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It's been a long day, and you had to finish a work assignment after your kid went to bed. You're tense and tired but can't seem to wind down for bed. Furthermore, even though your body feels like it could crash instantly, your mind probably won't let you. Sound familiar? Winding down before bed is key to a good night's sleep, and yoga can help.
According to a survey done by NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, 94% of Americans who do yoga do it for wellness reasons. Among those surveyed, over 55% reported better sleep. The benefits of yoga are extensive. The benefits for sleep are no different.
Yoga for sleep focuses on holding relaxing poses for longer and connecting deeply with the breath. Props such as bolsters, blankets, and blocks improve relaxation in certain yoga poses. Using a breathing technique known as Ujjayi breath is key with these restorative poses.
Practice these poses before bedtime with the calming ujjayi breathing technique to improve sleep. Stay in each pose for 10-15 breaths or anywhere from 1-5 minutes depending on your comfort level. All of these poses should create ease rather than tension in the body.
First, you want to know how to perform the Ujjayi breathing. You'll practice this type of breathing in these restorative poses. Inhale deeply through the nose. Next, exhale through your nose while constricting the back of the throat. One helpful cue is trying to say "ha" without opening your mouth as you exhale.
Blocks (or stack of books)
Bolster (or a few pillows)
Start standing tall in mountain pose with your feet hip-width apart or a little wider. Keep a slight bend in your knees as you fold forward, reaching for the knees, shins, or toes. You can hold opposite elbows or let your hands rest where they are comfortable. Let go of your head, neck and shoulders in this pose.
This pose is probably easiest to start in downward dog. From downward dog, bring your left foot forward between your hands. Next, lower your right knee to the floor. After you walk your left foot to the outer edge of the mat, place your elbows or forearms on a block or the floor. Repeat on the other side.
Start sitting with your legs out in front of you and then bring the bottom of your left foot against your inner right thigh. As you lift your left arm, exhale and fold slowly over your right leg. You can reach for your knee, shin, or foot. A block under the forward can be helpful or holding onto a strap around the foot. Switch sides.
Sit close to the wall with one hip touching the wall. Bring your hands slightly behind your hips and bend your elbows as you begin to lean back. As you lean back bring your legs up the wall. To adjust, bring your bottom as close to the wall as possible and allow your legs to relax into the wall. If you have tight hamstrings, keep a small bend in the knees. Allow your arms to rest at your sides with palms up.
Start by kneeling on the floor and touching your big toes together. Sit back on your heels and separate your knees as wide as your hips or slightly farther. As you exhale, fold forward to lay your upper body between your thighs on the mat. Walk your hands out in front of you.
Start in a seated position with a bolster at the base of your sacrum and a folded blanket on top. After that, bend your knees and bring the soles of the feet together. Lie back onto your bolster so your head rests on the blanket and is slightly above your heart. Lastly, relax the legs, shoulders, and neck.
Lie on your back and let your legs and arms relax at your sides. You can place an optional bolster or pillow under the knees and a blanket under your head. However, completely flat is also an option. Allow the weight of your body to sink into the mat and bring your attention to the breath. Allow the breath to return to normal inhales/ exhales instead of the ujjayi breath.
While there is no single pose or sequence that is going to be right for everyone, slow and easy movement can promote better sleep in a few ways. The sustained and gentle movement combined with slow and easy breathing promotes parasympathetic activity in the nervous system. This promotes a sense of relaxation and letting go. Above all, this type of yoga for sleep promotes psychological release along with a physical release.
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