Stop Counting Sheep! Ease yourself into a restful night with a few simple yoga poses to help slow down your sympathetic nervous system.
Every day, we are faced with new challenges, past worries and future anxieties that can sometimes make it very hard to fall asleep and to stay asleep. Follow this simple yoga sequence to slow down the body, the mind, and help get a better night’s sleep.
Try to meditate while doing the poses and let your mind stop working for just 15 minutes before bed. You will notice a positive shift in not only your sleep, but with your outlook on life as well.
1 Lizard Pose
This posture is a great hip flexor opener. If you are a runner, or sit behind a desk all day, this pose is perfect for you (but will feel wonderful for everyone). To get into this posture: start in down dog, or on all fours. Step your right leg forward, drop your back knee down to the mat, and bring both arms inside of your front leg. To get the full restorative benefit, I recommend using a block to rest your forearms on, or if that is too much of a stretch, just keep your palms flat on the floor.
Stay for three minutes on each side. Let your head hang heavy and try to relax in this posture by continuing to breathe deeply and focusing on the breath.
2 Standing Wide Legged Forward Fold
This posture is not only a great way to stretch your hamstrings before bed; it can also be very calming with your head resting on a block. Step your feet as wide as feels comfortable. A good rule is to bring your arms out to a “T” and then bring your ankles under your wrists. Grab a block (if you have one) and rest it on the tallest side. Bring your forehead to the block and rest your third eye directly on top of the block. Hands can either be on the floor, dangling, or resting on your lower back (as shown above).
If you do not own a block: allow your arms to hang freely and grab opposite elbows. This posture is very beneficial before bed because your head is below your heart so the blood is rushing to your brain, helping to clear out your negative thought patterns and any worries you may have. Try to hold this posture for five minutes, continuing to breathe deeply and fully.
3 Supported Seated Forward Fold
Seated forward fold is also known as “western forward fold” because it stretches the entire backside of your body. This restorative approach gets into your sympathetic nervous system by opening up your backbody as well as your heart. By letting your upper back round over the block, you will feel tension release from inside your shoulder blades.
To get into this posture: sit up straight with your legs straight in front of you. Begin to hinge at your hips as you fold over your legs. Don’t worry about keeping your legs straight or your spine flat. Just allow your entire back to round, and place a block on your shins to rest your forehead on. Notice the opening you feel in the upper back and continue sending your breath there. Please hold this posture for 3 to 5 minutes, and don’t forget that deep breathing!
4 Reclining Hero
This posture can be a little intense if you have tight hip flexors and if you have any knee or ankle injuries or cartilage built up in your knees and ankle joints. I highly recommend doing this posture with a block if you have one available. If you do not have a block: use a bolster or a folded blanket. Without props: sit on your feet with your knees mat distance and be gentle with your body as you begin to lean back. If you do have a block or a cushion to sit on, bring it between your feet the long way, sit your bum right on top of the block/cushion, keep your knees on the mat, and start to lean back as far as you can go.
Reaching your back to the floor is not the goal – you can stay propped up on your forearms (or rest on your palms to make this even gentler) until you feel a little stretch (remember these postures are restorative), and allow your head to hang heavy for ten deep breaths. This posture is good for opening the front side of your body, letting love pour into your soul right before a good night’s sleep.
5 Supported Bridge Pose
Bridge pose is an excellent posture to relieve lower back issues. To set up this posture, lie on your back, bend your knees and bring your feet close enough to your seat that you can touch your ankles. Arms stay by your side as you begin to lift your hips skyward as high as possible, and slide your block (on the lowest setting) directly beneath your tailbone. Your feet can walk out a little bit if that is more comfortable for you. Rest your hands either next to you, above your head or on your stomach – whatever feels natural for your body.
You should feel supported in this posture, not using any strength at all. This is a great posture to compliment all the previous postures.
6 Reclined Twist
With all the forward folds and backbends thus far, a simple twist will feel so good on your lower back. Start by lying on your back with both legs straight in front of you, arms by your side. Bring your right knee into your chest, and keep your left leg straight. Take your left hand and pull your right knee across your body toward the left side of your mat. Once your knee hits the floor, bring your gaze to the right side of the room (in the opposite direction of your bent knee.) Cactus your arms and simply breathe and relax, allowing your low back to release.
This is a beneficial posture before bed because it detoxifies and rehydrates your spinal column. Do each side for 3 to 5 minutes, continuing to breathe deeply.
7 Child’s Pose Variation with Fists in Hip Crease
This variation of child’s pose is great to do if you ever have a large meal for dinner or have any digestive issues before bed. Set-up: come to kneeling with your seat resting on your ankles. Make fists with both hands and place them in your hip crease where your thigh connects with your upper body.
Snuggle your fists inside that crease and start to bend forward. Your fists will insert near your ascending and descending colons, sparking your digestive system. This might feel a little uncomfortable if you are very full, but this posture will help relieve gas, tension and worry that we hold in our guts. Hold this posture for five minutes, focusing on relaxing your entire body.
8 Child’s Pose
This is a nice posture to follow the previous child’s pose variation. Sit up on your ankles, spread your knees so they are mat distance and simply fold your upper body forward, coming to rest between your knees. Your bum might lift up from your feet, which is fine. Bring your forehead to the mat and walk your arms as far forward as you can to really lengthen your spine and stretch your upper back.
This posture might feel tense on your hips, and if that is the case, just hold it for ten deep breaths (longer if your body tells you to stay). Let your belly hang heavy – no abdominal engagement – and focus on clearing out your mind and thoughts during this restorative resting pose.
9 Hanging Legs or Legs Up the Wall
A final posture to do before going to sleep is hanging legs because the blood rushes down to your major joints and helps settle the mind before bed. Many people like to do this version against a wall, which is called legs up the wall, resting the back of your legs against it.
Notice how still the mind gets in this posture and how at ease you actually feel. It looks like I am holding my legs up, but when you find the perfect spot, your legs effortlessly float above your body, leaving you feeling very light and supported by the mat and the earth beneath you – a great feeling before bed! Please do this posture for at least five minutes or ten very deep breaths.
10 Easy Seated Pose for Meditation
Try to practice meditation on a block or pillow because it helps elevate your hips over your knees, leaving a clear line of energy to travel up the main energy channel along your spine. Meditating before bed not only relaxes you, but it also clears out unnecessary worrying and list making that we may habitually do before bed.
When meditating after the previous poses, try to focus on how light your body feels and visualize the breath coming in and out of your nose. If you would like, you can play soft music in the background or light candles to help calm your mind even more. Staying here, whether it’s for ten breaths or ten minutes, will be a great way to solidify the relaxing, calming, and healing benefits of this bedtime yoga sequence.
This yoga sequence is designed to calm your mind, body and soul. Each yoga posture is meant to deepen your relationship with yourself and help you naturally and simply find a deeper sense of relaxation in your mind and body. There are no set rules: if you don’t like the way a few of these postures feels in your body, simply skip them and do the poses that you can. Only you can feel what your body is telling you, so listen to it. Remember: these poses are not meant for strength building. Instead, this restorative approach is meant to get into your sympathetic nervous system and release tension and anxiety from our minds.