The 10 Best Yoga Poses for a Good Night’s Sleep
If you’re quite literally tossing and turning over ways to get a good night’s sleep, yoga can take you to a new level of relaxation. Yoga isn’t just for those looking to embark on a spiritual journey (although it’s a bonus), it’s also for those looking for a way to relax the mind and body before bed. Not all of us are lucky enough to be able to fall asleep the moment our head hits the pillow, but by practicing yoga you can become one of the lucky ones.
Becoming a yogi that gets the recommended amount of sleep has never sounded so good. We speak to Michelle Baldino, Certified Yoga Instructor at Bulldog Online, about the benefits of yoga for sleep and her 10 best poses to perform before bed.
How Does Yoga Benefit Sleep?
You Learn How To Signal to Your Body It’s Time for Rest
“Every time you step onto your mat, you get an opportunity to practice better sleep,” says Baldino. “At the end of practice, you will come into final rest. Sometimes this is referred to as Savasana or corpse pose.” Baldino explains it’s when you’re asked to come onto your back and lay completely still, but the art of relaxation is harder than it looks.
At the beginning of your yoga journey, this can be a really big challenge. But don’t give up. Over time, your mind and body relax to the point where your entire nervous system settles. And when this happens, we’re signaling to our bodies to prepare for rest. The more you practice, the easier it becomes to put your body into relaxation mode for a good night’s sleep.
Many restorative poses, when we’re not engaging muscles, can also improve the way we sleep. “In restorative yoga, you hold simple poses, mainly on your back or stomach, for longer periods of time. When the muscles fully relax, often with the help of yoga blocks and other props, we are actually improving the mobility and flexibility of our spine and joints,” says Baldino. If you have restless legs or lower back pain, it can help to soothe your symptoms and reach a level of comfort to get you through the night.
Improves Mindful Breathing To Settle the Mind
Focusing on the breath is the foundation of any yoga practice. “When we get a chance to breathe intentionally, evening out our inhales and exhales, we are giving our busy minds a job to do but also a much needed rest,” says Baldino.
Keeping light attention to mindful breathing, or breathing on purpose, can help us pay more attention to how our bodies are feeling. Likewise, when we come to bed preparing for sleep, we can return to the breath to settle our minds and ease into a deep and restful sleep.
You Become More Present and Quit Overthinking Before Bed
Yoga is really a practice that helps us stay present. “It’s hard to be thinking about our to-do lists or what happened moments before we stepped onto our mats because we are moving and breathing with a great deal of intention during our practice,” says Baldino. And that practice of staying present starts to affect other areas of our lives.
“We start to notice how we respond to situations off that mat that are challenging or overwhelming. And the invitation is to keep returning to the breath to remain in the here and now.” Does your mind wander in a million different directions when you lay down in bed at the end of the day? You’re not alone. Yoga can help you to quieten these thoughts and focus on the present task at hand – getting to sleep!
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The 10 Best Yoga Poses for a Good Night’s Sleep
1. Lizard Pose
How to perform: From the tabletop position, bring your right foot forward to the outside of your right hand and lower your left knee to the floor. Keep your palms planted to the mat or place your elbows on a block or the floor. Stay for 10-15 breaths, and repeat on the left side.
How it helps with sleep: The lizard pose helps release tension around the front and side of our hips and our psoas, which is one of the thickest muscles in our bodies. Both are areas that we tend to experience tightness in our bodies, so relaxing them before bed helps them stay relaxed while we sleep.
2. Wide Angle Forward Fold
How to perform: Start standing with your legs 4-5 feet apart. Bring hands to your hips as you inhale and lift your chest. Exhaling, fold forward from the hips. Release your hands or fingers to the mat directly under your shoulders. If it feels right for your neck, you can place your forehead on a block. Otherwise, just let your head hang in space. Stay for 10-15 breaths. To come up, retrace your steps, setting your hands back on your hips then root down through your feet. Slowly rise as you inhale.
How it helps with sleep: This variation of a forward fold calms the mind, releases the groins, and stretches the inner thighs and hamstrings.
3. Seated Head to Knee Pose
How to perform: Come to a seated position with extended legs. Place the sole of your left foot against your right inner thigh, right hand by your hip. As you inhale, lift your left arm then exhale and fold over the right leg, reaching for your foot or shin. You can bend your knee as much as you need to here. Rest your head lightly towards your thigh or place it on a block. Stay for about 60 seconds before switching sides.
How it helps with sleep: Seated head to knee pose is a great way to stretch your entire spine before heading to bed.
