body queues that the day is over and it is time to shut down for the night.
How to Do Bedtime Yoga
There are many different types of yoga poses that you can practice and each one is designed to activate different parts of your mind and body. So, before bed, we want to keep the poses relaxing, slow, easy, and balanced. No power yoga allowed. All the poses should be comfortable and held for a little longer than you might hold them in a regular yoga session. The focus should also be on the breath—slow and steady breathing in through the nose, out through the mouth.
Here is a series you can try before you go to bed tonight.
Virasana (Hero Pose)
Kneel with your knees bent and your legs folded under you. The top of your feet should be flat on the floor, your spine straight, with your shoulders and head aligned over your hips. Hero pose is a great place to start our relaxation to get your body and mind to calm down. It is a grounding pose that can help make you feel physically and emotionally more stable. Start in this pose and feel your breath get deeper and more relaxed as you settle in.
Marjaryasana/Bitilasana Flow (Cat / Cow)
Move on to hands and knees and put your spine into a neutral position. Your shoulders should be above your wrists and your hips above knees. Move slowly through a few rounds of Cat and Cow, breathing in through the nose on the Cat and out through the mouth on the Cow movement. Make sure the movement starts with the tailbone and ripples up through the spine in a relaxing and easy way. It can help to let your breath initiate the movement rather than the body.
Bharadvaja’s Twist (Winding Down Twist)
Sit cross-legged and exhale as you put your right hand on to your left knee and your left hand on to the floor behind you. Rotate and twist your torso very gently to the left, allowing your eyes and head to follow. Stay here for a few deep breaths, then relax back to center and prepare to repeat it again on the opposite side. You can do each side as many times as you need to feel a full release in your back.
Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose)
Lay down like a frog on its back, with your knees bent. Bring the soles of your feet together and concentrate on letting your knees fall open, don’t force them down. Let your arms rest beside you on the bed. If you feel any pain or discomfort in your hips, you can support your legs with pillows under each knee.
Balasana (Child’s Pose)
Start by kneeling comfortably on your heels. Drape your torso forward, allowing your forehead to rest gently on the floor in front of you. Allow your chest to relax down, as close to your knees as you can without forcing it. Extend your arms in front of you and gently relax into the pose and breathe.
Ananda Balasana (Happy Baby Pose)
Lay down on your back and hug your knees into your chest. Cross your legs at the ankles and then wrap both of your arms around your shins. Inhale slowly and deeply and allow your body to rock up into a sitting position then exhale and roll back down. You can also rock side to side or whichever way your breath and your body takes you.
Vipareet Karani (Legs up the Wall)
Legs up the wall pose is a wonderful way to finish the movement part of this sequence because it is the ultimate restorative pose (a great pose to use after any hard training session). It really is as easy as it sounds too. Lay down near a wall, put your legs up the wall so your body forms an L shape. Breathe deeply and let the stress of the day drain out of your legs.
Savasana (Corpse Pose)
To anyone who is new to yoga, this one may seem too simple to be effective but it is the icing on the pre-bed yoga cupcake. For this one, you can actually get into bed and lay down on your back with your arms at your sides and a little away from your body. The palms of your hands should be facing up toward the ceiling, over or under the blanket. All you need to do is let your legs relax and allow your feet to fall to the sides. Then close your eyes, let the rest of your body fully relax and, of course, breathe.
While you are in the Savasana pose, try breathing in this relaxing 4-7-8 pattern. Start by exhaling completely through your mouth so you are beginning the pattern with empty lungs. Then close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a count of four (I like to use my heartbeat as my metronome). Then hold your breath for seven beats and exhale slowly through your mouth, for eight beats. Start from the beginning and repeat the cycle at least three more times or until you fall asleep.
After you complete these poses and stretches, you will feel relaxed enough to sleep as deeply as you have ever slept (or your money back). Like most things in life, this will get better and more effective the more you practice it. If you do this sequence (or one similar to it) most nights for a week or two, then your sleep will get more and more restful and deep.
Wake up every morning feeling like a million bucks instead of smashing your alarm clock into a million bits.
If getting a good night’s sleep is a larger issue for you, you will likely want to (or need to) make other lifestyle changes as well. Changes like reducing or eliminating alcohol before bed, not drinking caffeine in the afternoon and evening, and avoiding eating anything within two or three hours of bedtime. Making sure your bedroom is cool, quiet, and dark is also a great idea. If you do all of these things, you will make some serious steps toward waking up every morning feeling like a million bucks instead of feeling like smashing your alarm clock into a million bits.