Yoga For Better Sleep

Yoga For Better Sleep

Do you have trouble sleeping? Do you turn to pills, homeopathic remedies, valerian – or a couple of glasses of red wine…? Well, what I’ve discovered (and I’m not alone) is that yoga is a far healthier prescription for getting a good night’s rest.

There are specific yoga postures which really should ease you into restful sleep: pose-wise, ‘inversions’ are said to particularly good for sleep issues. The following, then, are excellent postures for a pre-bedtime sequence: they’re calming, soothing and should bring down your pulse and blood pressure. Ideally, you should work up to staying in these postures for five minutes or so. That may feel beyond you, at the start – but soon come, soon come… Ideally, set your mat up near your bed and do these in your PJs.

I would recommend choosing two or three of these to build a personalised sequence. You can always add to that. This is most effective when it becomes a repeated ritual, as it starts to trigger a relaxation response. (NB All the usual caveats about checking with your doctor if you have high blood pressure, low blood pressure, osteoporosis or any chronic illness apply – and nothing, but nothing beats going to a yoga class to learn the basics, I believe. And incidentally, I cover all of this – and more – in my Yoga for Life book, which you can buy on VH here.)

Standing forward bend Do this for a minute or so, but come up slowly so as not to feel dizzy.

Start by… standing on your mat with your feet slightly apart. Place a block in front of you if your hands don’t easily reach the floor, to rest them on.

  1. On an in-breath, lift your arms over your head, keeping your palms apart and facing each other. Be sure to keep your shoulders relaxed.
  2. On an out-breath, gently fold forwards – not from the waist, but from your hip sockets. Place your hands on the floor or block in front of you, or if you are more flexible, softly clasp your legs.
  3. Once you’re at full reach – and only then – relax the top half of your body towards the floor slightly. Don’t hunch, or your breathing will feel more constricted. With each breath, lift and lengthen your torso slightly, which allows you to drop a little further into the bend.
  4. Let your head hang down. Feel as if it’s dropping from the root of your neck, which is actually between your shoulder blades.
  5. Begin by staying in the forward bend for a few seconds, and over time, build up to a minute. Be aware that if you’re not used to putting your head below your knees, you may experience a head-rush.
  6. When you want to come out of the posture, bend your knees slightly, gently pull in your abdominal muscles and hinge upwards slowly from the hips.

Wide-legged standing forward bend This is actually one to turn to whenever you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed; it’s very grounding.

Start by… standing on your mat with your feet slightly apart. Place a block in front of you if your hands don’t easily reach the floor, to rest them on.

  1. On an in-breath, lift your arms over your head, keeping your palms apart and facing each other. Be sure to keep your shoulders relaxed.
  2. On an out-breath, gently fold forwards – not from the waist, but from your hip sockets. Place your hands on the floor or block in front of you, or if you are more flexible, softly clasp your legs.
  3. Once you’re at full reach – and only then – relax the top half of your body towards the floor slightly. Don’t hunch, or your breathing will feel more constricted. With each breath, lift and lengthen your torso slightly, which allows you to drop a little further into the bend.
  4. Let your head hang down. Feel as if it’s dropping from the root of your neck, which is actually between your shoulderblades.
  5. Start by staying in the forward bend for a few seconds, and over time, build up to a minute. Be aware that if you’re not used to putting your head below your knees, you may experience a head-rush.
  6. When you want to come out of the posture, bend your knees slightly, gently pull in your abdominal muscles and hinge upwards slowly from the hips.

Easier variation: If your hamstrings are really tight and you can’t get your hands on the floor, either take them to a block or keep your knees slightly bent and grab hold of your opposite elbows with your hands and just ‘hang’. For more support, let your hands rest on your thighs.
Legs-up-the-wall pose One of the best when you can’t get to sleep, especially if your insomnia is hormone-related.

Start by… folding a firm woolen blanket into a rectangular shape approximately 30cm x 60cm. Place this ‘support’ 20–30 cm away from a bare wall (it’s best to practise this pose in a space free from furniture or pictures.)

  1. Sit on the folded blanket with your legs parallel to the wall, and bend your knees.
  2. Shift your position so that you bring your lower back onto the floor and swing your legs up the wall. Use your elbows to support you as you lower your back onto the ground. When you’re in position, your back will be at a 90-degree angle to the wall.
  3. Roll your shoulders backwards to open your chest, and rest your arms alongside your torso.
  4. Feel your spine and the whole of your back sinking into the ground. Breathe deeply and slowly, and with each breath feel your tension melting away and your heart opening.
  5. If you’re comfortable in the position, rest here for several minutes.
  6. To deepen the posture, raise your arms and place them behind your head, resting them on the ground, slightly bent at the elbow or crossing at the wrists. If this is too much of a stretch, place two cushions just behind you, where your elbows bend, and rest your arms on these. (Get these into place before going into the pose.)
  7. To come out of the pose, bring your knees into your chest and roll onto your side. Stay there for a breath or two before pushing yourself into an upright position.

Do… Shuffle to get your bottom as close to the wall as possible.
… Stay for as long as you like in the pose, especially if you have weary legs.
… Bend at the knees to rest the soles of your feet on the wall, rather than the backs of your thighs, if the leg stretch is too extreme for you.
… Place an eye pillow on your eyelids, for even greater relaxation

Corpse pose You can do this after you get into bed and perform what’s called a ‘body scan’. In this, you progressively tense and then relax each part of the body. Or you can mentally ‘talk’ yourself through relaxing each part of the body, starting with the legs and working upwards: ‘I am relaxing my left foot. My left foot is relaxed. I am relaxing my right foot. My right foot is relaxed.’ And so on. This is especially effective for anyone who experiences ‘mental chatter’ the minute they close their eyes, as focusing on the ‘body scan’ occupies the brain, while slowing it down.

Zzzzzzz… Asleep yet…? It won’t be long, I promise, if you start to make some of these postures part of your night-time ritual…