4. Reclined Butterfly Pose
How to perform: Take a seat and bring a pillow or bolster towards your sitting bones. Bend your knees and place the soles of your feet together. Lie back on your pillow/bolster and prop your head with a blanket or yoga block so that your head is above your heart. Allow the knees to open and relax into the props. Bring one hand to your heart and the other to your belly. Rest here for 2-3 minutes, focusing on the rise and fall of your chest as you breathe.
This is an example of a restorative yoga pose where we’re using props to support our bodies. We’re not asking our muscles to do the work for us.
How it helps with sleep: Reclined butterfly pose is more about keeping light attention to your breath and relaxing the abdominal muscles that we often hold in tightly throughout the course of our day.
5. Reclining Big Toe Pose
How to perform: Lie on your back with your legs extended. Start to bring your right knee into your chest while keeping your left leg long. After a few breaths, begin to straighten your right leg, interlacing your fingers around the hamstrings. Gently press the back of your leg into your hands. Hold for 10 breaths, then repeat on the left side.
How it helps with sleep: This pose stretches the lower spine, inner thighs, hamstrings, and abdominal muscles. Depending on your sleeping position, at least one of these areas in your body can get tight over time, so this pose is a great way to keep them open in order to get a restful sleep.
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6. Restorative Bridge Pose
How to perform: Start by lying on your back. Bend your knees and place your feet hip-width apart and parallel, directly below your knees. As you inhale, start to press down through your feet in order to lift your hips away from the mat. Place a block under your sacrum. Open your arms out to the sides of your body or find cactus arms to keep the chest open.
How it helps with sleep: Restorative bridge pose is all about relaxation, so stay for at least one minute. It also helps to stretch the front of our chest, hips, and legs. You’ll bring that sense of relaxation with you as you head to bed.
7. Legs Up The Wall Pose
How to perform: Legs up the wall pose is “by far my favorite yoga pose,” says Baldino. Come to a wall with one of your hips as close to the wall as possible. Then begin to spin your sitting bones towards the wall as you lift your legs high overhead at the wall. Think of the wall as a giant yoga prop. Feet can come together or be hip-width apart. You can lay a folded blanket under your sitting bones if you want some support for your lower back. Rest with your arms by your sides and stay here for 2-3 minutes.
How it helps with sleep: This pose reverses blood circulation in our lower bodies. So instead of circulating from hips to toes, the blood flows from our toes to our hips. It also soothes swollen feet and/or legs. Any chance we get to soothe inflammation in our bodies is a chance to improve the way we sleep.
8. Seated Spinal Twist
How to perform: Come to sit in a comfortable seat either directly on your mat or under a yoga block. Cross your legs and keep your spine long. As you inhale, reach both arms overhead. As you exhale, bring your left hand to the outside of your right knee. The right hand can be released to the mat behind the right hip. Every time you inhale, think of rooting from your sitting bones to find more length through the spine. Every time you exhale, think of deepening into the twist. Take 5 deep breaths before switching sides.
How it helps with sleep: Seated spinal twist can help aid digestion and increase spinal mobility. It also massages the inner organs and relieves lower back pain. Beginning the digestion process while awake at the end of your day means your body doesn’t have as much work to do while you sleep at night.
How to perform: To meditate you’ll have to take up a yoga pose, so technically, meditation is part of yoga. Find a comfortable seat with crossed legs and a tall spine or sit in a chair with a tall spine. No slouching. Close your eyes or bring a soft gaze right over the tip of your nose and hold it there. See if you can relax your breathing in such a way that it becomes in tune with your heartbeat. Keep your awareness of your breathing as you sit in stillness. And each time your mind wanders (which it is meant to do!), keep returning your attention to your breathing. Start small here.
Maybe your first time sitting in meditation is only 30-60 seconds, and that’s completely fine. The next time you meditate, stay a few more breaths and so on and so on. Work your way up to a few minutes at the end of the day to encourage your mind and body to find some quiet.
How it helps with sleep: Meditation is really a relaxation practice that brings an overall sense of calm to us both mentally and physically.
10. Final Rest or Corpse Pose
How to perform: Lie down flat on your back letting your legs and arms relax. If you have any lower back issues, you can bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet to the mat hip-width apart. Bring your attention to your breath. Let go of the need to fidget.
How it helps with sleep: One of Baldino’s yoga teachers would always say, “if there was one yoga pose to master, this would be it.” The final rest calms the entire nervous system. It also calms the mind which can reduce stress. Finally, it lowers our heart rate and blood pressure. All of these things can drastically reduce insomnia and improve the overall quality of our sleep.
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