Yoga for Sleep and Relaxation
Sleep.... it's definitely something that I struggle with. I know I need it, my body wants it but I have trouble getting enough in every day. I have a two-week-old baby and honestly, I can't remember the last time I slept uninterrupted through the night but if I had to guess it was at least 5 months ago and there is no end in site for me. But that's life right? Someday I will get real sleep again-
In the meantime getting good sleep in when I have the chance is super important to me. I have always had trouble falling asleep, or turning off my mind enough to relax. Anyone else have that problem? It's like the second I lay down every conversation from the day runs through my head for proper dissection and tomorrows to do list floats by and any other little thing that my mind feels needs attention uses that exact moment to bombard me. What to do..... lots of people have had suggestions over the years, and some have worked and some have not. The thing that I find helps the most is some yoga poses that are specific to relaxing both the body and the mind.
There is a huge variety of asanas (yoga poses) you could use to help relax at the end of the day but here are some that Cathy and Jenn, co-owners of root SUP& Fitness in Leonardtown, MD (who are both extraordinary Yoga Instructors) have suggested and I put together into my favorite before bed routine:
Easy Pose (Sukhasana):
Start by sitting in a simple cross-legged position. While opening the hips and lengthening the spine. For meditation, it is important that the spine be straight and aligned with the head and neck. Try not to slump forward. Slowly breath in and out while allowing your body and mind to relax.
Easy Pose with a Twist (Parivrtta Sukhasana)
Start in the above position, with legs crossed comfortably in front of you, relaxing through your thighs and feet. Lengthen through your spine and keep the chest open. Inhale and lengthen before adding the twist. Place your right hand on the floor behind you and then bring your left hand to the outside of your right knee. Exhaling as you gently twist to the right, inhale and lengthen your spine, and then with your next exhale see if you can twist a little deeper. Look gently over your right shoulder, but try not to push too hard against your knee to force a deeper twist, let it feel natural. Hold for several breaths, continuing to go deeper if you can as you breath and lengthen. Swap sides and repeat.
Start this pose on your hands and knees with your wrists, directly under your shoulders, and your knees directly under your hips. Your head and neck should be in a nice neutral position and fingertips pointed toward the front of your mat.
Inhale as you move into the Cow position by dropping your belly down toward the mat and lifting your chest and chin taking your eyes up toward the ceiling. Really stretch to open your back by pulling your shoulder blades apart and down, away from your ears.
Exhale slowly and move into Cat position by pulling your belly button up toward your spine, rounding your back and allowing your head to fall down toward the floor creating a long line from your head and neck all the way down to your tailbone. Push the floor away with your hands and knees and think about pushing down evenly through your fingers and fingertips rather than your wrists to relieve pressure on wrists and protect them.
Continue to inhale and exhale moving smoothly between the two poses.
Child's Pose (Shashankasana)
From your hands and knees, press your hips back toward your calves, keeping your hands connected to the mat so that you end up with your forehead resting on the floor in front of your knees and your arms extended but relaxed in front of you, slightly bent with elbows resting on the floor. Breath slowly here, allowing your body to relax, falling deeper into the floor with every breath. If you need room to drop deeper into this pose take your knees slightly wider, with your big toes together and if you find this pose is uncomfortable for your knees you can place a bolster or blanket in your knee pit to make them more comfortable as you push back into them.
To move into Cobra, lay flat on the floor, stomach down, with the palms of your hands ﬂat on the mat, below but slightly to the outside of your shoulders, and elbows close to your body. Using the muscles in your back ﬁrst, inhale, slowly raising your head, neck and shoulders while straightening your arms. Relax your lower back, by engaging your glutes (squeezing your bum tight) and then focus on using your upper back to keep your trunk lifted. Push through your arms, arching your back while keeping your pelvis connected to the mat. Open through your heart and chest and keep your shoulders down away from your ears. As you exhale return to the starting position flat on your mat. Repeat this pose, breathing and stretching while you quiet your mind.
Reclining Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)
Lay on your mat, flat on your back. Draw both knees up toward your chest, allow your knees to fall down to one side as you open your arms out to each side. If your shoulder does not lie flat on the floor you can support it with a towel, pillow or yoga block, and if your knees don't quite make it to the floor, don't force them, just slide a blanket under them to help provide support. To add a little stretch you can turn your head the opposite direction of your knees. Slowly inhale and exhale allowing your body to fall deeper into the floor with each breath and relaxing fully into the pose. When you are ready draw the knees back to center and then drop them down to the opposite side.
Legs Up a Wall (Shashankasana)
This pose can be done flat on the floor or with your hips supported on a bolster or long pillow. Start by sitting with your side against the wall. Rest your lower back against the bolster, if you’re using one. Gently turn your body to the side and bring your legs up onto the wall. If you are using a bolster, your lower back should be resting comfortably on it before lifting your legs up onto the wall. Lower your back down onto the floor and rest your shoulders and head flat on the floor. Scootch your bum closer to the wall by gently shifting your weight from side to side. Once you are right against the wall, let your arms rest open at your sides, palms facing up. If you’re using a bolster, your lower back should now be fully supported by it. Try to relax through your legs, allowing your thighs to release and drop down toward the floor and the back of your pelvis, and then hold it here and breath, allowing your body to fully relax. To get up, slowly push yourself away from the wall and slide your legs down to the right side. Use your hands to help press yourself back up into a seated position.
Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Lie flat on your back on your mat, extending your legs straight out, relaxing your feet. Your arms should lie a few inches away from your body, down at your sides, palms up.
Close your eyes (yes- do it, it's important!)
If lying flat is not comfortable for you due to lower back pain a great option is to either bend your knees (keeping your feet flat on the floor) or palce a bolster under your knees to relieve the lower back pain or pressure.
Once you jave found the position most comfortable for your body, breath naturally and allow your body to get heavy as it sinks down into the floor. Move through your entire body, releasing any tension in each part, moving slowly and relaxing every muscle as you move from your feet all the way up to your head and face. Invite peace, and silence into your mind, body and soul.
Try to stay here in this relaxed position for at least five minutes. When you are ready to move out of the pose, do it slowly. Start by wiggling your fingers and toes, roll to one side and then slowly push up into a seated position when you are ready.
Carry the peace and stillness with you as you move out of this pose and use that peaceful feeling to help you stay relaxed and sleep better.