You’ve probably tried a lot of different things to help you fall asleep, but have you considered yoga?
Even if you’ve never stepped inside a yoga studio and you don’t consider yourself flexible or athletic, you can still get tremendous benefits from doing a few simple yoga poses to help you sleep.
First and foremost, yoga focuses on the breath. By concentrating on your breathing, you’ll find that it’s relaxing, and may be precisely what you need to help you fall asleep faster.
The goal of early yoga practitioners (referred to as yogis for males and yoginis for females) was to prepare the body for long periods of meditation so that they could remain still in one position for hours. Sounds a lot like sleep, doesn’t it?
That’s why we thought it would be helpful to share our favorite yoga positions that will help you fall asleep faster and enjoy a restful night of sleep. Don’t be thrown off by the unfamiliar names. Yoga poses are named in Sanskrit, which is an ancient Indian language, but we’ve also given you the Americanized names in parentheses.
All of the positions in this article are suitable for beginners, but please consult your doctor if you have any concerns about injury.
What is Yoga?
Most people think of yoga as intense stretching sessions and lots of handstands with the words “downward facing dog” thrown in for good measure.
The reality is that yoga is a balanced practice that combines physical, mental, spiritual, and breathing exercises. It originated in India nearly 10,000 years ago, but the yoga that’s done today is unrecognizable to its original form. Now, there are 11 forms of yoga to engage practitioners of all skill levels and preferences, from prenatal yoga to Bikram yoga, which is performed in a heated environment.
It has evolved from songs and rituals performed by people called Brahmans (similar to priests) to a discipline that engages the body, mind, and soul. You’ll notice that all the poses end in the word “asana,” which means posture. However, the postures of yoga comprise only one of the eight principles involved in the practice.
The eight pillars or “limbs” of yoga are:
- Withdrawal of senses
The pillars we will focus on this article are postures and breathing.
Benefits of Yoga Before Bed
Loosen up Tight Muscles
One of the main physical components of yoga is stretching. If you have tight muscles at the end of the day from sitting at your desk or exerting yourself, practicing yoga before bed can help loosen up those muscles, which not only enables you to sleep better, but it can also help prevent injury and waking up feeling stiff or sore.
Helps You Relax
It can be challenging to wind down at the end of a long, stressful day. By practicing simple postures and working on slow and deliberate breathing, you’ll find that you naturally relax, and all the worries and stress from the day roll off your back.
Burns Excess Energy
If you feel fidgety or restless at the end of the day, a light yoga practice can help make you feel centered. The subtle movements and moderate physical activity burn the last bit of energy you’ve got stored and prepare you for a night of sleep.
If you have trouble falling asleep, yoga is an ideal practice for you to try right before bed. The breathing exercises are relaxing and many of the postures are designed to improve circulation and release tightness in your body.
Promotes Deep Sleep
The physical practice of doing yoga combines the disciplines of the body and mind. By letting go of the stress of the day, burning up your last bit of energy and focusing on your breath, not only will you fall asleep faster, but you’ll find that you get a better night of sleep.
Poses to Help You Sleep Better
Utthan Pristhasana (Lizard Pose)
This position will help open up and stretch your hips and hip flexors. Begin in downward facing dog. If you’ve never done downward facing dog, here’s what to do: start on your hands and knees and push your body and knees up off the ground. Your hands and feet stay on the floor, and your body position should like an inverted V-shape.
From there, step one foot forward (start with the right), between your hands. Then, bring the right hand to the inside of the right foot so that both hands are side by side. Drop your left knee to make it a bit easier. Then, shift your hips forward and place your elbows flat on the ground, or on your mat. Hold for 30 seconds, and then switch sides.
Salabhasana (Locust Pose)
This pose stretches and strengthens your back. Lie down flat on your stomach with your arms straight down by your hips. Your forehead should be touching the floor or a yoga mat. On an exhale lift your head, chest, and legs off the ground.
If raising both legs at the same time is too challenging, lift one first. Then place it back on the ground and lift the other.
