Can’t Sleep? Try This Gentle Yoga Sequence
The deep breathing, meditation, and muscle engagement of yoga is extremely helpful to ease oneself into sleep. But some poses are very energizing (warrior I and II, airplane, dancer, bow, wheel), and it is extremely important to use the asanas (poses of yoga practice) to our advantage by focusing on the kind of energy each practice is serving us. When waking up in the morning power flows such as upward dog, warriors, standing stick, and hand stands are powerful. But to wind down with our breath, to allow our bodies stillness and grounded comfort and relaxation, we must call on different poses of practice. Try this vinyasa (succession of poses) in a calm space before bedtime and enjoy some of the most restful sleep you will ever experience.
Waterfall (Viparita Karani) Inversions are excellent for blood circulation. Healthy blood circulation allows us to more easily stay still as we sleep because our body’s temperature is staying evenly distributed and at homeostasis. Have you ever had a great nap after a work out? Practicing yoga designed for bed time will make your sleep more deep and restful. When we are sleeping we are oxygenating our bodies. Inversions help blood flow to our heart and throughout our body. Waterfall helps relieve menstrual pain and tired feet pain. I work on my feet a lot and sometimes when I’m laying in bed my feet hurt and it keeps me awake and uncomfortable. Waterfall is an excellent pose to let your head and arms be heavy and feel the ground under you while allowing your legs and feet which do so much work during the day to feel light, either with a block or pillow under the small of your back and legs straight up in the air, or with your legs up a wall or straight up in the air, your body a right angle. Let the blood fall from your tired toes and circulate resting energy into your torso. This pose gently stretches the back in a way no other pose does while stretching your neck and abs; a really nice combination to remind your body how tired your muscles are from your long day.
Rabbit (Sasangasana) Balancing the nervous system is an important precursor to restful sleep. Rabbit pose stretches the spine in a very thorough fluid movement unlike any other pose allowing your spine to be flexible and elongated enough to feel from your tailbone to your nick expansion and deep
relaxation. This pose takes a certain amount of energy we don’t use often in daily life and has a nice sedating quality immediately afterwards. After rabbit you may take corpse pose laying on your back gently tucking your chin ever so slightly towards your chest and belly button towards your spine to allow the maximum amount of your spine to contact the floor. Rabbit makes you longer and when you hop in bed after this vinyasa flow you will be able to comfortably spread out. Come out of it the way you came and stand in Mountain pose preparing for Eagle.
Eagle (Garudasana) Lift and bend your left knee towards your chest. Bend your right knee and wrap your left thigh over your right. Sitting in an invisible chair like a talk show host breathe fully with tightly crossed legs. Maintain a steady full inhale and exhale pattern before you take your right arm and elbow and rest it in the weenus of your left arm reaching your left hand around to your right hand working them as close to prayer position as possible. Split your vision with your hands and relax your shoulders bringing them away from your ears and aligned over your hips. Focus looking directly ahead with your hands out of focus and in front of the very center of your face. Look beyond your hands, it is imperfect and that is okay. Sit in your chair as deep as you can while still holding your shoulders back and up and engaging your back shoulder muscles bringing your shoulders and middle back down with your hips. Keep your hips squared facing forward. Squaring your hips is more important than getting your foot around your calf. If you can maintain your squared hips wrap your left calf around your right calf and hook your left foot around your right ankle.
This pose is excellent for many things, among them strength, relaxation, focus and digestion. Feeling strange or discomfort from eating too much or something unusual can really impede on one’s sleep. Eagle draws on seven major muscle regions: the middle upper back, chest, abs, biceps, triceps, thighs and calfs. Utilizing this many muscles at one time and creating utter comfort for the bottom of one’s spine has a soothing effect. Always do on one side what you did on the other. Start with your right knee lifted and bent towards your chest and repeat what you did on the other side, holding the pose the same amount of time. If you fall out of it, come back to it one breath for each movement. As you come back to standing upright in mountain pose feet shoulder distance apart you may feel a sleepiness come over you. Breathe deeply and allow your facial expression to do what it naturally wants to, no one is watching. Studies show our face affects our mood and our mood affects our thoughts. Taoism says our thoughts affect our beliefs, our beliefs determine actions, and our actions become behaviors.
Tree (Vrksasana) Tree pose takes so much more discipline than people give it credit for. It is a very meditating pose with so much room for growth. I have been practicing tree pose for 14 years and it is still one of the hardest to truly hold well. The qualities that prepare me for sleep is the focus, stillness and the opening of the hips. When your hips, shoulders and back can move freely, you start to feel your mattress a lot more. Yoga practice breeds mindfulness into our muscles. It is a gift to be able to listen to our bodies and take actions to support their needs. I love listening to my body. I recently got a memory foam mattress topper for my bed and my body is so happy about it. Yoga has taught me how to listen to myself, sometimes the best symbolic images and abstract mental processing happens when I am in yoga. It is a form of meditation. When we have outlets for these internal processes our unconscious sleep time isn’t taken up by these things and we can truly rest our minds, bodies and spirits.
