Updated: Feb 26, 2019
"Sleep is the best meditation – Dalai Lama"
Do you often lie awake in bed at night, unable to calm down your mind, troubled by insomnia? Yoga is a great practice for deep relaxation and to help you unwind from the day.
"The sleeping tortoise takes all its limbs into its carapace. So does the yogi: going back into himself he does not see anything worldly any longer, he makes peace in himself." - BKS Iyengar
A gentle, restorative yoga practice can help to calm down the mind and to release physical tension. Restorative yoga postures can be very effective in preparing the body for deep, restful sleep. Very potent in this practice is the breath - adding breathing exercises to each pose gives us a direct gateway into the regulation of the nervous system and the relaxation response that gets us ready for sleep.
Here are my 5 favourite Yoga poses for a good night’s sleep. It's a sequence I often use for students who are struggling with insomnia or poor sleep quality. It is best practiced in the sequence below for optimum benefits, holding each pose for 3-5 minutes.
1. Adho mukha virasana (Child's pose)
This starting pose helps to draw the senses inwards, and is very beneficial for a good night’s sleep.
Sit on your heels with your knees apart and feet together, big toes touching.
Keep your hips on your heels and bend forward until your forehead touches the floor or a bolster.
Extend the arms forward, palms facing down.
When you are in this pose the hips should be resting on your heels and the head should be resting on a height, this can be the floor, a bolster or a stack of blankets/towels. If required for your knees you can place a cushion on top of your heels to sit on. If there is pain in the front of the ankles use a rolled blanket underneath them to soften the stretch. Make sure you feel comfortable. Feel the body relax with each exhalation.
2. Supta baddha konasana (reclined bound angle pose)
Supta Baddha konasana is a very good yoga pose to increase hip flexibility. It is said that emotions such as tension, stress, anger, etc. are stored in the pelvis. By working on hip flexibility, the tensions in the hip joint release and, as a consequence, emotional tensions are relieved.
Place the souls of your feet together and let your knees drop out.
Gently lean back and lie down on your back, keeping the souls of your feet together.
Arms are relaxed by your side, palms facing up.
To get the full restorative benefit of this pose you can use a bolster to lie back on. Place the bolster vertically on your mat with a blanket for your head & neck. Make sure your head and back are properly supported. Place your toes against a wall or use a belt around the hips and feet so that the legs stay contained. If you feel tension in your knees you can place a cushion under your thighs to reduce the tension in the knees. Once you are comfortably in the pose, bring your focus to your pelvis. Use your breath & each exhale to release the tension in your hip joints, and try to relax completely.
3. Restorative Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge pose)
This pose is a backbend. As a backbend, it opens the front body and supports the back body. The head position—neck flexed and head below the heart—activates the baroreflex, a reaction that suppresses the sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system and moves us into the parasympathetic (rest and digest) state. In the parasympathetic state, we relax the body and mind, preparing for deep relaxation.
Place a bolster (or several firm folded blankets) vertical on your yoga mat and have an extra bolster, blankets or bricks ready for your feet.
Sit at the edge of your bolster and gently lean back on top of the bolster.
Scoot back until your shoulders come off the edge and the tops of your shoulders touch the floor.
You should feel as if your ribcage is spilling off the edge of the blankets. Your head and neck should be relaxed and level.
Now stretch your legs out and allow your ankles to rest on the extra prepared height. Rest your arms at your sides in whatever position is comfortable.
Settle in. Relax your breath. Allow your body to breathe naturally. Release the weight of your body into the pull of gravity. Do nothing. When you are ready to leave the pose, roll gently onto your side and rest for a while. Then push yourself up to a sitting position.
4. Vipariti Karani (Legs-up-the-wall-pose)
Legs-up-the-wall pose is a very gentle inversion which improves blood circulation in your lower limbs. It is a very relaxing pose after a long day of standing on your feet. First, try the pose without a bolster:
Lie down on your back, hips touching the wall
Place your legs straight against the wall so your legs and upper body form a 90 degree angle
You can keep your legs together or open your legs wide for an extra stretch of the inner thighs, use a belt around your feet for the latter version if needed.
You can place your hands on your belly or relax your arms by your side, palms facing up
Then to do the pose with a bolster:
Place a bolster with the long side parallel to the wall 15cm away from it.
Lie with your right hip atop the right end of the bolster.
Roll onto your back, bringing the buttocks to the wall.
Place your legs straight against the wall and scoot in more if necessary.
You should be supported from the back of the pelvis to the lowest ribs; adjust the prop if necessary.
Bring your arms into a T shape and stretch the inner and outer legs evenly and completely toward the wall.
Release your muscles, breathe quietly, and relax completely.
Savasana or Corpse Pose is a very beneficial pose to calm down the mind and to relieve stress. It is commonly the ending pose of any yoga practice.
Lie down on your back, starting with your knees bent & feet flat on the floor.
With your hands move your buttocks away from your lower back, slightly tucking your tailbone.
Place your fingers where your neck meets your skull, on your occipital bone and tilt the head forward so that the back of the neck is long and the chin gently moving towards your chest.
Bring your arms by your side, relaxed & palms facing up.
One by one straighten your legs and relax your feet.
People with lower back pain might like to place a cushion under their knees to relieve tension in the lower back. If you feel tension in the neck you can also place a blanket or a low cushion under the head to keep the back of the neck long. As you lie in this pose, bring your focus to your breath, observing each inhalation and exhalation. Feel the expansion of your belly as you inhale and observe your belly relaxing as you exhale.
Relaxing bedtime routine
Besides doing the above Yoga practice for a good night's sleep I also recommend adding a bedtime routine for greater benefit. Before you start your practice turn off all your electronic devices and phones, set your alarm for the morning, brush your teeth, and prepare for bed. Begin dimming the lights. Developing a bedtime routine is very important to help you deal with insomnia for many reasons. It helps to calm the mind before bed, and it helps to condition your body and your mind in realizing that it is almost time to go to sleep. The yoga sequence in this article is a very gentle sequence suited for people of all ages and of all practice levels. You can play some relaxing background music, and if you like you can also use some essential oils such as lavender to stimulate a relaxing and calming atmosphere. While practicing these yoga poses, avoid getting distracted with thoughts by bringing your focus to your breath, or even adding a simple breath exercise or pranayama: simply slowing down your breath until you can count to 4 on your inhale and 4 on your exhale, using each exhalation to release any tension.
Enjoy the relaxing yoga poses and… sweet dreams!