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)
This yoga pose is a fancy way of saying, “touch your toes.” Stand with your feet together. Bend forward at the waist, and then touch your toes. You may need to bend your knees in order to get your hands to the ground. Not only will you feel a stretch in the back of your body, you’ll increase blood flow and oxygen to your brain.
Janu Sirasana (Head-of-the-Knee Pose)
This yoga position is a like a forward bend, but you stay seated. It’s a fantastic all-over stretch that helps the back of your legs, your arms, and your back. It also aids in digestion, which is helpful during sleep.
To get started in this sleep pose, sit down and extend one leg out in front of you. With the other leg, bend at the knee and place the bottom of your foot against your inner thigh. Sit tall with your arms straight up above your head. Then, slowly hinge your upper body forward and reach for your toes. Hold for 30 seconds, and then switch legs.
Savasana (Corpse Pose)
This one is a yogi favorite, and it is often the last position done during a yoga practice. It’s meant to bookend the session and allow the work that the practitioner has done to set in, but we secretly think it’s a reward for a job well done. In our opinion, this is the ultimate sleep pose!
This position is physically the easiest, but can be the most difficult to do mentally. You like flat on your back with your legs straight out in front of you and your arms at your side. Let your feet relax and fall toward the side. The palms of your hands should be face up.
In this position, the idea is to clear your mind, though some instructors may guide you through an exercise where you focus on relaxing each part of your body from your toes up to your eyes.
Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend)
This is similar to Janu Sirasana (head-of-the-knee pose), except both legs are straight out in front of you. From your seated position, raise your arms straight up to stretch your back, then lower them toward your feet. As you hold this position, each time you exhale, try to extend your reach a bit further, being mindful not to overstretch and injure yourself.
Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose)
This yoga pose has been shown to both ease depression and increase organ function like the prostate and kidney. So, you get sleep benefits as well as health benefits with this posture!
Begin by sitting with your legs straight out in front of you. Then draw your legs in with the soles of your feet touching each other. You should strive for your heels to be as close to your groin as possible. Your knees should be flat on the ground.
Then, slowly lean back and allow your elbows to drop to the floor to support you and allow you to lie back gently. Keep lowering yourself until you are lying flat on your back. Your arms should be outstretched by your sides and lying flat also.
Hold this position, and breathe deeply for 30 seconds or up to one minute.
Parsva Upavistha Konasana (Side Seated Wide Angle Pose)
This yoga posture is another seated forward fold, but instead of having your legs straight in front of you, they will spread wide apart to the sides in a V-shape. Again, raise your arms overhead and then bend forward with your arms going straight in front of you and landing on the floor.
If you can do it comfortably, outstretch your arms and grasp your big toes with each hand.
Supta Virasana (Reclining Hero Pose)
Begin seated with your knees in front of you as you sit on your heels. Then shift your heels out from under your buttocks, so that they are now by the edge of your hips. Using your elbows for support, slowly lower yourself down to a lying position. Once you are all the way down, stretch your arms overhead and hold for five breaths. Your knees should be facing straight forward and away from you.
If you have sensitive or injured knees, remain resting on your elbows and don’t lower yourself all the way down. This exercise can put strain on the knees, so be careful!
Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Big Toe Pose)
Lie flat on your back, then lift one leg straight in the air. Reach your arm (the same side as the leg that’s lifted) and grab your big toe. Make sure your back is flat on the floor without any gaps or spaces. Hold for five breaths and then switch sides.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)
Lie on your back with your feet hip-width distance apart. Draw your heels to your buttocks and keep your feet flat on the floor. Thrust or lift your tailbone up toward the sky. Interlace your fingers underneath you as you press your shoulders deeper into the ground.
Viparita Karani (Legs-up-the-Wall Pose)
If you’re on your feet all day or you have varicose veins, this sleep pose will be your new favorite! Lie on your back with your feet facing a wall. Lift your legs up and start inching your buttocks toward the wall until they’re touching it, and your legs are straight up against it. Hold for up to one minute.
