With approximately 70 million Americans suffering from chronic sleep problems, it’s clear that most of us need to evaluate our nighttime shutdown routine. If counting sheep or sipping that cup of chamomile isn’t doing you any favors, you might want to consider downward dogging your way to REM. By incorporating a few key yoga poses into your sleep ritual, you can catch some serious zzz’s. Yoga’s meditative elements can help you tune out everyday stresses, calm the mind, and create awareness to the breath — all of which help you fall asleep faster and sleep better throughout the night.
Kathryn Budig, celebrity yoga instructor and author of Aim True, says, “Yoga connects you to your breath, which can trigger your parasympathetic system, and tells your system it’s time to unwind.” But first, set the sleep scene: Clear your bed, shut off all electronics, light a candle or two, and break out some soothing aromatherapy oil. Ready to flow?
5 Yoga Poses to Sleep Better, Stat
1. Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
Uttanasana, a simple forward fold, will kick off your nighttime yoga practice by easing your body and mind. Not only does a forward fold help relieve tension in the hamstrings, calves and hips, the inversion helps us slow down, calm our mind and re-balance our senses from being upright all day. “Make sure to keep a small bend in the knees if you feel discomfort in the lower back,” Budig advises. “This often means the hamstrings are too tight for a straight leg version, and then you’d lose the benefit.”
How to: Stand tall with your feet straight in front of you, heels firmly on the floor, and hands at your hips. Take a deep breath and exhale (a). Slowly bend forward from your hips. As you move your torso down so your hands meet your feet, make sure there’s open space between your torso and your knees (b). Keep your knees straight as possible and bring your palms or finger tips to the floor in front of or on the sides of your feet. If you’re not able to touch your feet, cross your forearms and hold opposite elbows with your hands (c.) Count at least six breaths, creating awareness to each inhalation and exhalation. As you inhale, slightly lift your torso, and as you exhale, release your body deeper into the forward bend, letting your head and neck hang.
2. Supine Spinal Twist
If tummy troubles have been keeping you up at night, you might want to try the supine spinal twist. A reclining supine twist helps alleviate bloating and gas, improve circulation and ease neck and back tension.
How to: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat (a). Start rolling your knees towards the right side of your body with your left shoulder pulling down towards the ground. (b). Turn your head to the left side and press down your knees with your right hand to deepen the stretch. (c). Hold this position and count six breaths, gently inhaling and exhaling. Repeat sequence on the left side of your body.
3. Reclining Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)
Supta Baddha Konasana is the ultimate chakra-clearing position after a long, stressful day. (If you’re not familiar with chakras, they’re points in the center of your body that control your energy.) According to Budig, “This pose is a fantastic way to externally rotate your hips and aid in flexibility. If you add a bolster and props, you get a gentle heart opener as well. It’s a rather vulnerable pose, so it’s a fantastic place to practice telling yourself you’re exactly where you need to be.” Budig says. And who doesn’t want to hit the hay thinking happy thoughts?
How to: Place a small stack of folded blankets or a pillow behind you (a). In a seated position, slowly lower your body towards the folded blankets (b). Bring the soles of your feet together out in front of you and open your knees to the sides. You can use an extra folded blanket or pillow to support them (c). Place your arms on the floor at your sides with your palms facing up. Hold this position for a few slow, controlled breaths.
4. Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose (Supta Padangusthasana)
Supta Padangusthasana is both an active and restorative pose. It helps relax our mind and ease tension in your legs and thighs, while also creating more awareness in the breath. Guilty of sitting for hours on end? “This pose helps release the hips, hamstrings and calves after a long day,” Budig says. “It’s [also] great if you’re an athlete or suffer from fatigued legs.” You’ll need a yoga strap, towel or blanket to do this hip-opening pose.
How to: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor (a). Pull your right knee toward your chest and wrap your yoga strap or towel around your foot (b). Extend your right leg towards the sky and keep your shoulders on the floor. Then, straighten your left leg out in front of you and pull your extended right leg to the side with the yoga strap (c). Hold this position and count several breaths before moving onto the other side.
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5. Corpse Pose (Savasana)
The final pose of every yoga practice is savasana, aka everyone’s favorite chill-out moment to relax and reset. This pose is an opportunity to center your mind, reconnect with your breath, get in tune with your body, and release the stresses of the day. Do this move before bed and sleep is sure to follow.
How to: Lie on your back with your feet hip-distance apart and your arms at your sides (a). Face your palms up and close your eyes (b). Take a few breaths, inhaling and exhaling slowly.