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5 Yoga Poses for Your Best Sleep Ever

February 4, 2014

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“Don’t exercise right before bed" is right up there with “drink a warm glass of milk”as a commonly accepted remedy for insomnia. But there’s at least one major exception to this rule, and that’s a regular nighttime yoga practice.

Yoga has long been associated with higher levels of relaxation and lowered muscular tension, both of which contribute to sleep quality, and science has increasingly borne out the notion that yoga can dramatically improve sleep. Researchers at Harvard Medical School have linked a regular yoga practice to sounder, longer, more regular sleep, while Brazilian researchers found that yoga eased sleep problems among menopausal women. Plus, every day people experience the soporific effects of yoga firsthand!

It makes perfect sense when you think about it. Yoga can help with weight loss and teaches proper breathing, both of which mitigate sleep apnea, a common sleep disorder. Yoga also improves body alignment, which lessens aches, tightness, and tension that might stand between you and slumber. Perhaps most importantly, it helps calm your mind and relieve anxiety. And for anyone who’s tried to shut up the brain’s incessant taskmaster come bedtime, that’s a really big deal.

Here are five of the best sleep-supporting yoga poses to add to your nightly routine:

Child’s Pose (Balasana):  Kneel on your mat with your knees spread wide, then fold forward, stretching your arms in front of you and relaxing your torso onto your thighs. This pose evokes the comfort of being a child cradled by a mother, and relieves mental and physical tension.

Plow Pose (Halasana): Lying on your back, engage your core to lift your legs and hips up toward the ceiling, bringing your torso perpendicular to the floor and fully extending your legs behind your head. Halasana is one of the few poses that stretches the entire length of your spine, bringing relief from the tension many of us hold in our backs and necks.

Revolved Abdomen Pose (Jathara Parivartanasana): Lie on your back and bring your knees in to your chest with your arms extended out to the sides, then exhale and bring your knees over to the left as you twist your torso to the right. After 10 breaths or more, repeat on the other side. This pose releases the lower back, aids in digestion, and has been found to help with insomnia.

Reclined Goddess Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana): Sitting on your mat with the soles of your feet touching and knees wide, slowly lower your back down to the floor, placing a pillow under your spine if you’d like. This expansive and relaxing posture helps your body get into rest mode.

Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani): Lie on your back and scoot your hips forward to where the wall and floor meet, then extend your legs straight up the wall. Lay your arms by your side with your hands in the receptive palm-up position and breathe. This pose brings the blood back to your heart, soothing your entire body.

To get the most benefit from your nightly asana practice, make sure you’re breathing deeply from your belly, not taking shallow breaths from your chest. Do this by placing a hand on your belly and feeling it fill up like a balloon as you inhale, then sink back toward your spine as you exhale. The oxygen flowing through your body will encourage your muscles to relax and prepare your mind for sleep. Sweet dreams!

What helps you fall asleep at night? Share your tips in the comments below!