The Sanskrit root of the word “yoga” means “to unite.” The Sanskrit word for sleep is “nidra.” We can use the practice of yoga to bring our mind and body into a beautiful, restful state of alignment so that we can get a great night’s sleep. I’ve put together five yoga poses, or “asanas,” that you can do as a bedtime ritual. This simple routine helps to relax the muscles and de-stress the mind so that you can fall asleep easily and sleep deeply throughout the night.
You can do these poses on the floor with a yoga mat or towel – or you can do them right on your bed. The idea is to be comfortable and gentle with yourself. This is not a workout – just relax into each pose and feel a nice stretch.
If you’re doing the routine on your bed, you can take a moment to check your mattress for any lumps, bumps or valleys. If your mattress is more than 5 to 7 years old, chances are you need a new one. A comfortable, supportive mattress is the foundation of a good night’s sleep, so evaluate the condition of yours frequently. And now, those restful poses:
Start on your hands and knees. Hands should be under your shoulders; knees should be hip width apart. Arch your back, tucking your chin to your chest, like a cat. Exhale as you pull your stomach toward your spine. Then, as you inhale, release the arch and let your back drop down. Raise your chin up, like a wolf howling at the moon. Pull your shoulder blades back and toward each other. Repeat this sequence three times. Cat pose relaxes the mind and massages internal organs, improving both digestion and circulation.
Sit up tall with your spine straight. Bend your knees and put the soles of your feet together, as close to your body as is comfortable. Gently bend forward at the hips. As a variation, you can keep your legs straight out, as far apart as is comfortable, flexing your feet. Again, gently bend forward at the hips. Butterfly pose helps open the hips, which feels especially good if you’ve spent a lot of time sitting.
Legs Up Pose
Lie on your back with your buttocks as close to the wall as you can comfortably get. Extend one leg up the wall in front of you and then the other. If you need to make the stretch easier, scoot away from the wall a bit to make more of an angle between your legs and the wall. Extend your arms open to your sides, palms up. Close your eyes, breathe and relax. This is an inversion pose, meaning you’re a bit inverted, or upside down, which helps reverse the effects that gravity has on the body all day.
Sit up on your shins with your buttocks resting on the heels of your feet. Slowly drop your torso forward, bringing your forehead to rest on the mattress or floor. Tuck your arms behind you on each side or, for more of a stretch, extend your arms in front of you. This pose relaxes the back and calms the nervous system.
This pose is especially nice to do while on your mattress. Lie down on your back with your head on your pillow. Put your hands out to your sides, palms up. Relax your feet and close your eyes. Breathe slowly. This pose traditionally is done at the end of yoga class and is many people’s favorite. You’ll find it very relaxing.
You can turn the lights off now and, when you feel ready, move into your usual sleep position.
Sweet dreams and “shubh ratri” (goodnight)!