8 Yoga Poses for Pre-Bedtime Relaxation
If a good night’s rest sounds like someone else’s life, it’s time to try this simple but effective series of gentle moves for the ultimate bliss-out.
If this upside down world has left you in need of restful sleep—but desperately unable to achieve it—join the club. There’s nothing more irritating than eyeballing the ceiling waiting for the Sandman to show himself while your mind whips around in circles of scary, dark thoughts.
It’s no secret that sleep is critical to helping your body restore energy and repair muscles. Lack of sleep is no joke: Research shows that missing even 1.5 hours of shut-eye can inhibit your alertness, energy levels and memory the next day. And chronic sleep deprivation can lead to increased risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, heart failure and stroke.
But needing it and achieving it are different things, and there’s a lot of noise out there about the right way to do it. For instance, studies show that regular exercise, like running, helps you sleep better, but science also suggests that raising your heart rate too close to bedtime can have the opposite effect.
That’s what makes a pre-bed yoga routine the perfect way to wind down. Gentle yoga poses help stretch out and relax your muscles without elevating your heart rate as much as, say, a nighttime jog. Meanwhile, the slow, deep breathing of a yoga practice can help you transition from the adrenalin-pumping, anxiety-driven realities of life to a calmer mindset. If that sounds about right to you, here’s how to try it.
Set the Stage
Find a quiet space near your bed where you can stretch out. Set your alarm for the morning and commit to leaving social media and email alone for the night. For an added relaxation experience, place a few drops of your favorite essential oil on a cotton ball and inhale deeply. “Free your mind of all other thoughts,” says Shanti Dechen, owner and director of Aroma Apothecary Healing Arts Academy in Crestone, CO. “Let the aroma take you to a peaceful and happy place.” Continue inhaling and exhaling for two minutes, then begin your wind-down yoga routine.
“This sequence of eight moves creates an arc that rises and settles,” says internationally renowned yoga teacher Benjamin Sears, who created this pre-bedtime routine. “It activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which tells your body to relax, and facilitates the release of a chemical in your body called adenosine, which makes you sleepy.”
Tension and Release Exercise
Stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Grip the floor with your toes and push outward with your feet, engaging your lower body. Breathe into your lower belly and lower back, and begin to tighten your core. Exhale, tightening your lower ribs like a corset and stretching the crown of your head upward. Pull your chin backwards slightly. Take four breaths as you curl your hands into fists and contract all the muscles throughout your body. Hold for two shallow breaths, then slowly release, feeling the tension leave your body.
Isolated Scapular Rotations
Stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Bring your arms by your sides, fingers together and straight, triceps contracted. Without moving anything else, squeeze your shoulders up to your ears, then press them back down, then forward. Return to your starting position and repeat slowly, five times in each direction. Pause in any place where you feel tension and exhale deeply to find a little more range of motion. Keep your spine straight and arms next to your body, ensuring that you are isolating scapular rotation.
Seated Side Bend
From a seated position, bend your right knee so your right foot comes to the inner left thigh. Spread your left toes, and reach through the ball of your foot. Inhale and raise your left arm skyward, lifting your rib cage out of your waist. Exhale and bring your left hand down on the inside of your left leg. Rotate your ribcage to the right. Inhale and sweep your right arm upward into a side stretch, then forward. Feel for a stretch in your right lower back. Continue for seven breaths or about one minute. Inhale to gently pull yourself out of the posture with care.
Sit with your legs crossed. Stretch your fingertips onto the floor by your sides, as far as they can reach. Inhale and stretch up through the crown of your head. Exhale and slowly relax your right ear towards your right shoulder. Continue breathing in and out, softening your neck a little more. Meter your breath, taking at least three counts in and three counts out. Focus on relaxing your face: Check in with your jaw by licking your lips and gently brushing your top lip against your bottom lip. When you are ready to switch to the other side, use your right hand to gently lift your head. Repeat on the left.
Lower Back Decompression Breath
Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Place your hands on your lower abdominals. Inhale and breathe into your lower stomach where your hands are. Press your lower back flat into the floor. Exhale and compress your abdomen as if you are pushing out the air. Feel for a lengthening sensation in your lower back. After three breaths, move hands to lower ribs. Inhale and use your hands to press your ribs together, sending your breath down into your abdominals, not up into your chest. Exhale and tighten your low abdominals in further. Inhale and stretch your head away from your shoulders; exhale and press your lower back down. Continue breathing for one minute.
Lie on your back, arms out to the sides. Hug knees to chest, then drop your knees over to the left, in line with your hips. Twist your hips back to your right, against the pull of your knees. Place your left hand on the top knee. For 10 seconds, push your knee up into your hand and hand down into your knee. With each breath, twist a little deeper to the right. Then inhale and for 10 seconds, push the top knee down into the bottom knee without help from your hands. Twist deeper. Repeat this sequence two or three times. Switch to the other side.
Supported Restorative Child’s Pose
Start on your hands and knees. Slowly sink your hips back so that your butt touches your heels. Spread your knees wide and reach your forehead down to the floor, spine straight. Stretch your arms out in front of you. If the position is uncomfortable, support your bodyweight by placing a yoga block, books, bolster, towels or pillows beneath your hips. Make sure that you prop yourself high enough that you can truly relax, and also feel a bit of a stretch. Set a timer for three minutes, and breathe as follows: Inhale and imagine your breath moving up the front of your body. Hold your breath for one beat at the top of your head. Exhale and imagine your breath going down your back. Then hold for one beat, imagining that your breath is under you. Repeat until the timer goes off.
Supine Knee-Support in Bed
Move gently from the floor onto your bed. “Rather than take traditional Savasana on your back on the floor, this will help you’ll stay in the relaxation zone as you drift off to sleep,” says Sears. “Let yourself feel and enjoy the shift that the practice has created.”
Place pillows or a bolster under your knees to support your legs. Once you’re comfortable, find your deep breathing again and focus on lengthening your inhales and exhales. And then, fingers crossed, sweet dreams.
Pleased with how quickly this yoga routine put you to sleep? We’ve got yoga poses that will help you wake up, too.