If you've ever experienced trouble sleeping, anxiety at night, or straight up insomnia, incorporating a short yoga practice into your evening wind-down routine can help. I put together this simple sequence inspired by my own practice in hopes that it will help you relax into a restful, nourishing sleep.
Starting from hands and knees, sit your hips back toward your heels and stretch your arms forward, allowing your forehead to relax toward the ground. Feel free to place a blanket between your hips and calves or a block under your forehead for extra support, and allow yourself to sink into the floor or props. Gentle pressure on the forehead is extremely calming (think of your mom rubbing your head when you're sick!) and your arms by your ears help block out external stimuli. Stay for 10 long, deep breaths.
From either table top or downward dog, step your right foot forward, outside of your right hand. Drop your back knee (a blanket under that knee is nice) and sink your hips toward the mat. Depending on the depth of stretch you want, you can stay up on your hands or bring your forearms to the floor or a block. Find a position that's sustainable where you can stay for a few breaths. We hold so much tension in the hips throughout the day, and sometimes have to release it to transition into a sleep-ready state. Breathe into your right hip and left hip flexor, then change sides.
Start seated with your legs extended in front of you. I highly recommend placing a folded blanket under your seat so you can take any rounding out of your lower back. Engage your legs and lean forward with an open chest as far as you can to find length in the spine, then fold forward over your legs. I love placing a bolster under my chest to lay on so I can relieve my back muscles of the job of holding me up. Turn your head to one side for 10 breaths, then the other. If you're in need of a deeper stretch, remove the bolster and rest your forehead on a block.
Twisting is a massive relief for the muscles around the spine and can help counteract the effects of sitting, standing or walking all day. It's also great to gently massage the organs and aide in digestion. Laying on your back, hug your knees into your chest (maybe lingering to enjoy this release in your low back), then drop your knees to the right. Shift your hips to the left so they are lined up with your shoulders - this brings a nice even rotation into the spine. If your knees don't reach the floor, stack a couple blankets or a bolster under them so you have something to relax into. Feel your body letting go with every breath cycle and when you're ready, switch sides.
Legs Up the Wall
Come to lay on your back with your legs extended up the wall. If your hamstrings feel too tight with your seat directly against the wall, slide back a little to soften that stretch. I like to use a strap around my thighs to keep my legs together without any muscular effort. It's also nice if you have a friend or partner who can place a sandbag (or anything soft and heavy at home) on your feet -- this assists a nice release in the low back as it presses toward the floor. This pose improves circulation, drains fluid from tired legs and feet, and calms the nervous system.
Let me know if you try incorporating these poses into your evening routine. I'd love to hear how else you relax and prep for a great night's sleep!