Slow, gentle, and rhythmic yoga and breathing can be the perfect way to unwind (your muscles and your mind) at the end of a long day. This routine can allow you to release the stress of the day, relax, and prepare your body and mind for a good night’s sleep.
Many people find that exercising in the morning can actually help to energize them and prepare them for the day. Conversely, exercising at night, especially too close to bedtime, can have a negative effect on your ability to get some deep and restorative sleep. While a vigorous workout can help ease stress, if it is done too close to your bedtime, you may have some trouble falling asleep afterwards.
I know that there are many issues that can cause sleepless nights. We all have busy lives, heavy responsibilities, tight schedules, looming deadlines, and demanding families. We may also have more positive things in our lives that affect our sleep such as piles of new creative ideas, exciting events that we are looking forward to, or a new bike that we are itching to ride. We might also disrupt our sleep by socializing too much and too late in the day, or by simply trying to shoehorn too much into our day, which can bump rest and relaxation down the bottom of our to-do list.
Our lifestyle can indeed disrupt our best intentions and disrupt our slumber, which can, in turn, disrupt our sense of well-being. So, here is a quick and dirty tip for you: try keeping a yoga mat beside your bed and spend about 15-20 minutes performing some of these yoga poses to enhance your ability to truly sleep like an extremely relaxed log.
How Can Yoga Help You Sleep?
If you set aside an area or space for your "before-bed stretching practice," you can outfit it with things like candles, incense, pillows, music, and other things that help you (and I mean you in particular, not necessarily what you see in magazines) feel more relaxed and at ease. That might be a statue of a yogi, or it might be putting on a certain song, or simply wearing a t-shirt that you have owned so long it's more holes than shirt. This is completely up to you and what makes you feel relaxed.
The 15-20 minutes that you are spending focusing on yourself is also 15-20 minutes that you are not focussing on the TV, email, or your phone.
If you have aching muscles or joint pain, gentle stretching and breath work can help work the aches out and allow you to get better sleep. It can also help release the tension you built up all day. When you go to bed feeling relaxed and at ease, you'll have a much better sleep than nights where you carry your anger and stress to bed.
The 15-20 minutes that you are spending focusing on yourself is also 15-20 minutes that you are not focussing on the TV, email, or your phone. These devices have been shown to disrupt your sleep and even impair your body's ability to secrete the sleep hormone called melatonin.
Bedtime routines are not just helpful for children, we all benefit from giving our mind and body queues that the day is over and it is time to shut down for the night.
How to Do Bedtime Yoga
There are many different types of yoga poses that you can practice and each one is designed to activate different parts of your mind and body. So, before bed, we want to keep the poses relaxing, slow, easy, and balanced. No power yoga allowed. All the poses should be comfortable and held for a little longer than you might hold them in a regular yoga session. The focus should also be on the breath—slow and steady breathing in through the nose, out through the mouth. For more info on that, check out the article called How to Breathe More Effectively.
Here is a series you can try before you go to bed tonight.
Virasana (Hero Pose)
Kneel with your knees bent and your legs folded under you. The top of your feet should be flat on the floor, your spine straight, with your shoulders and head aligned over your hips. Hero pose is a great place to start our relaxation to get your body and mind to calm down. It is a grounding pose that can help make you feel physically and emotionally more stable. Start in this pose and feel your breath get deeper and more relaxed as you settle in.
Marjaryasana/Bitilasana Flow (Cat / Cow)
Move on to hands and knees and put your spine into a neutral position. Your shoulders should be above your wrists and your hips above knees. Move slowly through a few rounds of Cat and Cow, breathing in through the nose on the Cat and out through the mouth on the Cow movement. Make sure the movement starts with the tailbone and ripples up through the spine in a relaxing and easy way. It can help to let your breath initiate the movement rather than the body.