Siddhasana (Adept’s Pose)
This yoga position is considered to be the best for meditation, which makes it an ideal step to prepare for sleep. Sit cross-legged as you normally would. You’ll notice that one foot is on top of your thigh, while the other is beneath.
To execute this pose, take the foot that is under the thigh and lift it over the opposite shin so that both feet are now on top of the thigh, or at least nestled in your knee crease.
It takes a lot of practice, so don’t worry if you don’t get it on your first several tries.
Restorative Poses if You Cannot Sleep
Balasana (Child’s Pose)
Start on all fours with knees wide apart. Drop your buttocks to touch your heels and stretch your arms straight down in front of you on the floor. Your forehead should be touching the ground or your yoga mat. Focus on your breath. As you inhale, your body will rise. On your exhale, it will fall.
This posture is grounding, relaxing and ideal sleep pose. If you’re having a stressful day at the office, this is also an ideal position to try. Although, maybe practice this one in private!
Ardha Bhekasana (Supported Half Frog Pose)
Lie flat on your stomach and then push your upper body up so that your elbows and forearms are flat on the ground. Your head is lifted. Then lift your right foot behind you, reach back with your right hand, and grab the foot. Your left forearm may cross over your chest on the ground for support.
Apply gentle pressure with the base of your right palm to bring your foot closer to your buttocks. Hold for five breaths, and then switch sides. Be extra careful not to strain your knee with this yoga pose.
Pawanmuktasana (Wind-Relieving Pose)
You can probably imagine why this position is referred to as wind-relieving. If you haven’t guessed yet, try it, and you may find out!
Lie flat on your back. Lift one leg, bend it and hug your knee toward your chest. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, and then switch sides.
Supta Jathara Parivartanasana (Supine Spinal Twist)
If you’re in desperate need of a back crack, this will provide instant relief. This pose is also called “figure 4” because your body will look like the number four.
From wind-relieving pose, take your bent leg and ease it down to the floor on the opposite side. So, if your right knee is bent, drop it to the left side of your body. Twist your neck so that your eyes are also facing to the left. Then, take your right arm and stretch it straight out to the right side. Your shoulder should remain flat on the ground. Hold for a count of five breaths, and then switch sides.
Anana Balasana (Happy Baby)
You know how babies are always grabbing at their feet? Well, that’s what this pose was named after. After you finish supine spinal twist, raise both legs in the air and wrap your middle and index finger around your big toes. An optional activity is to rock side by side, which stimulates oxygen flow in the kidneys.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can yoga help people with sleep disorders?
Yoga is the perfect activity for people with sleep disorders! By focusing on your breath and doing purposeful movements, you’ll find that you feel much more relaxed and ready for bed when it’s time for sleep.
What is the best pose for weight loss?
Most yoga poses, even the easy ones, are helpful for weight loss. They increase circulation and help balance the mind, which are both necessary components for shedding fat. That being said, for maximum weight loss, you’ll want to focus on positions that engage muscle groups like the core, arms, and legs.
Our favorites for getting rid of wanted weight are boat (for the core), plank (for core and total body strengthening), and Chaturanga Dandasana. If you’ve never heard of Chaturanga Dandasana, it’s like being in a tricep pushup where you are half lowered. In a yoga flow, the next step would be upward facing dog, followed by downward facing dog.
Can beginners do these?
All of the poses mentioned in this article are suitable for beginners. However, if you are injured, pregnant or recovering from an illness or surgery, please consult with your doctor before beginning any new program.
Yoga has tremendous benefits for both the mind and body, including weight loss, relaxation, body strengthening and lengthening, and flexibility. Now that we know that it can also help us sleep better, there’s yet another reason to get started. Sweet dreams!
Sources and References:
- The Connection Betwen Yoga and Better Sleep – sleepfoundation.org
- Yoga for Better Sleep – health.harvard.edu
- Impact of long term Yoga practice on sleep quality and quality of life in the elderly – ncbi.nlm.nih.gov Read more...
Where Balance Isn't In Your Vocab
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