From Mountain pose inhale your arms up and exhale swan dive into Forward Fold. With your hands on the ground, or on your shin, inhale as you lift one leg up behind you and stretch it as far and long as it will go while lifting your chest and head to look forward (gaze exemplified in second photo). Inhale and exhale deeply here and extend the line of your spine while keeping your hips squared towards the ground. A really common mistake in yoga is unintentionally holding your breath. Keep intention with every inhale and exhale, don’t forget to keep breathing slowly and deeply. Allow a counter stretch in the long line of your body extending from the crown of your head all the way through to your raised big toe. When you are ready after up to 12 breaths return your leg to the floor and inhale. Exhale as you bring your torso and chest towards your legs returning to forward fold. Breathe and give yourself kudos for holding your best in that balancing pose. Then inhale your leg up on the other side and do the same with the other leg, lifting your gaze upward looking in front of you.
Happy Baby (Ananda Balasana) This pose is excellent for relieving lower back pain while simultaneously giving a great calm to the mind. The tautness of ones legs and feet in line with the hips in this pose creates a very still and solid state. In this state we are facing the ceiling and are incredibly still. You are able to rub your feet in this pose as your circulation increases and your breathing becomes easier. Happy Baby opens the hips and groin which get very tight from our lifestyles of sitting in chairs, walking, and driving. Allow yourself as many breaths here as you like, making your breaths deeper and longer lasting each time. You may start yawning- like a baby. Stay here as long as you need. You may close your eyes and remember we all start this life as a sleeping baby.
Shoulder Stand (Sarvangasana) and Plow (Halasana) While remaining on your back lift your legs overhead and hold your low back up, buttocks, legs and feet above head stretching as straight and upward as possible while relaxing your neck and allowing your chin to fall towards your chest. The energy transfer in this pose is amazing. So much is focused in your core and groin, bringing the center of your body to a very still and strong state, allowing the rest of your body to relax and be supported by your core. Before coming down shift to plow pose by bringing your feet towards your face and placing your arms out straight and palms on the floor supporting you as you lower your straight legs over your head and land your toes touching above your head. Breathe deeply and allow your spine to fully stretch, letting your booty and feet stretch in opposite direction of your hands and arms in a nice counter stretch, building strength and calm in your torso and head. Breathe steadily, remembering to keep breathing. To come back to corpse pose engage your arms and core to bring your legs straight up again and using your core slowly vertebrae by vertebrae bring your bottom to the floor.
Fish (Matsyasana) This pose is amazing for opening up and relaxing the chest as well as tiring the legs and torso. In fish, allow yourself to focus on your breath and feel it open up the spaces between your vertebrae, ribs, and especially shoulders. Fish relies on the shoulders relationship with the upper back. You know when you stretch your shoulders back and have them touch in your back? Those are the muscles you’re engaging in fish. Let the tops of your shoulders fall back gently while letting the weight of your head take the top of your head to the floor with your eyes closed. The space in your upper back will open up magnificently. Your vertebrae may pop.
Child’s Pose (Balasana) Let your hips and spine work together to place you fully in this pose. Bring your hands and arms above your head and place your palms on the floor with your fingers spread out. Relax the front and back of your shoulders into the ground as much as possible. Let go any tautness in your arms. Bring your shoulders down. Let your spine relax and stretch in this pose. This is a relaxing resting pose. Place your forehead on the mat or floor.
Laying Down Twist (Natrajasana) Laying on your back, bring your arms out to a T and your knees together slightly towards your chest enough to feel your ab muscles engage, while keeping your entire spine as flat on the floor as possible. Inhale deeply and as you exhale turn your head to face your left hand. Allow your knees to carefully and slowly fall to the right so your thighs are parallel with your extended arm. Breathe and keep both shoulders and your spine flat on the floor as much as possible while tucking your chin slightly in towards your shoulder. Keep your shoulders as flat on the floor as you can. Breathe deeply and fully, feeling each part of your breath move through your torso and chest. When you are ready, engage your abs and steadily bring your gaze towards the center and knees back to center. Repeat inhale and exhale into movement on the other side. Let your gaze be soft and not focused on one thing while you keep your gaze still.
Corpse Pose (Savasana) Lay on your back and completely relax your neck, shoulders, limbs, abs, every part of you. Gently close your eyes. Let everything you did sink in and allow your body to be heavy, merging with the Earth below you.
As you lay in bed, allow the natural breathing pattern you feel in your body move you freely. Let your torso rise and fall and don’t try to control anything. Let yourself be. May you dream only the most beautiful and complete dreams and wake up after 8 hours of deep mind, spirit, and body sleep.
Photos: Author’s own