This post is an instalment in a series that delves into the basics of yoga—looking at its postures (asana), breath (pranayama), philosophy, and all the other essentials—giving you the foundations upon which to build a solid practice. Today's focus is a little bit different—we're looking at how yoga can be beneficial in sleep. Because what could be more foundational for your yoga practice, your day—your life!—than a good night's rest?!
Foundation Friday: Yoga for Better Sleep
We all know the symptoms—dark half-moons under the eyes, lion-sized yawns, a lowered level level of alertness. If you've ever spent a night—or a string of them—tossing and turning, clock-checking, and worrying yourself awake, you're certainly not alone. According to the CHFA, one in seven Canadians have insomnia, or trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. And sleep deprivation is one of the leading causes of stress among American adults. As anyone who's spent a night sleepless in bed knows, counting sheep may be a somewhat entertaining attempt to lull yourself into a sweet slumber—but it's not always the most effective.
Bed-time yoga has been proven as an effective method of lessening the time it takes to fall asleep, and lengthening the time it takes to stay asleep—so much so, that even the U.S. Department of Defense has been using a yoga nidra derivative to help treat its soldiers sufferrering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder—an ailment that shares similar symptoms with insomnia, like anxiety, or the inability to sleep at night. While sun salutations and vinyasa are not particularly recommended, some gentle, calming yoga postures—done next to, or even right in your bed may help to soothe your mind and body into a sleep-state. Check out our top five yoga postures to help with sleep, below.
You'll notice that this list includes plenty of forward folds—forward folds, or extension promote a turning inwards, helping to rest and soothe the brain. Forward folds stimulate a cooling sensation in the body, and also help the digestive system to assimilate whatever hasn't yet been digested, whether physically or metaphorically.
1.Downward Facing Dog, or Adho Mukha Svanasana
Start from all fours, or a Tabletop position with your wrists outer-shoulder distance apart and your knees under your hips. Tuck your toes under, and press your hips skyward. You might need to bend one knee, and then the other to find some space in your back body to make this posture more comfortable. Bend both knees, and send your belly back towards your thighs. Lengthen your ears away from your shoulders.
2. Seated Forward Fold, or Paschimottanasana
Sit up with your legs extended in front of you. Remove the flesh from underneath your sit bones by manually sliding it out from underneath your seat. Extend your heart forward towards your legs, and then fold forward. Relax your arms beside your feet or legs and let your head be heavy. Use the physical feeling of turning inward to help guide your mind inward as well—turning your thoughts off from the day behind or ahead of you, and instead focusing on calm breath and the physical sensations you feel inside your body.
3. Supine Twist, or Supta Matsyendrasana
Bend your knees, scoot your hips slightly over to one side, and then lower your legs to the opposite side of your hips. This should help your hips to stack over top of each other. Turn your head opposite your legs if it's okay for your neck. If your knees are lifted uncomfortably away from the floor or your bed, you might support them with a blanket or pillow (bonus since they're so close!). Again, breathe deeply into your belly to invite a gentle compression into your internal organs, facilitating digestion both physically and metaphorically—helping yourself to integrate the happenings of your day so that you can rest and prepare yourself for the next. This posture may also help to alleviate any back and neck discomfort that prevents you from falling asleep.
4. Child's Pose, or Balasana
Fold your torso forward between your legs and allow your forehead to rest, on either your bed, or stacked palms or fists. Take slow, deep belly breaths. If you like, you can massage your brow by gently rocking your head from side to side.
5. Corpse Pose, or Savasana
Set yourself up into a final resting posture—you might try lying down with your arms right alongside your body and feet hip-distance, or maybe you feel more comfortable extending your limbs further away from your torso. Once you're completely comfortable and at ease, try a yoga nidra technique:
Work through your body slowly, one piece at a time—draw all of your awareness to that part, starting at your feet. Notice the way your feet feel, and if there is any tension or muscular engagement in your toes, the balls of your feet, your arches, your heels, your ankles. Consciously relax that part of your body, using your long, drawn-out exhales to soften. Work your way up through your legs, your arms, your torso, and your head. Once you've covered all of the areas of your body—if you've made it through all of them without dozing off!—notice the way you feel now, and see if you can tell your mind to relax in the same way you have your body.
Use these postures alongside a deepened, calm breath. If thoughts are giving you anxiety, or preventing you from falling into a sleepy state, you can try writing them down in a bed-side journal, or try to let them pass by you without getting attached. If these postures aren't enough, you might try making some small lifestyle changes—like avoiding caffeine after lunch, turning all your screens off at least an hour before bed, or settling into a nighttime ritual to help tell your body it's time to rest.
Let us know what's helped, and what hasn't in your journey to easy rest. Sweet dreams, yogis!