We’ve all been in a position where we are exhausted and sometimes sleep can evade us at our most tired times. Yoga is a great practice to put in at any time of the day, but there can be some specific benefits to practicing yoga before bed to help prepare for a good night’s sleep.
In this article we’ll look at:
- Why we should practice yoga for sleep
- What styles of yoga to practice
- Yoga for sleep: practice essentials
- A sequence to aid yoga for sleep
Why Practice yoga for sleep?
Yoga is a great way to step out of the busyness of your day and into a more restful state. If you’re having trouble switching off, then yoga can help you to transition from day to night.
It is a holistic approach to your well-being, and its meditative focus actively helps the mind and body move into a more restful state.
Taking some time to position the body well and focus on breathing can be a hugely beneficial way to get a good night’s sleep.
The key is to give yourself plenty of time before you start practicing yoga. Wind yourself down if possible before you get to the practice. Have a cup of herbal tea or take a bath to prepare yourself.
What style of yoga?
There are no hard and fast rules for what style of yoga to use for sleep. Different people need different things.
What is worth considering is that some people need to burn off a little energy before settling down to rest, so don’t immediately assume that restorative poses are the way to go.
For some a little movement before some restorative or yin poses will help to get you into your body and out of your head. A flow and restore or Yin Yang class might be a great option in this case.
Generally, calming poses and a slow pace are going to work well, some of the top styles to consider are;
- Flow and restore yoga
A style that uses some gentle vinyasa flow followed by long supported poses.
- Yin Yang yoga
Expect a dynamic flow to begin with followed by held stretches.
- Restorative yoga
A class devoted to long holds which are supported by props. Typically, there will only be a few poses in a class.
Deep, long-held stretches form the basis of these classes.
A type of yogic meditation that is guided by a teacher and performed in a comfortable supine position, such as savasana.
- Gentle Hatha yoga
This style often uses medium-length holds and is slow-moving.
If you’re ready to hit the relax button, then some slow movements and held poses will work well. Why not give some different styles a go and see which helps you feel the most relaxed afterwards?
What about the breath?
Prioritizing your breath is a key ingredient to preparing for relaxation and sleep.
Consider your breath as an anchor for bringing a more meditative and therapeutic element to your practice. Your breath should feel soothing and easy, not forced.
Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts.Thich Nhat Hanh
Try using coherent breathing or sama vritti. This equally measured breath has the same length inhale as exhale with no stops or retention. It’s a bit like ocean breath or Ujjayi breath but without the sound.You can do this type of breathing by using a count or metronome to help you get started, like this:
1. Inhale for a count of six
2. Exhale for a count of six
No gaps and no pauses. Adjust the count as needed.
Cultivate a calming environment
If you choose to practice at home, make sure to set up in a quiet place with as little distraction as possible.
Turn off the overhead lights and use soft-lit lamps and candles. If you’re planning on going straight to sleep, why not set up near your bed? This way, you don’t have to disturb yourself too much.
Prioritize your comfort and warmth. Make sure you have plenty of props such as bricks, bolsters or pillows, blankets, and even something to cover your eyes.
Yoga is the dance of every cell with the music of every breath that creates inner serenity and harmonyDebasish Mridha
A short yoga for sleep sequence
Below is a short sequence that can be adapted or added to. You can do this sequence as part of your wind-down-to-sleep routine whenever you need.
This set of poses will work for most bodies, but if in doubt, seek out the help of an experienced teacher. You’ll need a wall for this sequence or something to rest your lower legs on, such as a couch or chair.
After each pose, take a moment to acknowledge any lasting sensations, shifts, or changes. It’s a good idea to come back to the breath during the pauses between poses too. Take plenty of time and move slowly.
Avoid rushing and “trying to get it done”. Let the process unfold slowly.
- Yoga mat
- Two bricks (cushions will work too)
- A bolster or two bed pillows
- Two blankets or large towels
- Something to cover your eyes, such as a sock or washcloth
Be creative with props if you don’t have the above. Remember that it is important for your relaxation for you to be comfortable, so never stay in a pose if you feel pain or discomfort.
Here’s the sequence:
1. Standing Forward Fold | Uttanasana
- Start in a standing forward fold at the back of the mat.
- The knees can be bent, and the arms can either be placed on the floor or a brick, or you can clasp opposite elbows.
- If you want to add a little movement, you can peddle out the legs or sway the arms from side to side. Think slow, gentle movements.
- Stay in the pose for one to three minutes.
- Start on all fours on your mat.
- Widen your knees and pull your bolster or pillows up to your groin without sitting on it.
- Lay the front of your torso down onto the bolster and turn the head to one side.
- If you feel a lack of support, try propping the head of the bolster up on a brick.
- Your arms can be forward alongside your ears or back behind you.
- Stay for three to five minutes.
3. Bridge Pose | Salamba Setu Bandhasana
- Come onto your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor.
- Place the feet and knees about hip-width apart.
- Use a bolster or brick underneath the back of your pelvis (not your spine) to elevate the hips.
- Snuggle your shoulder blades towards you underneath your body.
- Make sure that your chin is not sticking up to the sky but also ensure that the back of the neck is not flattened out.
- Rest your arms close to your torso.
- Stay for three to five minutes.
4. Legs up the wall Pose | Viparita Kirani
- You will need access to a wall space for this pose.
- Move the short edge of your mat up to the wall and sit sideways against the wall.
- As you pivot to lie down on the mat, simultaneously swing your legs up the wall.
- Your thighs and calves should be against the wall.
- Let your arms rest out to the side.
- If you don’t have access to a wall or this is uncomfortable, position yourself lying in front of a chair and place your lower legs on the support of the chair seat. Have your hips a little further back than your knees.
- Stay in the pose for three to six minutes.
5. Butterfly Pose | Salamba Supta Baddha Konasana
- This one uses a lot of props because you’ll stay there for a while.
- You’ll need your bolster, two bricks, two blankets, and your eye covering.
- Start by tightly rolling up your two blankets (the thicker, the better – think snail shells!) Put them on either side of your mat.
- Place one brick on the medium height at the top of the mat and one on the lowest height just below it.
- Position the bolster on the bricks so that it creates a forty-degree angle.
- Snuggle your lower back as close to the low end of the bolster as you can without sitting on it.
- Place one rolled-up blanket under each thigh and bring the soles of the feet together and let the knees go wide so that the upper legs are supported by the blankets.
- Cover your eyes with a sock or something light to cut out the light and create gentle pressure on the eyelids.
- Stay for ten to twenty minutes.
6. Corpse pose | Savasana or Yoga Nidra
- Set your bolster up underneath your knees.
- Place a folded blanket underneath the head and scoop the edges of the blanket underneath your head to make a bowl for the head to rest in.
- Place a blanket over you for warmth
- Put something over your eyes to block out any light.
- Stay for twelve to twenty minutes or put on your favourite yoga nidra recording.
Ready for more?
If this yoga for sleep article has got you interested in deep rest, why not check out this Yoga Nidra Script for Deep Rest and Relaxation.