Yoga practices have always been useful for those seeking a good night’s sleep. Hatha yoga includes certain postures and breathing practices to transform the mind into a more settled state and consequently, help you doze off.
The yogis believed that it was only in a completely clear and settled mind that a person could elevate their consciousness towards enlightenment. Therefore, those blighted by lack of sleep, or poor quality sleep, can make good use of the following yoga techniques to help them reach a state of complete relaxation and rest.
Yoga Poses for Sleep
The mobilisation of joints and the stretching of all muscles brings a sense of balance and well-being, as well as awareness of the body. This helps with sleep, because once you know how to release your hips and relax your shoulders, you can let go of the unwanted tension in the body that is so detrimental to sleep.
Yoga postures also aid people with a lot of stress in their lives. The body needs to move and muscles need to work to process any stress hormones, and that’s where the physical postures of yoga can help. The nearer to bedtime a yoga practice takes place, the gentler it should be, so here are 4 poses which are recommended around bedtime.
The cat pose is an excellent but gentle way of removing tension from the back and creating flexibility in the spine without any risk of injury. Pad the knees with a pillow and place the hands forwards of the shoulders to protect the wrist joints. Start with your back flat and then as you inhale, create a backbend by lifting the sit bones and head and releasing the spine down between the shoulder blades. Try not to overdo it with the neck. Breathe slowly and steadily in and out through the nose so that the movement is like a moving meditation that undulates your spine. Do 5, 10 or as many as you like without causing discomfort.
Head to Knee Pose
This pose creates a sense of release in the hips and helps to lengthen hamstrings which can become tense and shortened due to a sedentary lifestyle. In this pose one leg is straight and the other is bent and allowed to release to the side. Unless you have very long hamstrings you will need a support to rest the head and arms on. This could be a chair facing you, or a pile of blankets or cushions. You may also need to bend your knee slightly as you don’t want an intense stretch here, just a gentle lengthening. Most people also need a blanket or cushion under the knee released out to the side so that it is not hanging in mid-air, which would also create tension. Close your eyes and take around 25 slow breaths in and out through the nose, allowing your mind to focus completely on the breath and on the sense of gentle release in your hips and hamstrings. Then swap over and do the other side.
Extended Child’s Pose
Create enough padding so that you can sit with the knees apart and comfortably rest forward on your support and turn the head to one side. If you are working on a hard floor, place a cushion or thick blanket under each knee. For five slow breaths in and out through the nose, gently lengthen your arms forwards and sink your hips backwards, creating length in your spine. Turn your head and take another five breaths. Repeat as many times as you wish. To add in a side stretch, reach the arms forwards and walk the fingers six inches to the right. This will stretch the left side. Repeat on the other side.
Downward Facing Dog Pose
This famous yoga pose can be seen as a dynamic version of the extended child’s pose (if you tucked your toes under and lifted the hips up from extended child you would come into down dog). This is not usually recommended as a preparation for sleep because it is too dynamic, would raise heart rate and involves strength, bone-loading and a big stretch to the hamstrings. However, if you have a lot of pent-up energy that is going to keep you awake, down dog may help to use up that energy. Breathe freely and hold for five breaths at a time. Rest in extended child’s pose. Down Dog is not advisable for those with high blood pressure, heart problems, glaucoma or wrist or shoulder injury.
To further wind down, the many gentle breathing practices of yoga offer a very rapid route to calming the mind and relaxing the body prior to sleep. Simply inhaling through the nostrils and exhaling through the mouth with a long sighing sound can have a dramatically calming effect in a few minutes. The simple version of alternate nostril breathing is also highly effective. This is where breath is inhaled through both nostrils and exhaled through alternate nostrils by closing either side in turn with the index fingers.
To further the sense of relaxation before bed, other techniques include tensing and relaxing each part of the body in turn. This usually starts with the feet and legs and ends with the face and jaw. Visualisation is also a helpful aid while trying to various postures. For example, being invited to imagine going to the beach or a meadow and noticing all the sounds and nature around you is particularly calming.
Do you know of any other yoga techniques to help you drift off? Let us know in the comments!