Tuning into your body and turning off your mind to fall asleep can be especially difficult during times of stress. One of the best tricks I learned to help my mind and body relax was at a yoga class years ago. The instructor asked us to lie on our backs and then asked us to move through our entire bodies, tensing and releasing every muscle, starting with our toes. She stated it was her signature “falling asleep” move, and that she was rarely able to make it to her head without nodding off. I began practicing the move at night and was impressed by how it helped me to get out of my head and focus on my body and my breathing, and how in turn that focus helped me to relax and more easily fall asleep.
I now practice yoga consistently and have a few yogi friends who I turn to for questions yoga related. I reached out to the group to find out the poses they most commonly use to aid relaxation before bed. The answers were varied but complementary, below are the most popular responses on ways to wind down your mind and body before bed, with instructions on how to execute each position.
Note that it’s best to consult a qualified instructor before beginning your own yoga practice; these are just a few of my favorite poses from my (and my friends’) experience!
Stand with feet together, take a deep breath in and raise hands above your head, reaching into the sky. Exhale and bend over to touch your toes, or to where you feel a comfortable stretch. Stay here for 30-60 seconds. Then, grab opposite elbows and swing gently back and forth in front of your knees. Exhale and slowly come to standing.
Supine Hamstring Pose
Lie on your back, bring your right knee to your chest and wrap a band or a towel around the ball of your foot. Extend your leg in front of you and raise it to the sky, holding on to the towel or mat with your hands, while leaving your left leg on the floor. If you leg does not extend past the height of your hips, bend it to relax your hamstrings while still allowing you to stretch. Stay here for 30 – 60 seconds. If you enjoy this pose, then hold on to the towel or band and slowly lower your leg to the left, crossing it over your body. Turn your head to the right, stretch here for 30-60 seconds. Raise your leg and lower to the right, looking left and breath for 30-60 seconds. Repeat on the left leg.
Vipariti Karani (Legs Up The Wall Pose)
Since this is an inversion, it is always wise to start conservatively (and again, consult a qualified instructor), especially if your muscles are stiff. This one does require one prop of either a few rolled blankets or a bolster, for lower back support. To start, line up your bolster 5-6 inches from the wall. If your muscles are stiffer, you may want to add a little more space and keep the height of your support lower (maybe only one blanket versus two). Inversely, if you are flexible, you may want to increase the height of your support and move it closer to the wall.
Sitting atop the bolster and parallel to the wall, gently swing your legs up and place them on the wall and lower your torso, head and neck on to the floor. Ensuring the bolster is comfortably placed on your low back, scoot close enough to the wall that your sit bones fill the space between the bolster and the wall. Breathe and relax your head and neck and abdomen, while keeping your legs relatively firm. Stay here for up to 5 minutes. Bend and release your legs from the wall, roll to the right and come up to a seated position.
Supta Baddha Konasana
Lie flat on your back with your feet on the ground. Slowly exhale and let your knees fall gently towards the ground then place your feet together, outer edges on the floor. Press your hands on your groin and exhale to release your legs further into the floor. Now place hands down, palms facing up, on the floor beside you. Breathe deeply and relax, hold this pose for at least 60 seconds.
Savasana or Meditation
Everyone’s favorite! For this pose, simply lie on your back, hands relaxed and loose on your sides. Melt into the floor (or your bed) and breathe.
Practice the poses in order of your preference. Many of the people I asked started with the standing poses, then move to floor positions and ended with savasana or meditation. I have been known to listen to meditations or to practice savasana in bed before I go to sleep. While I used to feel this was a half hearted effort, I now think it is one of the best ways to relax into a great night’s rest. And hey, a little meditation is better than no meditation as far as I am concerned.